Chapter 5 Enhance Your Scenic Experience Visual Design And G

Student Writers

Christopher Morris, Charles Zaffery, James Roysden.

Enhance Your Scenic Experience: Visual Design and Graphics

With proper use of white space, graphics, and typography, the scenic experience is more enjoyable. The well-chosen visual elements bring your document from a two-dimensional report to an all-encompassing, intriguing experience leaving the reader with a firmer handle on understanding of your subject.

Visual Design and Graphics



Today technical communication goes beyond black text on white paper. Magazines use colors and pictures layouts for visual stimulation. Newspapers have enticing advertisements readers to buy their product. Every schoolbook fills its pages with graphics and illustrations to enhance its educational content. All of these mediums of communication employ visual elements to add and improve the message to their audiences. In this section, you will gain insight on how to use page layout, graphics, typography, and color to create a document that is both visually stimulating and instructive.

Page Layout

Page layout refers to how text and graphics are arranged on a page. Neither text nor graphics should overpower each other. One document may need to display images with vibrant color and bold text and another may need charts or graphs and neutral colors. Each document must include the two primary design principles: harmony and emphasis.


Harmony relates to the unity of all parts in the design. In a layout, all objects have a weight. If one puts in elements at random, the page will look unbalanced. The goal of any document is to unify all elements in the design so the document becomes harmonious. Each element in the layout should help convey the meaning to its audience. A layout may contain harmony of consistency and white space.


In short, consistency is the equality of the weight of the typefaces, decorations, and illustrations. Consistency goes hand in hand with similarity. You should establish a layout grid and a style for handling text and graphics, then stick with it to create consistent rhythm and unity across all pages. Repetition gives a document a consistent identity, reinforcing a distinct sense of place, and makes the document memorable like in the figure above. Consistency allows the reader’s eye adapt to the design, and confidently predict the location of information and navigation within the document. When users know exactly where to find information, it saves them time and the document is more useful.

White Space

White space is an important design principle of any page layout, and defined as the absence of text and graphics. It breaks up text and graphics giving the readers eye space to sort out all the activity on the page. When applying white space you should remember to:

o Increase paragraph spacing by using a line of space or deep indent, but not both, to create white space.
o Increase space between columns of text. Alleys that are too narrow cause the eye to skip over to the next column.
o Put more space around outer edges of a page. If space is cramped within the body of the document, add white space with generous margins.
o Leave more room around graphics. When wrapping text around graphics, provide plenty of space. Do not run text to the edge of the graphic.
o Increase space around headlines. Add white space between headlines or subheads.


Figure 5.2
Text before Whitespace is Added


Figure 5.3
Same Text after Whitespace is Added


Emphasis refers to changing the appearance of a word, phrase, or any object on the page to make it stand out. An object that is emphasized is an object deliberately drawing attention to itself. Two ways to add emphasis are through contrast and proximity.


Contrast is the opposite of harmony as it creates interest in the document through variety. To create emphasis in a layout there must be strong contrast between elements. Contrast can be added by changing sizes and colors of the elements to distinguish them from their surroundings.
When most people hear the word ‘contrast’, they might think of color. Even though the principle of contrast is not limited to color, it can go a long way in helping the writer differentiate elements.
Size is another way contrast is used in a document. Creating contrast through size is important, especially when you cannot rely on color. Headings are an excellent way to establish hierarchy in a document. Also, size is not limited to text; it can be with graphics as well. Making one image larger gives that image more weight in the document.


In design, proximity creates a bond between elements on a page. How close or far apart elements are placed suggests a relationship, or lack of, between disparate parts. Unity is achieved by using a third element to connect distant parts.


In some documents, text alone can be boring or difficult to understand for the reader. It may be handy to insert graphics. A graphic is any sort of visual element used to aid a document. While sometimes used for decoration purposes, most graphics found in technical documents convey information and help the reader understand the subject.
Graphics make a great tool for technical writing. No matter the subject, there is a graphic that can boost a document's effectiveness. There are several common types of graphics used for technical writing.

