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Details in Design: Finding Balance in Content Length

sign with crowded text

When creating a printed marketing piece, people often feel compelled to stuff it full of information. More content is better! After all, you’re sending this piece directly to a targeted audience. Don’t you want to tell them absolutely everything about you?

Not necessarily.

Finding the perfect amount of content can be a huge challenge. While many factors can play into this, starting with a conservative amount of information is often beneficial to the overall design. This will allow the designer to adjust all of the content to be an ideal size for its purpose. If there is too much content from the outset it may cause a loss of hierarchy, make its function unsuccessful, or not allow for proper white space. All of these situations will cause a piece to be less effective than it could be.

Hierarchy

A well-designed piece should have a clear hierarchy in the text. This helps show the audience where to look, and it ensures that the message is read in the same way by various viewers. When too much information is crammed into a space where it cannot fit, it usually affects the hierarchy of the design first. This happens when the body copy becomes so massive that it cuts into the space meant for the headline or other larger text. This causes a much less obvious distinction between the header and body copy. It also makes the headline — and design overall — lose its attention grabbing power. Looking at any ads for Nike or other similar companies, they always have a super clear hierarchy and a simple message. Approaching advertisements in this way may not present as much information as needed, but it encourages people to learn more based on the clear message and pleasing aesthetics of the design.

Function

The function of a piece often dictates what the appropriate amount of content will be. Ideally, a billboard will always contain 5-10 words total. This helps ensure that the message on that billboard will be processed by the maximum number of people possible. Too much text and it becomes a conscious choice whether or not the viewer will read the entire message. This is never a good option because not many people enjoy being marketed to, and will avoid designs that are cluttered or have too much going on. Alternatively, having too little information will make it hard to convey any message. However, not everything should be as simple as a billboard. A 16-page booklet will obviously need more than 5-10 words, but there is still a limit to what information can fit in that booklet.

It is important to keep in mind how the piece will be used. A tri-fold brochure being used as a product manual can get away with having much more content on it than a tri-fold brochure being used to sell that same product. This is due the the nature of the piece. A product manual is simply providing information on something that has already been purchased. The information provided is useful to everyone viewing it because they all have that product. However, if the same brochure were to be used to sell the product, that would be information overload. It should simply highlight the key features and selling points, and entice the viewer to want to learn more. If too much information is provided from the beginning, it can make the message confusing and less memorable.

Allowing for White Space

More often than not, when a client sees a design with an appropriate amount of utilized white space, their immediate reaction is to fill the space with more text. This is because they want to get the full value out of what is being designed for them. However, the value is not determined by the amount of information provided, but by the size of audience that the message reaches. Allowing for proper white space will result in a piece that is more captivating, providing a more positive and memorable experience. When too much is crammed into the allowed space, people are often confused and don’t know what to look at first. This will often lead to the viewer giving up and not taking in any of the message in the design.

Creating content, and knowing how much is the perfect amount, can be a daunting and tedious task. But the results are well worth the effort. Not only will it make for more aesthetically pleasing marketing. But with the improved function, hierarchy, and white space it will reach a larger audience as well.

Meet the Author

Pat has always been enthusiastic about portraying information visually, and aims to do so in unique and clever ways.

In his free time Pat enjoys playing and listening to music. He loves playing guitar and drums, but still hasn’t mastered playing both at once.

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