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Is clear communication about the words or is it about good layout? It’s both.

Choosing the right words to explain a concept is a great start. Problem is, the wrong typeface could make it difficult to read. Similarly, a chaotic layout can make it hard for the readers to understand the information.

That’s why readability and legibility are often used as criteria for clear communication.

Readability is the bigger picture. It’s about presentation of your information. How easy it is to understand and read.. If people don’t understand what you mean, information can just be a jumble of letters.

The way information is presented directly affects readability. Margins, type size, line length, the space between lines and the colours chosen all impact how easily – and quickly – the information can be absorbed.

Legibility is about the detail, and often centres around the typeface selection.

 

It’s not a black and white science. Most people agree that a doctor’s handwriting is hard to read, but it’s not as easy to agree which typefaces are ‘difficult to read’.

One feature of an ‘easy to read’ typeface is that it is easy to differentiate one letter from another. The typeface design ensures letters don’t run together in a blur. Nor are they so decorative it makes identification of letters, and words, difficult.

That said, ease of reading does include a degree of psychology.

Research has found that people read best what they read most often. For example, members of the public who read a printed copy of the The New Yorker every morning of their life, will find the newspaper’s typeface of choice so easy to read they no longer notice it. Adversely, a person who struggled to learn French using a textbook set in a sans serif, will often struggle to read anything set in sans serif for years to come. It’s about their frustration to comprehend the information.

Takeaway

Legibility and readability are equally as important because when we make information hard to access, readers often just simply give up, or worse still, their understanding of the information is compromised. That’s not good for them and nor is it good for the company distributing the information.

That’s why we’re launching the Clear Communication Awards. We want to publicly acknowledge creators and organisations producing information that works. Great design and great writing focussed on helping people understand the information they need. If you have a great project that you think should be acknowledged, apply.

About the awards

If you haven’t heard of the Clear Communication Awards – which wouldn’t be a surprise, as we are only launching them this week – the awards are a joint project of myself, Joh Kirby and Carolyn Alexander. They acknowledge information projects that combine excellence in design, communication and plain language. Because everyone benefits from being able to find the information that they need more easily.

The awards open in June 2019.

We’re releasing information regularly. Subscribe to our mailing list or follow our Clear Communication Awards page on LinkedIn to receive updates on categories, judges and lots of information on clear communication.


Carol Mackay

Carol is a designer and co-founder of the Design Business Council, an organisation founded to promote excellence in design and its role in a successful and sustainable business. Prior to the DBC, Carol co-founded and managed a successful graphic design studio: Mackay Branson design.

Her design career focussed on helping the financial, legal, insurance, superannuation and service sectors use design to add clarity to their often complex message. She now uses the same skills to help business understand design, and designers understand business.

Carol Mackay

Author Carol Mackay

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