Charts and Graphs

Charts, graphs, and tables are the usual medium of choice when a writer needs to display statistics or data values. It is easier to display data in a table or graph than using words to describe it. Also, a writer can insert a chart or table for breaking up the monotony of text. A table can give the readers' eyes a break and prevent them from getting lost in an endless river of paragraphs.

Line Graphs

Commonly associated with statistics, the line graph is a popular choice when the writer needs to show trends in data or show a relation between variables. Line graphs display changes in quantities from one value to the next and reveal how two sets of data interact.
In a line graph, the horizontal (x-axis) and vertical (y-axis) lines show measured values for sets of data. At each point on the graph where the two sets of data are related a dot is placed, and the dots are connected in sequence by a series of lines. In most cases, the x-axis is used to for an independent variable, like time, while the y-axis shows the dependent variable. While a line graph can give the reader a good idea of the overall trend of the data, it does not show exact values.


Figure 5.4
Line Graph of a Company's Home Price Indexes

Bar Charts

Just like a line graph, a bar chart is also useful for showing data trends. Bar charts excel at measuring quantities and displaying differences between values that are simple for any reader to understand. The greater the difference there is between bar sizes, the greater the difference there are between data values.
A bar chart is also designed with an x-axis and y-axis. In this graphic, while the width of the bars is uniform, the height changes to reflect measured values. Closely grouped bars provide a quick and easy way to compare differences between values.


Pie Charts

The main purpose of a pie chart is to show how a whole can be divided into parts. It is designed by dividing a circle into sections. Each section's size reflects what percentage of the whole is made up of that specific section. Each section is labeled and its percentage noted in the pie chart. For the purpose of clarity, most pie charts are colored, with each section being distinguished by a different color.


Figure 5.6
Pie Chart Showing the Current Breakdown of a Budget


If you need a graphic to show the reader the chain of command for a project, or the cause and effect of certain actions, the flowchart is the best answer. Flowcharts are designed to illustrate a series of elements placing emphasis on the order of elements. Flowcharts are commonly used to show a reader how to perform a process.

A flowchart is simple to design. It is essentially a series of boxes connected by lines or arrows. The lines show how the chart progresses from one element to the next. However, other shapes can be used instead of boxes, especially if the nature of the elements is different. For example, diamonds are typically used in flowcharts to represent points when a choice must be made to progress.


Gantt Charts

Similar in appearance to a bar chart, a Gantt chart is a common way to show project schedules for technical documents. The main purpose of a Gantt chart is to demonstrate how long phases of a project will last. It can also show, in some cases, how phases of the project interact with each other.

A Gantt chart is typically designed by having time represented on the x-axis, and each phase of the project listed on the y-axis. A bar is drawn for each phase, with the bar's placement and length representing the beginning, end, and duration of the related phase. Arrows or other symbols can be used to depict interactions between phases. For example, an arrow drawn from the end point of phase A's bar to the starting point of phase B's bar indicates that phase B begins at the end of phase A.



While charts and graphs can be great for showing trends and relations, it is not always necessary. Sometimes, you need to show raw data in a way that is easy to read and analyze. Tables are made to show data in an efficient way, while taking up very little space.
When designing a table, information is placed into rows and columns. Typically, the row headings indicate the values being measured, and the column headings represent the qualities of those values.



Although statistics and data are important, graphics are useful for a variety of other purposes. Photographs and illustrations are ideal when a writer needs to show a visual relevant to the subject.


One of the simplest ways to show a reader what you are writing about is to provide an illustration. Illustrations come in a variety of forms: from complex maps to simple icons and symbols.


Line Drawings and Diagrams

Line drawings and diagrams are semi-realistic representations of the subject the writer is covering. Diagrams are a popular choice when the writer wants to show the reader a close-up on important elements. Also, it is easier in most cases to label a drawing since the writer has more control over the graphic's appearance.


