Writing a Support Letter: Remember CRAP Design Principles

Most of us haven’t taken a design course. So here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind when you’re putting together your newsletter.

Your design should use CRAP:

1.    Contrast

Contrast means you need to make different items different. Design that makes items look similar but slightly different just makes your design look sloppy. This applies to size, color, font, shape, spacing, etc. One simple way to illustrate this point is with font size. If your body copy is size 12, your headers should be 18 to give happy contrast. Don’t just use 14. The size is too similar, so it will not stand apart. Or, use 12-point font but bold it. The size is the same (not similar), but the thickness of the letters will set it apart.

2.    Repetition

Repetition gives your letter a consistent theme. Use the same font for all body copy. Use the same font size for all related headers. Repetition is a very simple way to unify your letter and strengthen its organization.

One of the ways newsletters often break the repetition rule is with fonts. If there are three different pieces, six different fonts will be used—each header and section of body copy will have its own font.

Your letter should use no more than two fonts. TWO. One for headers and one for body. You can even just use one font, contrasting the heading with size and weight.

If you choose to use two fonts, here’s a good rule for you. There are two general families of font: serif and sans serif. Serif is Latin for “feet.” So serif fonts have little feet (like Times New Roman, Cambria, or Georgia), and sans (Latin for “without”) have no feet (like Helvetica, Arial, or Myriad Pro).

Feet make smaller font slightly easier to read, because they help create a line your eyes can follow. Choose a serif font for your body and a sans serif for your headings. This gives you great contrast. Now, be consistent throughout the document. Really, really: You can use just one font throughout. This is just a guideline if you want to use two.

Fonts to avoid: Comic Sans, Papyrus, Courier, and Bradley Hand. Just trust us. They are overused by amateurs, they’ve become a joke, and just, please, don’t use them.

3.    Alignment

Items on the page should be connected to other elements on the page visually. Alignment again helps give your letter a clean, cohesive look.

Centering text is commonly used, but it is actually a sloppy look. Left alignment of both your body copy and your headings is better.

trapped white space
This is trapped white space. The boxes or text create awkward space. Design is claustrophobic. Please, for your own good, don’t trap it.
white space
This layout is much cleaner. The heavy items put the weight on the inside or top and allow for flow and breath.

4.    Proximity

Related items should be close together. So if you have two articles, keep the heading, the body, and photos for one article grouped together. Give a little breathing room between it and the other article’s components. That breathing room is called “white space.”

White space is a design principle that is hard for newsletter writers to employ. It tells you to leave some space empty, but we have a lot of items to include. We want to fit as much in as we can, and to print as few pages as possible. But your letter will look cleaner, seem more professional, and be more accessible to your readers if you allow some space for the eyes to rest.

One thing to know about white space is that you don’t want to trap it. Don’t have a box of negative space in the middle of your design, or it will look like a mistake. Margins are good. Some extra space between separate articles. But not odd blank spaces in the middle, trapped by text and images.

Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, Proximity. Just remember CRAP when you’re designing your support letter.

Do you have any other rules of thumb that you use for design?

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