Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Type Matters for Effective Communication

Typography has always been important. It attracts and holds the reader’s attention, indicates a hierarchy of information, creates harmony, and builds recognition without the reader being conscious of it. Good typography is part of the design structure that underlies effective communication. As a new visual culture develops in smart phones, tablets, notebooks and e-readers, we are beginning to realize just how influential typography is in providing information and shaping opinion. More than ever before, type matters.

The basic element of typography is a typeface, a family of fonts in different sizes, weights, forms, styles, and proportions. Design expert Gary Hustwit says “a font is what you use and a typeface is what you see”. Just as individual songs make up an album, individual fonts make up a typeface.

Why typography matters

A frequent answer centers on creating a recognizable brand, citing studies comparing reader speed or comprehension using different typefaces. The most important reason why typography matters is because it helps conserve your readers’ attention—the most valuable resource you have as a writer. Attention is the reader’s gift to you. It’s precious and finite. Should you fail to be a respectful steward of that gift by boring or exasperating your reader, it’s promptly revoked.

Once a reader revokes their attention, you don’t have a reader anymore. And that was the whole point of writing in the first place. Reader attention is a valuable resource, thus tools that help you conserve that resource are likewise valuable. Typography is one of those tools. The written word can’t exist without typography.

Good typography can help your reader devote less attention to the mechanics of reading and more attention to your message. Conversely, bad typography can distract your reader and undermine your message. It can make good writing even better. Typography always influences how we interpret a document.

Typography reinforces meaning

Good typography reinforces the meaning of the text. It supports the message and makes the text more effective. Typographic choices that work for one text won’t necessarily work for another, i.e. good typographers don’t rely on rote solutions. One size never fits all.

For any given text, there are many typographic solutions that would be equally good. Typography is not a math problem with one correct answer. Your ability to produce good typography depends on how well you understand the goals of your text.

Typography as visual language

In professional graphic design, visual language refers to meanings created by the visual appearance of text and images. In contract, verbal language is the literal meaning of words and sentences. Typography is visual, so it’s easy to conclude that it’s primarily an artistic or aesthetic pursuit, but that’s not so. Typography is primarily utilitarian. Typography that is aesthetically pleasant, but that doesn’t reinforce the meaning of the text, is a failure. Typography that reinforces the meaning of the text, even if aesthetically unpleasant, is a success.

It has a powerful effect on meaning and interpretation. As a visual language, it can either subtly shape meaning and interpretation or completely dominate the verbal meaning – in other words, the look can speak louder than the words. We have all seen examples of typography badly matched to the verbal meaning – a child-like font like Comic Sans used for a serious heading, or a hard-to-read font like Old English used for body copy, or too many different fonts used on the page.

Jessica Glaser, a partner at Bright Pink Communication (UK) and Jeff Leak, from the University of Wolverhampton (UK), created this illustration to show how typography affects verbal meaning.

In the left image, the typography and design create a clear association with a warning sign. Conversely, the right image is definitely not commanding and could be interpreted as having a completely different meaning than the word alone.

Typographic wisdom

Understanding how profoundly typography can influence meaning and interpretation is a useful skill for anyone who designs. If you need assistance analyzing or developing effective design for your website, online advertising or printed documents, contact Brigid to find out how we can help. She can be reached at 215-923-2679 or brigid@creativecharacters.com.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Emphasize With Style

When you need to add emphasis to something you are writing, do it with typography. By using italic or bold face type, you’ll draw attention to the text elements you want to emphasize.
Bold creates weight contrast. It is used for heavy emphasis and for captions, subheads and stand-alone words and phrases. Because it visually interrupts the flow of reading, bold face should not be used in running text or for long phrases. Periodically bolding words and phrases is jarring and difficult to read, especially online. Here’s an example of what NOT to do with bold type.
Please join us for an extraordinary evening of magic, mystery and entertainment at The Mansion! We are excited to invite you to our First Annual Spring Fling Fundraising Event. Please arrive early, as the Mansion will be open to explore until 7:30 pm. Our Executive Director and two board members were able to find 5 of the 72 secret doors in The Mansion, which we are told is above average! Can you beat our score? After exploring, find your way back to the ballroom for a fabulous performance. Lite hors d’oeuvres will be served and a cash bar available for you!
Italic type is used to indicate titles of publications, musical compositions, radio or television programs, a famous speech, or a long poem, to indicate foreign words and phrases, and unfamiliar technical terms. Some writers incorrectly combine underlining with italic type – a habit from typewriter days when underlining was the method to indicate italics.

UPPER CASE, also known as all caps, is used for words of warning or sometimes to emphasize a single word. If needed for longer phrases or headlines, small caps is a better choice since it is less visually jarring. Be careful using all caps online because it is commonly viewed as shouting.

