A need for ‘plain design guidelines’?

Yesterday I tweeted about this petition to the Irish Government, asking it to produce all its public information in plain English. Of course this is a good thing, but as a designer, the thing that caught my eye was the typically lazy reference to design. As in most instances like this, the design advice extends to “using a readable font type and size (such as arial or calibri point size 12)”.

Guess what? As advice goes it’s not really much help: pages of 12pt text, no matter how good the language, can still be daunting. So, perhaps there’s a need for ‘plain design guidelines’ to accompany plain language guidelines? Thinking about if for a whole 2 seconds I realise ‘plain design’ is a terrible name, so how about ‘clear design guidelines’ – a little better I hope.

Like all guidelines, they need to be used my non-professionals, so here are a few to start with:

  • use a variety of sizes of text, to help users identify which information is most important
  • leave some empty space on the page: if the page is too full it’s hard to find what you’re looking for
  • be consistent with the way you layout pages
  • don’t feel everything has to be black, a bit of colour gives contrast to the page

I’m sure I’ll think of more, but feel free to suggest.

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