Maps are a type of illustration that shows aerial views. These can depict geographical and topographical elements, such as buildings or streets. Maps are commonly used to show a reader how to reach a particular location (like an atlas) or where events happen (like a travel guide).

Icons and Symbols

Icons and symbols are a common and standard type of illustration, especially for technical documents. They may be simple drawings, but this simplicity makes them easy to understand in most cases. This is why icons and symbols are often used as warning signs. Some icons, like the skull-and-crossbones for poison, are even universally understood making them an excellent medium for communicating cross-culturally.
However, this does not mean they are flawless. There are many cases where an icon or symbol can confuse the reader. Using too many icons can also distract the reader, thus harming the document. Ultimately, the writer should use their best judgment to decide the when, where, and what of icon use.



When a writer needs to show the reader a realistic picture of the document's subject or a realistic portrayal of a process or procedure, a photograph is a simple solution. Thanks to modern technology, it is easy to take a picture, upload it to a computer, and add it to a document. However, factors like lighting and surroundings must be taken into consideration when taking a photograph, as picture quality will be affected. When taking a photograph, it helps to think about what “story” the photograph should tell. Making sure the photograph matches the subject of the document will ensure that the photograph improves the document's quality.


Screen Shots

A screen shot is a photograph of your computer's desktop. Screen shots are useful when you need to show examples of a task being performed by displaying images from the computer screen.
On most computers, taking a screen shot is as simple as pressing the Print Screen (“Prt Scr” or similar) key to capture the whole screen, or Alt + Print Screen to take a shot of the currently active window. This will make a copy of the computer screen's appearance, which can be pasted into a document or image file.
For Mac users, you can press Command (the “Apple” key) + Shift + 3 to take a shot of the whole screen, or Command + Shift + 4 to capture a selected region of the screen. The screen shot will appear on the desktop as a .PNG file.
While most computer operating systems have a default method for taking screen shots, these methods can be limiting at times. For example, what if a writer needs to take a screen shot of an entire website? In this situation, taking a screen shot using the default method can be difficult. Many web pages are larger than the computer screen and require the user to scroll to see the rest of the page. This is where third party software can come in handy. There are many programs specialized for helping capture screen shots:
o SnagIt
o Microsoft OneNote
o Snipping Tool
o Greenshot
o Jing
o Snapz Pro X
o Adobe Captivate

Labeling Graphics

When you plan to insert graphics into any sort of document, it is necessary to implement a labeling system. Labeling systems allow graphics to be easily linked with the text of a document, and make it simpler for the reader to locate the graphics that are related to the information. After all, reading, “refer to Figure 4.1” is quicker and easier to understand than reading “refer to the figure in this chapter that analyzes the average rainfall of Orlando during the year of 2010”.
If the document is simple, like a memo or paper, it is easy to use numbers or letters to differentiate between figures. For example, the first figure would be “Figure 1,” the second would be “Figure 2”, and so on.
If the document has several chapters, the common convention for labeling is to use decimals. In this system, the number before the decimal point represents the chapter, and the number after the point is the number of the figure in that chapter. Thus, the seventh figure of chapter four would be named “Figure 4.7”. Another method is to separate the numbers by a hyphen instead of a decimal point. In this case, the graphic would be named “Figure 4-7”.
In addition to labeling your figures with these conventions, it is also a good idea to give each figure a proper title. This is especially useful for graphics like charts and tables since, at first glance, all the reader may see is a cluster of confusing numbers. In this case, the right title can give the reader an idea of what the figure represents and how to interpret what it says.

Ethical Use of Graphics

Graphics can add a significant amount of power to your technical document. The right image inserted at the right place can help a reader understand what is most important. However, like any other powerful tool, the graphics of a document can be used unethically.
In this case, unethical does not mean giving false information. Instead, graphics are often misused in order to “spin” the truth, making certain things seem more or less important than they really are. For example, cutting out a few numbers on the scale of a bar chart can make it tell a completely different story. It may still be showing the “truth”, but the difference in those bars now seems bigger than it was before.


