Advertising
Advertising

Design Better with CRAP

Design Better with CRAP
Basic Design Principles

    The power and ease-of-use of today’s computer applications has raised the bar drastically on the quality of design expected in the documents we produce. As recently as ten years ago, it was typical to produce business letters, memos, and other documents using a courier-like, monospaced typeface, often with only underlining available for emphasis of key passages or section headings. The only options for correcting typos and other mistakes were white-out, pencilled-in marks, or re-typing. Our documents looked boring, but they were expected to look boring.

    Today that’s all changed. Word processing and desktop publishing software are everywhere, and offer dozens (if not hundreds) of fonts ranging from the simple and elegant to the downright bizarre. Style sheets on the web and easily accessible styling options in our desktop software allow us to easily create section headings, pull-quotes, bulleted lists, and text columns — giving us the potential to greatly enhance the layout and delivery of information.

    The result, of course, is more likely to be a mish-mash of difficult-to-read fonts, seemingly random italics and boldfaced text, extraneous sidebars, and awkward layouts. In unskilled hands, the tools available to us can very quickly produce messy, over-designed documents that are far less readable than the plain typewritten documents of old.

    Advertising

    Applying a few basic design skills can help avoid those mistakes, instead allowing the features we often regard as “extras” to take their rightful places as means of enhancing the readability and impact of our work. While design is a skill — equal parts art and science — that can take years to develop to a professional level, the core ideas are quite simple, and applying them can produce a marked improvement on your day-to-day work.

    All design starts from four basic principles, abbreviated as CRAP (they come in no particular order, so the more squeamish can rearrange them to form “CARP”, if you like. I’d advise against “PCRA”, though…). These are Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity.

    Advertising

    • Contrast: Contrast refers to any difference of size, shape, or color used to distinguish text (or other elements, though here we’re focusing on text) from other pieces of text. The use of bold or italics is one common form of contrast — the difference in shape makes the bolded or italicized text stand out from the surrounding text. Increasing the size of headers and titles, or using ALL CAPS or smallcaps are other ways of distinguishing text. These techniques only work if used sparingly; a document typed in all capital letters has less contrast than one typed normally, so is harder, not easier, to read.
    • Repetition: Repetition in your text is bad; repetition of your design elements is not only good but necessary. Once you’ve decided on a size and typeface for second-level headers, for instance, all second-level headers should look the same. For most documents, two or maybe three fonts — leaning heavily on one for all the body text, with the other two for headers and maybe sidebars — are enough. The same bullets should be used on every bulleted list. Information that appears on every page should appear in the same place on every page. Design elements — like horizontal rules between sections or corporate logos — should appear the same whenever they are used throughout the document. Repetition of design elements pulls the document together into a cohesive whole, and also improves readability as the reader comes to expect text that looks a certain way to indicate certain qualities (e.g. the start of a new section, a major point, or a piece of code.
    • Alignment: Alignment is crucial not just to the cohesive appearance of your document but to the creation of contrast for elements like bulleted lists or double-indented long quotes. Your document should have a couple of vertical baselines and all text should be aligned to one of them. Unaligned text floats mysteriously, forcing the reader to figure out its relation to the rest of the document. Centered text is particularly bad (and is a novice’s favorite design trick). One immediate step you can take to vastly improve the appearance of your documents is to remove the “center” button from your software’s toolbar (or, less drastically, just ignore it). It is rarely self-evident what centering is meant to communicate, and too much centered text creates a sloppy, undisciplined look.
    • Proximity: Pieces of information that are meant to complement each other should be near each other. One great offender here is business cards and ads in local newspapers, where the name, address, and phone number are all scattered around the ad or card (for example, in the corners). Your reader shouldn’t have to seek out the next logical piece of information; rather, use proximity to make sure that the next piece of information a reader sees is the next piece of information they should see.

    None of these principles stands alone. Repetition and alignment together create the “normal” state that allows changing the shape or position of a piece of text to produce contrast; repetition and proximity go hand-in-hand to create useful formats like bulleted lists — the repetition of the bullet adds force to the proximity of the points. In fact, the bulleted list above uses all four of these principles to work: it contrasts with the body of this article by being aligned to a different baseline than the rest of the paragraphs; each principle is in boldface, providing contrast, and is also directly followed by its explanation, providing proximity; the bullets, the boldfaced text, and the alignment are repeated in each new point on the list.

    Almost all design builds on the foundation laid out above. Asking yourself how well each element of your layout satisfies these basic principles is a good way to make sure your work remains readable to your audience while also communicating a bit of your organization’s or business’ character. You may already unconsciously use these principles in your work, but knowing the principles and recognizing their use will help you make better, more conscious decisions in the future.

    Advertising

    Ultimately, the goal is for the work you put in to designing a document to disappear, to become invisible, leaving your reader or viewer with unfettered access to the points you are trying to convey — both directly in your text and, ever-so-subtly, in your choice of design elements. In this respect, it’s a thankless job, because only rarely will anyone comment on (or even notice) the quality of design — but they will notice, and act on, the message. And that’s what’s important, isn’t it?

    NOTE: The principles outlined above are developed in full in Robin Williams’ excellent book The Non-Designer’s Design Book, which I recommend to anyone who wants to further develop a solid sense of design to improve their day-to-day written work. This post is intended as an introduction to Williams’ concepts and deeper explanation of their use.

