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8 Design Tricks to Refine the Look of Your Presentation or Report

by Mary Ivanova

We've teamed up with Crello to drop some knowledge on how you can improve the look of your presentation or report, from not to hot!

Presentations, reports, white papers - people either go overboard and make EVERYTHING in their document very visual (which, let’s be honest, is cool for one or two pages but not for the whole 40-page report!) or hit their reader with a wall of text, in fine print, no less. We’ve gathered some of the best advice out there to help you arrange and present your content in the most efficient way possible.

Go Black-on-White for Text


Racing after versatility, the web has turned its back on the standard black-on-white text and moved onto the newer, fresher pastures of whimsical fonts and tricky color combinations. While that works out handsomely in advertisement and for short-form mediums, like infographics, the long text has been slowly but steadily drifting away into the realm of egregious travesty.

The good old black text on a white background has a very high contrast ratio (see Wired’s material How the Web Became Unreadable for details), so we’d argue that the best way to design your PDF document would be using one of the classic fonts in black-on-white for any sizeable areas of text.

Have Two Columns


Last year Hubspot published an interesting study on the use columns in forms (yes, it’s forms, but we’ll get there). The study was designed to measure conversion rates for one- vs two-column forms, and, lo and behold, the two-column ones converted at a statistically significant 22% higher rate.

The findings may mean the readers perceive text shown in one column as overwhelmingly long, while in a two-column text the paragraphs appear more concise with shorter lines - making them easier to follow. If you need to include large chunks of text in your PDF, favor the double column style.

Let Your Subheadings Give Everything Away


A long report is not a place to bury the lead - think how many useful facts have escaped the public for months or even years until someone finally went through an important but very, very dull report with a fine-tooth comb. Unless you are Wikileaks, don’t assume thousands of people will go digging through your plentitude of data to discover all the gems.

Informative, readable subheadings will give your text structure and make it easy to skim. They will help both for those only looking to learn the key points of your piece and those reading your text cover to cover but struggling to sort through all the presented information.

Use Minimal Design Elements


One of the key rules in design is using white space. It allows to offer your information in a sort of vacuum with no clutter or distractions - that way people can easily focus on what’s presented to them and process it.

Too many bells and whistles are distracting at best and completely disrupting perception at worst - apply the bare minimum of design elements (think blocks of color and an occasional accent line or an arrow) to help structure your piece and nix everything else.

Employ Visual Aid


Supplement your story with explanatory illustrations - images will help explain your points more clearly and, being less abstract than verbal communication, they are easily remembered and classified in our minds. Compare:

First Image


Second Image

The former is a fairly structured text with reasonable design, but the latter pops off the page - thanks to a meaningful and memorable illustration, as well as added simple design elements.

Depending on how ‘designery’ you want your piece to look, either include simple illustrations to support your key points or go for presentation or report templates developed by professional designers like the ones offered at Crello.

Highlight Curious Details


More often than not, reader’s attention dwindles drastically as the text goes on, so highlight interesting data, facts or quotes throughout your PDF. A single salient point or even a keyword is capable of stopping your reader in their wandering tracks to draw them back in. Use larger font and move the highlighted text to the side for it to stand out. Like this:

Third Image

Add Links


We are so used to the notion that our reports, articles and white papers are typically fashioned into PDF to be print-ready that we forget the very format has been the cornerstone of reducing papertrail globally - as long-time Smallpdf blog readers may remember from last year’s post on 12 Steps to a Paperless Office.

Realistically, your file is way more likely to be viewed on a PC than paper, so don’t be shy about linking to all the essential sources that you might expect your readers to explore further after reading your document.

Cut the junk


And finally, one last tip before we sign off. Attributed to the French fashion designer Coco Chanel, this is probably one of the most used quotes of all time: ‘Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.’ Incidentally, it’s actually applicable to the construction of your PDF - before finalizing the end product, go through the text one last time to remove any junk information that might have sneaked into your final draft, and you are done!

Happy creating, and don’t sweat it if you have several files you need to include in your report - here’s Smallpdf’s quick how-to to help you do it.

Guest Poster
Mary Ivanova
Writer from Crello
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