By Sally Hughes
Modern computer software has offered us the tools to transform ourselves from mere typists into document layout artists. Suddenly we have fonts galore, page layout programs, and even the humblest word-processor allows a control of content that was unthinkable less than ten years ago.

Yet many people are obviously unaware of the basics of good design and typography. It’s still quite common to see underlined headings, every page of a long report printed out in twelve point Arial, and bulleted lists which have obviously been aligned with the spacebar.

The truth is that the skills of good page design combine two seeming opposites: an overall sense of spatial relationships, and a detailed, nit-picking attention to the finer points of layout. There are plenty of big manuals which offer a guide to such skills: (one thinks of the excellent series Roger Parker produces). But there is scope for a cheap and cheerful beginner’s guide, and in Design and Typography Sally Hughes offers something which doesn’t go into a lot of detail, but covers all the basics.

Hughes discusses the essentials of type selection, spacing, grids, graphics, and fonts. There is sound advice on alignment, hyphenation, and table layout, with lots of good short tips embedded in the text and every point clearly illustrated with examples in the publisher’s (Computer Step) house style of one topic to a single page or a double page spread. She even goes into the details of kerning—though most people will be well enough served by following the basic advice on margins, line-spacing, and the use of grids. I particularly liked the way in which she signaled her preferences in a non-didactic manner:

“Centered alignment is a common choice for displayed text. As it is also seen in older forms of printing, such as title pages of old books and old posters, centered alignment conveys a sense of traditional, old-fashioned values. Use centered alignment only if these are the values and approach you wish to convey.”

There’s even a brave attempt to explain bit-mapped and vector graphics and scanning, plus a brief mention of designing for websites. Hughes is quite right in claiming that good design principles apply on screen, but since it crucially doesn’t show how these effects can be achieved (HTML code ‘explained’ in one page!) one feels a little cheated. It might have been better to leave out this section and use the extra space to focus on more of the fundamentals of good page design.

This is an excellent starting point for a beginner—suitable for someone who has realised that there is more to good design than the default settings in their word-processing program.

—Roy Johnson

Cover, Design and Typography © 1998 Computer Step
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Ordering Info
This review originally appeared at the Clifton Press website © 1998 R. Johnson.
Dr. Roy Johnson is the author of a number of books on writing, study skills, and computer technology. He’s the director of Clifton Press and the editor of “Writing & Computers”

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Design and Typography: in easy steps
Author: Sally Hughes
Publisher: Computer Step [August 1998]
ISBN: 1-84078-004-5
Binding: Paperback, 192pp.

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