The bar charts pictured above show an example of graphic manipulation. The bar chart on the left starts the y-axis for funding at 0, while the right bar chart takes a more unethical approach by setting the minimum y-axis value to 20. Although both charts have the same data values, the range of the right chart makes the funding loss seem more extreme.
While such a use of graphics can be tempting, this will only end up hurting your document not to mention your credibility. Such manipulation can lead the reader to believe you are disrespectful and insulting their intelligence.


Typography is a way to communicate words and tense using visual representation. The typography of a document brings the audience in and expands what the author(s) intent is. It is used throughout the entire document through words, graphics, and layout. It provides a major source of information and visual stimulus. There are many sections concerning Typography, ranging from how well it reads, the typeface itself, using symmetry and alignment, and everything concerning physical properties of the document and type.

Legibility and Readability

Legibility refers to how simple it is to read a document at a glance. It refers with the choice of typeface and how it relates to the document. For instance, some typefaces have difficult letters at certain font sizes. These are not legible fonts and would be a poor choice. To give an extreme example, Webdings is a very poor choice for any document. Another factor that plays into legibility is color choices. Putting a dark background and grey font will not allow for a legible font. One more factor that goes into play is the type of paper used. A high gloss paper requires an extremely legible font, and usually a larger font size than normal, matte paper.

Readability has more to do with the physical text then the font. For example, a billboard has to have very high readability. In your average document, it refers to how taxing the document is to the reader. If it is properly white spaced, with standard text spacing, and good leading it should have high readability. A consistent font style is important as well. Keeping the same style of font and text styles throughout a whole document allows the reader to predict what they will see and offer comfort as they read it.


Typefaces are fonts that share stylistic similarities. They all have their own characteristics, but share qualities like letters, numbers, and punctuation. The most frequently used typefaces are simple, while some are extreme and mostly used for artistic purposes. A typeface is one of the most important choices for a document and should be carefully considered. It can send a powerful message, such as what kind of document it is, who the audience should be, the message the author is sending, and can even set a tone for the document.
The most commonly used typefaces are Serif and Sans Serif. The average technical writer will use these two the most and as even the fanciest typefaces can be broken down with these two categories.

Sans Serif

This is Sans Serif, the most widely used style of font. The difference here between Serif and Sans Serif is the lack of finishing strokes at the end of the character. The finishing strokes of some letters make it look fancy. The major advantage to Sans Serif is these fonts are extremely legible and readable at every font size. Sans Serif is best used in situations typically where a bold font is needed and information must be announced effectively. Sans Serif should also be used for electronic communication because it displays clearly on a computer monitor.

This is Serif, another widely used style of font. The major difference here is that Serif has flourishes where Sans Serif does not, for instance, on the r and f. Serif is best used for body text in print documents. It provides good spacing between the individual letters and it guides the eye in a horizontal direction because of the finishing strokes.
There are many styles of typefaces. Categories range from Cartoon typefaces, to Horror typefaces, to whole categories dedicated to Calligraphy, Graffiti, Typewriter-style fonts, Army stencils, fonts that look like they are written in foreign languages, pixel-fonts and many more. Some of these fonts are very useful for communicating a powerful message, although many are not readable. One exception is the explosion of popularity of a typeface referred to as “pixel”.
While many other fancy font-faces are difficult to read, the pixel font-face is remarkably legible even when used at small font sizes.
While there are not many situations where this might be helpful, it is important to keep them in mind in case the situation demands it. Remember the vast majority of fonts for any audience. In any kind of design work, at least one style of these typefaces may be preferable to a standard one to draw in the audience's attention.

Choosing a Type Size

Almost as important as the typeface is the type size. A consistent sizing needs to be used for the body, the headings, and any titles throughout to keep the document legible and readable. Therefore, a document should have a size guide to go along with it. This is generally because larger text is more important, while the smaller text is less so. This creates a hierarchy of importance. The audience can then recognize which text is most important and which is not. For example:

Using large, bolded text will draw a reader's attention very quickly.

