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A checklist, and review, of the conventional wisdom in newsletter design. (Newsletter Design 101).

How important is "design" to a successful newsletter? Most would probably answer, "Not particularly," although I remember design consultant Jan White's remarking, "I understand that newsletter subscribers are information sponges, but must they be made to suffer so in the process?" (In fairness, White's comments came fairly early in the PC era, when publishers were still discovering "Whoo, boy, I can put six type fonts on one page.")

Here are some basics for effective newsletter design:

* Size. A quote from the printer convinces everyone that 11 x 17" folded to 4, 8, or 12 pages is "best."

* Paper color. White is the most popular, statistically, but using anything in the gray or ivory families (which are next in popularity) will make your publication stand out from the stack of white paper in the subscriber's in-box.

* Ink. Blue in various shades is the runaway winner for the second color of ink used--with black the obvious winner for the principal color of ink. Red and green trail well behind. Commonly, and economically, publishers preprint shells with the second color and then print each issue in black only. To get your money's worth from the second color, it can be used for the p. 1 nameplate, the masthead (if it doesn't change often), for headers and footers on every inside page, and even for rules between the columns.

* The "rule" for "rules." You can use them to separate or box special features. Less is more. Too much and your newsletter can remind the reader of the old country song "The Letter Edged in Black." Pick a width that suits you, and then cut it in half.

* Columns. The single-column format went out with the old "typewriter copy" newsletter. Publishers talk about the "illusion of immediacy" that it gave. The truth was that it was easier and cheaper for small operations to handle in the pre-desktop publishing days.

Two columns with ragged right is probably the most popular, but three-column justified is a respectable runner-up. For the two-column format, 39 picas is about the right column width. For outside margins, 3/4 of an inch is plenty of room, even to leave space for hole-punching.

* Typeface. Stick with the classics. Times Roman, Bookman, and Garamond are all good. Remember, though, that most newsletter subscribers have passed the first blush of youth. Don't go smaller than 10 pt. for body copy, and 11 is better (and is what you're reading right now).

Ed Grunewald, who was a. consultant to McGraw-Hill, used to remind publishers that "people still tend to read newsletters in places that are the visual equivalent of caves."

Sans serif faces like Helvetica and Anal can be effective for headlines but are not to be used for body type (NL/NL 11/15/92 "Still another authority says body text should be serif").

I tend to prefer headlines to be somewhat smaller than many --perhaps 18 pt. for p. 1,14 pt. for other stories, and 12 pt. for subheads. To me, larger type sizes unbalance the page.

* White space. A tough call. Designers love it and go on and on about "opening up the page" and being reader-friendly." All of which is good, but subscription newsletters are very expensive on a per-page basis, and readers need to get the impression that they are getting information and and advice for their money, not "white space" (or ads, for that matter).

Use the easy dollar bill rule. You shouldn't be able to place a dollar anywhere on your page without it touching a "design element"--a headline, subhead, pull-quote, graph, sidebar, etc. Otherwise, the page can be rather gray and forbidding.

Those design elements are also referred to "access points." You want to provide readers with as many "little entry doors" as possible into each article, in case their attention is waning.

* Charts and graphs. Editors tend to disdain them as simplistic and publishers used to dislike them in pre-desktop publishing days because, honestly, they created production difficulty and expense. Today there is no reason not to use them where appropriate, and evidence indicates that readers appreciate them.

* Caveat. Consumer newsletters are somewhat different. As Don Causey, publisher of The Hunting Report, explains, "To a degree, we are in competition for the coffee table artifact market, so we need to put more emphasis on design and appearance."
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Author:Goss, Fred
Publication:The Newsletter on Newsletters
Date:Jan 15, 2003
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