Editors: Stop the assault on legibility

When design destroys the message.

This week I’m going to talk about the crimes editors and designers commit against their readers. The felony charge is assault: assault on legibility. People who should know better make type in body text and type in headlines less readable—in some cases, unreadable.

What all of these tricks betray is an unconscious bias against the very idea of print, of readability, a conviction that reading is boring. The editors who indulge in gimmicks show their impatience with words, and their desire to spice up the prose that they believe bores their readers.

The real crime is misplaced modesty. The editor forgets that she, and she alone, bears sole responsibility for everything in the publication. That includes the work done by the designer. She says, “I’m responsible for words, and my designer takes care of design.” No. You are responsible for everything, and your first job is to stop designers from making your publication illegible and ugly.

Think I’m exaggerating? I wish you could see the publications at my elbow. Each one of them shows what happens when a designer gets carte blanche from the editor to be “creative.”

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