While using smaller-than-average text will not only denote that the topic has changed pace, but it will also call attention to the larger heading up above.

Alignment and Symmetry

Alignment is the position of the text within the margins. It can be adjusted within and outside of the grid both vertical and horizontally. Text can be left flush, right flush, centered, or justified. Left flush is the most common alignment, with justified coming next, based on readability. They give the audience a good starting point. Compare the examples below; the top is justified, the middle is flush left, while the bottom is flush right.

Justified Text

Lorem Ipsum. Lorem Ipsum. Lorem Ipsum. Lorem Ipsum. Lorem Ipsum. Lorem Ipsum. Lorem Ipsum. Lorem Ipsum.

Flush Light Text

Lorem Ipsum. Lorem Ipsum. Lorem Ipsum. Lorem Ipsum. Lorem Ipsum. Lorem Ipsum. Lorem Ipsum. Lorem Ipsum.

Flush Right Text

Lorem Ipsum. Lorem Ipsum. Lorem Ipsum. Lorem Ipsum. Lorem Ipsum. Lorem Ipsum. Lorem Ipsum. Lorem Ipsum.
Symmetry and Asymmetry
Symmetry and asymmetry are both useful. They also serve different purposes. Symmetry is most useful on a standard document that will be frequently used. The audience will find it more comfortable and predictable. It is created by using the same alignment throughout the whole document with uniformity and evenly spaced columns. Asymmetry serves the purpose of making a document eye-catching. The reader will find their eyes drawn to certain parts of a document and it will get their attention. It is created by using multiple types of alignment (for instance flush left and flush right on the same page). Your document must be symmetrical or it will look out of place.


Spacing in typography is defined by a few different elements. Leading and kerning are the most widely used of those elements. Leading is the space between lines of text. Leading can be used to increase readability, or even decreased, if the author so chooses. It is often determined by typeface, as some fonts need to be spaced very far apart while others need to be very close.

Standard Tight Leading
Loose Leading

Lorem Ipsum
Lorem Ipsum
Lorem Ipsum
Lorem Ipsum
Lorem Ipsum
Lorem Ipsum

As you can see in the example above, the typeface is not easy to read with a tight leading. This font would look best with a standard or loose leading. All typefaces are different though, and you should experiment.
Kerning is the other important element of type spacing. It eliminates all possibility of letter collision and makes sure there is no unwanted space between letters. Kerning is more useful in large text because any errors that may exist in a typeface are much more visible when on larger scales. The reader will have an easier time reading if kerning is used correctly. They will be less distracted by a strange looking error and more focused on what the text says. Certain letter combinations have more kerning then others, especially based on the typeface. The letters “e” and “l” are good examples, as these letters both have differing white space based on what letter comes before or after. Certain letters and combinations will often look unnatural, but this is to be expected and kerning-by-hand will lead to unnatural looking words.


Another way to enhance the layout of an author’s document is to employ the use of color. Previously, black and white were be the only colors one had to create document with, but now millions of colors are available. Even so, color has to be used correctly.
Color theory is the guide to understanding the mixing of color and the impact of color combinations. When creating a document authors must understand color theory to effectively convey their thoughts without confusing their audience.

Color Wheel


Figure 5.14
Example of a Color Wheel

The color wheel is an abstract illustrative organization of color hues around a circle, which shows relationships between primary, secondary, and tertiary colors.

o Primary Colors: Red, Yellow, Blue
o Secondary Colors: Orange, Green, Purple
o Tertiary Colors: These are those "in-between" colors like Yellow-Green and Red-Violet

Color Schemes

Color schemes are an important part of the document. They can set a tone, put the reader in a state of mind, and give good balance. They are used when mixing colors, placing colors next to each other, and many other ways. There are also many different kinds of color schemes, from the color-less monochromatic, to a simple natural only color scheme.


This color scheme is many tones of a single color. It is very relaxing, predictable, and easy on the eyes for almost any color. This is used mostly with neutral colors. It will also be required in situations where a vivid color is required.