Q&A: What’s correct: one space or two spaces between sentences?

This is a highly controversial topic among writers, and an often broken rule of good style. The correct answer is: Always put exactly one space between sentences or exactly one space after any punctuation. Take a look at this example.

Here’s a paragraph with one space between sentences:
I know many people were taught to put two spaces between sentences. I was too. Today, using two spaces is an obsolete habit. Some say the habit started with the typewriter. Others believe it began earlier. But guess what? It doesn’t matter. Because either way, it’s not part of today’s typographic practice.

Now the same paragraph, but with two spaces between sentences:
I know that many people were taught to put two spaces between sentences.  I was too.  Today, using two spaces is an obsolete habit.  Some say the habit started with the typewriter.  Others believe it began earlier.  But guess what?  It doesn’t matter.  Because either way, it’s not part of today’s typographic practice.

See the problem? In the second paragraph, the extra spaces disrupt the balance of white space. Multiplied across a whole page, rivers of white space can appear. I have no idea why so many writers resist the one-space rule. If you’re skeptical, pick up any book, newspaper, or magazine to see how many spaces there are between sentences.

Some people think the rule is made up, but that’s not true. One space is the custom of professional typographers and the consensus view of typography authorities. For instance—
“Chicago advises leaving a single character space, not two spaces, between sentences and after punctuation used within a sentence… .”
– The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.), Rule 2.9.
“Use a single word space between sentences. …your typing and typesetting will benefit from unlearning the quaint Victorian habit of using two spaces between sentences.”
– Robert Bringhurst, The Elements of Typographic Style

Easy Reader

Over the last 20 years, I’ve had the pleasure of explaining why typography matters, and why anybody should care, countless times. An easy way to explain it is like this. If you’re a reader, you would probably object if the paperback you were reading suddenly switched typefaces to Old English. It would be uncomfortable and nearly impossible to read. Good type is something you hardly notice. Typography can either enhance the message, or get in its way.

In the past decade, awareness of typography and fonts has become more main stream than it once was. In this month's posts, we share some ideas and information about type and why it matters. If you need help identifying the right kind of typography or picking the perfect font, contact us today.

It’s All Greek To Me

A good way to test the overall effect of typography is to use Greeking, a paragraph of words of average length and variance to which you apply the specific typographic effects that you are considering. A paragraph commonly used for Greeking is called Lorem Ipsum. Contrary to popular belief, Lorem Ipsum is not simply random text. It has roots in a piece of classical Latin literature from 45 BC, making it over 2,000 years old. Richard McClintock, a Latin professor at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, inadvertently discovered the source. Lorem Ipsum comes from sections 1.10.32 and 1.10.33 of “de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum” (The Extremes of Good and Evil) by Cicero, written in 45 BC.

The standard Lorem Ipsum passage, used since the 1500s.
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.
1914 translation by H. Rackham.
But I must explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising pain was born and I will give you a complete account of the system, and expound the actual teachings of the great explorer of the truth, the master-builder of human happiness. No one rejects, dislikes, or avoids pleasure itself, because it is pleasure, but because those who do not know how to pursue pleasure rationally encounter consequences that are extremely painful. Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but because occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure. To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure?

More is Better: Outreach and Engagement

When it comes to attracting new clients, the famous epigram “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” perfectly describes the process. New tools like social media represent the changes, while the fundamentals of client service and outreach using direct mail remain the same.

The solid base: service

Truly great customer service is invisible to the client. It is the framework for all transactions, but is never in the forefront. Your client places an order and it’s fulfilled on time, as ordered, and at the agreed-upon price. This kind of dependability – meeting client expectations consistently and quietly – is the ultimate customer service experience and trumps the occasional above-and-beyond effort needed to solve an unexpected problem or respond to an emergency. If you are great at performing in a crisis, but inconsistent in day-to-day performance, you are not delivering a great client experience.

Remarkable customer service begins when you enhance quietly consistent routine performance with extra touches – anticipating the client’s needs, turning a project around on an impossible deadline, providing a creative solution to a difficult problem. Remarkable customer service creates future business.

Get the word out: tell your story

Once you have mastered the basics of remarkable customer service, it’s time to get the word out to potential new clients. Especially for businesses without a large marketing budget, direct mail remains a cost-effective and easy way to communicate with clients and prospects. Like great customer service, direct mail is a fundamental way to attract new business.

