Planning A Design

Previous Page

Planning A Design :

When professional communicators talk about document design, they mean both the process for arriving at the design of documents and the look of the resulting documents. It's an all too common rookie mistake in producing a document (whether a print document or a Web page) to invest the time and money for using technology to the fullest but to fail utterly to plan for meeting readers' needs. No amount of technology can make up for a lack of such planning. Design thus begins with a set of planning questions, continues with sketching out a preliminary design and then moves into estimating costs.

Questions to ask as you plan a design :

Always start with a plan. Since your project will probably incorporate several elements, you have to think ahead about each element:

Who are the people in this audience?

What are their key characteristics? Do you think they expect a conventional design? Or might they like something different?

What are the information needs of the people in this audience?

Are they only looking for information? Do they want in some way to be entertained? Or do they need to be persuaded? Beyond that what kinds of content do they want and need from this document-personal views, facts, problem analysis, arguments, illustrations, links to other sources or something else? You can try to guess, but the best way to find out the real information needs of the people you are trying to reach is to ask them directly.

What is your own purpose in producing this project?

What do you want to get out of it? What kind of effect do you want to create? Do you mean to create a serviceable document or a showcase document? Are you just trying to get the boss off your back by getting the newsletter out or are you particularly trying to impress someone?

What tone do you want to convey?

What kind of impact do you want this document to have? For example, a personal home page that you expect only your friends and family to see will probably be vastly different in tone from a professional home page one you expect to represent you on the Web to clients, customers, peers and prospective employers.

What components are you working with?

Mostly words? Or will you include visuals - and if so, what kinds (illustrations, charts, photographs)?

Is this a print document or will it be on the Web?

What constraints are you under?

How much time do you have? How much money can you spend? What are the limits of your expertise and what kind of technical help will be available?

If you were creating a fund-raising brochure for a children's museum, your working plan based on this analysis might look like this:


Civic leaders who I hope will support the children's museum and interested citizens who might become donors. From this brochure, they can learn about a worthwhile project to support.


To show that the museum is an educational and cultural asset for our community and thus worthy of both public and private support.


Informal and friendly - I want them to like the museum. (Use a lighthearted type and open layout with borders.)


Information about what the museum offers. Some graphics - if possible, pictures of children enjoying the museum but cost might be a real constraint.

Print or Web:

Only a print document for now, but we need to save the disk files so that eventually this material can be the beginnings of a Web site for the museum.


Two weeks to produce the brochure. Inexpensive is good. As a nonprofit, we shouldn't look as if we're spending a lot of money, so design should be simple.

Sketching Out A Preliminary Design :

Using pencil and paper, sketch out a preliminary design. Eventually you will need to worry in more detail about what type to use (fonts, styles and sizes), where and how to use headings, what colors of print and paper to use and how the elements of the layout (movement, white space, chunking, graphics and artwork) will work together. But for this preliminary step you just want a rough sketch that will help you decide where to put headings, blocks of text, charts, pictures and so on.

If you need ideas for the basic design, visit any travel agency or your local chamber of commerce or any office that has lots of brochures you can look at. You'll most likely find one you want to imitate. Or you can look up samples on such Web sites as the Microsoft Office Template Gallery which will not only show you designs, but also allow you to download and use them, inserting your own text and visuals.

If you are preparing a Web page or site instead of a print publication, you should still work from a pencil-and-paper sketch. In this case, however, you will have to sketch out the layout of each individual screen and the way the screens lead one to another. Will you design your document as basically one long page, relying on the reader to scroll down and down and down? Or will you use a more hierarchical design with a navigation page for the first screen where users can choose from a number of different paths.

Once you have a preliminary sketch or sketches, it's important to get someone else to look at them and give you feedback. If possible, get feedback from people who are members of the eventual audience for your project. If that's not possible, be sure to tell the readers of your preliminary sketches something about that audience. Coming up with a preliminary design is nice. Getting a meaningful review of it by members of the target audience is wonderful.

Estimating Costs :

Think about costs. Once you've made preliminary decisions (in the case of a print document) on size, illustrations, two or four-color versus black-and-white and (in the case of Web materials) on the basic design, get an estimate of costs whether for printing or for Web site hosting. That esti¬mate will affect your final decisions. Work out your cost estimates in as much detail as you can. You may need to visit a printer for a reliable esti¬mate or to talk with a more experienced Web site developer. Remember, if you're building a Web site, someone has to host it and to maintain it as well.

To continue the section on Considering Design,

1. A Few Uses of Document Designs

3. Considering Type

4. Considering Layout

5. Designing For The Website

Successful Writing| Planning A Design to HOME PAGE

Follow These Links!