This color scheme is useful for colors opposite on the color wheel. As an example, red with green, blue with orange, and violet with yellow. This scheme is used to give a very powerful look to a document. The different colors make things pop-off a page and give a vivid look with two colors.

Split Complimentary

This color scheme is used for two adjacent colors of its complimentary on the color wheel. Using this scheme the color red would be paired with green and blue-green (or yellow-green). This allows for a greater variation of color then regular complimentary while also bringing down the tone and allowing for slightly more variation in color.


This color scheme is used for primary and secondary colors adjacent to each other on the color wheel. For analogous, you would pair blue with green, red with orange, green with yellow, and so on. These colors are used for a small amount of contrast, and would be used in a document similar to how a monochromatic scheme is used.


This color scheme is used for three evenly spaced colors on the wheel. The most common example here is primary and tertiary colors: red, blue, yellow and green, violet, and orange. This is best used when trying to attract attention. It will bring the reader in to examine the document closely and catch the eye.


This color scheme is used for four colors, arranged in two complimentary pairs. This color scheme is very difficult to create because of the amount of color in one document. An example of this style would be blue with orange and yellow with violet.

Color Models

When writers want to use color to improve their document, it can help if they understand some of the more popular color models. Color models are designed to use numbers and mathematical formulas to describe how colors are represented.

RGB Color Model

The RGB color model is named for its focus on the colors red, green, and blue. This may seem strange since one would expect a color model to be based on the traditional primary colors of red, yellow, and blue.
However, the RGB color model is an Additive Color Model. An Additive Color Model is designed on the concept of light being directly emitted from a source to stimulate receptors in the human eye. Each of the three colors corresponds to a receptor in the eye. Different colors are achieved by transmitting different amounts and combinations of these three colors. Each color is measured on a scale of 255, with 0 being no light emission and 255 being maximum emission.

CMYK Color Model

The CMYK color model is a popular alternative to the RGB model. This model is named for its use of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. While this may seem like a random collection of colors, there is a reason for this strange color combination.
The CMYK model is a Subtractive Color Model. While an Additive Color Model is based on the direct emission of light, a Subtractive Color Model is based on the reflection of light. To be precise, it focuses on the idea that inks, pigments, and paints absorb certain wavelengths of light and reflect others, with the reflected light stimulating the eye's receptors. This subtraction of wavelengths from white light is what gives the light its color. Since the CMYK color model mimics how ink functions, these colors are a popular choice for ink cartridge printers.
The colors of the CMYK model work as complements for the colors of the RGB model for absorption. Cyan absorbs red wavelengths of light, magenta absorbs green wavelengths, and yellow absorbs blue wavelengths. However, since these three colors can absorb all the wavelengths of light, why is black needed?
As it turns out, the “K” in “CMYK” does not actually stand for “black”. It means “key”. Since the details of an image are usually black, a black key plate is used to print these details, and the other three colors are aligned, or “keyed” to the black details. While black ink is not really needed to produce the color black, it is included for the sake of cutting costs on ink. It is much cheaper to print black by using black ink than to print it using a combination of cyan, magenta, and yellow.

HSB Color Model

The HSB color model is another commonly used model. In this model, “HSB” stands from hue, saturation, and brightness. It is also known as the HSL or HSV model, replacing the term “brightness” with “value” or “lightness”.
In the HSB model, hue is the pure value that controls the color itself. For example, 0 is red, 120 is green, 300 is magenta, and so forth.


Saturation is essentially the “purity” of the color, and is a measure of how much white color is mixed with the pure color. It is measured on a scale from 0 to 100, with higher numbers relating to a higher purity, and less white color mixed in.


Brightness, also known as lightness or value, is the “intensity” of the color, and is a measure of how much black color is mixed with the pure color. It also follows a scale of 0 to 100, with higher numbers relating to increased brightness, and less black color mixed in.


In summary, creating an effective technical document is as much about writing as it is about creating and maintaining a good use of visual elements. By using the information detailed above, you should be able to successfully employ visual aids into your document.

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