Here’s why direct mail marketing still works:

  • You control the outreach. As a first step in finding new clients, look for businesses or individuals whose demographic profile matches the profile of your best clients. The logic is simple: if the prospects resemble your best clients, it’s likely they already have a need for your product or service. Furthermore, if you are providing an excellent client experience along with the product or service, you have a point of differentiation from your competition that you can talk about.
  • You control the message. Direct mail allows you to tell your story your way. Direct mail can be designed to create suspense, incorporate humor or appeal to emotion – all known to be effective ways to get a response today.
  • There’s less competition in the mailbox. Today, there is much less competition for a prospect’s attention in the mail box, especially when compared to the volume daily email and social media.
  • Mail is a physical media. The brain responds differently to physical and digital media. A recent study by Millward Brown revealed that physical media like direct mail leaves a “deeper footprint” in the brain, involves more emotional processing, and produces more brain responses.
  • Direct mail can be to read later. According to Epsilon’s Channel Preference Study, 73% of consumers indicate they prefer direct mail because they can read it when they want, at their convenience.
Direct mail is effective with both an older and younger demographic. The results of a study conducted by ICON entitled Finding the Right Combination: What Drives Channel Choice?, found that 18-34 year olds prefer print over online for messages about certain types of products and services. It also indicated that consumers of all ages believe information sent via mail is more private than email.

Get creative: add social media

You can magnify the effect of direct mail by adding elements of social media. Here are a few possibilities:

  • Direct mail and a website: Use a newsletter or postcard to point the target audience to a website, either the company’s main website or a landing page set up for a specific purpose. Make something of value available online (i.e. whitepaper, video, slide deck) that rewards the client for visiting.
  • Direct mail and video. Video is a good tool for providing instructions, demonstrations, describing complex concepts that need visuals, or for testimonials. As with the website example, use direct mail to highlight the availability of the video.
  • Direct mail and email: Use email to alert clients to the start of a direct mail campaign such as membership renewal, or a “save-the-date” for an upcoming event. Email an image of the mail piece, tell clients when to expect it and what to do when it arrives.
  • Direct mail, Facebook and Twitter: Use direct mail to gain new Twitter followers or Facebook likes. Make it easy, add a QR code that takes people to your social page. Then keep them interested with exclusive specials or offers.

We’re client acquisition experts

Call on us to help you integrate social media marketing with direct mail. We’ve been providing these services to our clients since 1995 and we’re good at what we do. For more information, or to set an appointment,
contact us today.

The New Word of Mouth

Social media has added a new dimension to old-fashioned word of mouth advertising. Always an effective method because of the built-in element of trust, word of mouth compares favorably to traditional advertising as a way to create new clients. However, the drawback is how long it takes to reach enough people.

Enter social media. Reviews on websites, like Amazon and Yelp, expands the reach of anyone willing to give a testimonial. Even though you don’t know the reviewer, the tendency is to trust what they say more than an advertising message put out by the business. This is especially true for Millennials who as a group are suspicious of advertising. Word of mouth testimonials on social media are a logical outcome of a great client experience.

Of course there is a downside to word of mouth advertising on social media sites –  the business has no control over what is said. Unfortunately, dissatisfied clients can post negative comments. The key to turning this around is being immediately responsive in a positive way. Try to move the conversation off line to discuss the details and a solution.

Q&A: Does the USPS provide guidelines for formatting & positioning address information?

To facilitate mail processing by automated mail sorting equipment, the USPS has adopted standards for placement of various address elements on the mail panel, as illustrated on the envelope below.

The delivery address is the most important information on your mailpiece. The delivery address must fit entirely within the light blue shaded box shown on the envelope below. The USPS calls this the OCR Read Area. The pink shaded area is called the Clear Zone and nothing should be printed in this area.

Automated mail processing machines read addresses on mailpieces from the bottom up and will first look for a city, state, and zip code. Then the machines look for a delivery address. If the machines can’t find either line, then your mailpiece could be delayed or misrouted. Any information below the delivery address line (a logo, a slogan, or an attention line) could confuse the machines and misdirect your mail.

To eliminate the possibility of the return address being read as the delivery address, the return address should be positioned entirely in the top left one-third of the mailing panel. It should be well above the outbound address. The USPS recommends using a simple font like Arial in at least 10pt. Fancy fonts look great on your envelopes, but don’t read well on mail equipment and may slow down your mail delivery.

A Digital Boost

Verizon and Small Business Trends recently conducted a survey of Philadelphia small to medium business owners and found that 85% said new customers learn about them through word of mouth referrals. Today, digital marketing channels like email and social media, provide opportunities to engage with customers, amplify word of mouth referrals, and ultimately, boost revenues.

Adopting a digital marketing strategy that complements your current marketing efforts can potentially spur exponential growth. The key is to strategically select channels that meet your customers where they already are, and measure results. In this issue of CreativeBrief, we give you a few tips on how to leverage your digital marketing strategies successfully. If you haven’t developed a digital marketing strategy for your business yet, we can help.