Broken barrierPutting a barrier between your message and your reader makes absolutely no sense at all, but it’s surprising how many companies make it hard for people to process the information presented to them.  Of course, nobody does this deliberately, but also few organisations know how to check for those things that trip their readers up and leave them frustrated or simply reaching for the back button (online) or the paper recycling bin (offline).

There are many blogs in the Readability category that outline the hazards of online issues, but fewer about the hard copy material you distribute.  These are some of the pitfalls associated with marketing flyers, brochures, leaflets and booklets that you will certainly avoid – once you know about them.

Common to online and offline material

Dark backgrounds with lighter writing.  Even though the resolution for print is sharper, ordinary sized (10-12 point) font cuts the background up and creates a dazzle effect.  It’s really hard on the eyes and the brain is working so hard to decipher what the letters are that the message can easily get lost in the process.  This reduces comprehension levels.

Headlines that are in all capitals – with no shape to the word this makes reading and understanding harder – and don’t be tempted to use a capital for each word, unless you want people to Read It One Word At A Time!

Justified text – when all the lines are the same length it’s so easy for people to get ‘lost’ and read the same line twice, or skip lines.  This just increases frustration and that isn’t the emotion that you are hoping for when you’re marketing your services or products!  Left aligned works best (centralised should only ever be used for headings, it makes your reader work too hard for paragraphs).

Very long lines of text.  Whilst most documents are not wider than an A4 sheet, which is about the longest line most people feel comfortable reading, if you are creating a trifold or gatefold don’t be tempted to extend your main text to more than 100 characters (in 10-12 point font).  This is the point where people start to actually move their head to scan back to the beginning of the next line and feel uncomfortable – next action – they stop reading.

Hard copy material

If you don’t have a company font that you use on everything, always take a look at your marketing material in two or more font options, it changes the whole look and feel of the production.  I’d recommend trying a serif font (e.g. Georgia, Cambria, Times) and a sans serif font (e.g. Arial, Tahoma, Century Gothic) to see what it looks like.

If you’re producing a paper flyer remember that people don’t always turn over paper documents.  Most people expect paper to be printed on one side only.  If your flyer has two sides you will need something in the bottom right corner – on both sides – that indicates that there is more information over the page.  This doesn’t apply to documents printed on card, which most of us automatically turn over.  When you create folded documents different rules apply.

Single sheets – most people scan single page documents in a ‘Z’ pattern (unlike on screen where we scan in an ‘F’ format).  So you need a headline at the top and your contact details either across the bottom or in the bottom right corner.  If you want people to read the main section on the left use subheadings and bullet points to direct their attention.  Anything on the right should be support information rather than essentials.

If you are creating a booklet remember that most of us read the right hand page before the left hand one.  We tend to read booklets like magazines and newspapers rather than like an actual book.  This is because there are headlines and sections and you will always find that the most important information in commercial publications is on the right.

Ensure that you have reader-focused headlines.   The first job that any message has to do is to engage the reader – if you don’t do that then the rest is wasted effort (and money).

These are just some of the issues that will improve the reader engagement and the likelihood that they will take action.  Check your current marketing information out to ensure you remove all barriers to people getting your message.