    Advertising

    More by this author

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide) The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain) The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    Trending in Communication

    1 How to Spend More Quality Time with Your Partner 2 12 Surprising Benefits of Learning a New Language 3 5 Powerful Ways for Building Fulfilling Relationships 4 How a Lack of Communication Can Cost Your Career 5 What Makes People Happy? 20 Secrets of “Always Happy” People

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on October 17, 2019

    How to Spend More Quality Time with Your Partner

    How to Spend More Quality Time with Your Partner

    You see your partner every single day. They are the first person you talk to in the morning and the last person you kiss goodnight.

    But does seeing each other day in and day out equal a healthy relationship? Not necessarily.

    Spending quality time with your partner is the best way to ensure your relationship stays healthy and strong. This means going above and beyond sitting together while you watch Netflix or going out for the occasional dinner. You deserve more from your relationship – and so does your spouse!

    What does quality time mean? It means spending time with your spouse without interruption. It’s a chance for you to come together and talk. Communication will build emotional intimacy and trust.

    Quality time is also about expressing love in a physical way. Not sex, necessarily (but that’s great, too!) but through hand-holding, cuddling, caressing, and tickling. Studies show that these displays of affection will boost partner satisfaction.[1]

    So how do you spend quality time with your partner? Here are 13 relationship tips on making the most out of your time with your partner.

    Advertising

    1. Recognize the Signs

    If you want a healthy relationship, you have to learn how to recognize the signs that you need to spend more quality time together.

    Some telltale signs include:

    • You’re always on your phones.
    • You value friendships or hobbies over quality time with your spouse.
    • You aren’t together during important events.
    • You are arguing more often or lack connection.
    • You don’t make plans or date nights.
    • You’re not happy.

    If you are experiencing any of these relationship symptoms, know that quality time together can reverse the negative effects of the signs above.

    2. Try New Things Together

    Have you ever wanted to learn how to play an instrument or speak another language? How about skydive or ballroom dance?

    Instead of viewing these as solo hobbies and interests, why not involve your partner?

    Trying new activities together builds healthy relationships because it encourages spouses to rely on one another for emotional and physical support.

    Advertising

    Shared hobbies also promote marital friendship, and the Journal of Happiness Studies found that marital satisfaction was twice as high for couples who viewed each other as best friends.[2]

    3. Schedule in Tech-Free Time

    Your phone is a great way to listen to music, watch videos, and keep up-to-date with friends and family. But is your phone good for your relationship?

    Many couples phone snub, or ‘phub’, one another. Studies show that phubbing can lower relationship satisfaction and increase one’s chances of depression.[3]

    Reduce those chances by removing distractions when spending quality time together and showing your partner they have your full attention.

    4. Hit the Gym as a Couple

    One way you can spend more time together as a couple is by becoming workout partners. Studies show that couples are more likely to stay with their exercise routine if they work out together.[4] Couples also work out harder than they would solo. One study found that 95 percent of couples who work out together maintained weight loss compares to the 66 percent of singles who did.[5]

    Join a gym, do at-home couples’ workouts, try couples yoga, hit the hiking trails, or get your bikes out. No matter which way you choose to exercise, these healthy activities can promote a healthy relationship.

    Advertising

    5. Cook Meals Together

    Pop open a bottle of wine or put some romantic music on while you get busy – in the kitchen, of course!

    One of the best relationship tips for spending quality time together when you both have busy schedules is to cook meals together.[6]

    Spice things up and try and prepare a four-course meal or a fancy French dish together. Not only is this a fun way to spend your time together, but it also promotes teamwork.

    If all goes well, you’ll have a romantic date night meal at home that you prepared with your four hands. And if the food didn’t turn out the way you’d hoped, you are guaranteed to have a laugh and create new memories together.

    6. Have a Regular Date Night

    Couples experience a greater sense of happiness and less stress when they are spending quality time together.[7] One of the biggest relationship tips for a healthy partnership is to include a date night in your weekly routine.

    The National Marriage Project found that having a weekly date night can make your relationship seem more exciting and helps prevent relationship boredom.[8] It also lowers the probability of divorce, improves your sex life, and increases healthy communication.

    Advertising

    Some great ideas for what to do on your date night include:

    • Have a movie marathon – Gather up your favorite flicks and cuddle up on the couch.
    • Play games together – Cards, board games, video games, and other creative outlets are a fun way to spend quality time together.
    • Recreate your first date – Go back to that restaurant and order the same meal you did when you first got together. You can spice up your evening by pretending you’re strangers meeting for the first time and see how sexy the night gets.
    • Plan a weekend getaway – There’s nothing better than traveling with the one you love.
    • Dinner and a movie – A classic!
    • Try a new restaurant – Make it your mission to rate and try all of the Mexican restaurants/Irish pubs/Italian trattorias in your area.
    • Have a long sex session – Intimacy promotes the release of the oxytocin hormone which is responsible for a myriad of great feelings.[9]

    Here’re even more date night ideas for your reference: 50 Unique and Really Fun Date Ideas for Couples

    Final Thoughts

    The benefits of spending quality time together are endless. Here are just some of the ways it can contribute to a healthy relationship:

    • Improves emotional and physical intimacy
    • Lowers divorce rates
    • Improves communication
    • Reduces marital boredom
    • Bonds couples closer
    • Improves friendship
    • Boosts health
    • Reduces stress

    These are all excellent reasons to start making date night a regular part of your week.

    It’s easy to have a healthy relationship when you set aside dedicated time to share with your spouse. Try new things together, make your spouse your workout buddy, and look for innovative ways to be close and connected.

    These relationship tips will bring great benefits to your marriage.

    Featured photo credit: Allen Taylor via unsplash.com

    Reference

    Read Next