I’ve been browsing the Microsoft Office website recently. There are container-loads of “tips and tricks” on there that tell you how to do all kinds of neat stuff except things you really need to know to make your document/presentation/promotional flier actually look good. Pardon me for getting slightly hot under the collar on this subject. I just hate seeing so many people being misled into thinking that technical tricks will automatically give them well-laid-out documents.
Take centering text as an example. On the Office website you’ll find the keyboard shortcut (Control-E in Windows, Command-E on the Mac) for centering text. What you won’t find is any kind of warning that a centered layout is static, restful, serene, in repose; so unless that’s the effect you want, you shouldn’t use it! Centering everything works well for a wedding invitation, say, or a funeral. As a promotion for your business it’s usually just what you don’t want.
Word, Powerpoint and their cousins from OpenOffice.org and Corel are great programs. You really can “do amazing things” with them if you work within their limitations and if you apply the kind of tried and proven rules of good design that are in the Creative Tips newsletter.
I suppose software publishers can be forgiven for being fascinated by the neat tricks they’ve spent so much time and energy building into their products, but gee, it would be great if they also took some time to explain when, why and when not to apply them to make business documents look good.