As artists of an often misunderstood dance, we dancers understand that everything we present publicly reflects back upon us as individuals, upon bellydance as an art form, and by extension, the Middle Eastern culture. When presenting these facets in the most favorable light to other dancers or the general public, good design becomes paramount because it is the most unmistakable way to demonstrate our worth.
Our culture’s increased emphasis on visual media has turned most of us into constant consumers of design, subconsciously honing our ability to differentiate between poor and great design – even if we aren’t aware of the formal principles that separate them. This differentiation is why utilizing basic design principles is imperative for those of us who create our own marketing materials, want to present ourselves as professionals, and are hoping to market bellydance to the general public.
Design helps us:
create a unique presence,
build a brand,
position ourselves as high quality,
and send the right message about our dance.
As a graphic designer, everyday I see the impact of good design. After achieving a Bachelors in design, working for several well respected design firms, and building a career at a technology company whose sole focus is design and user experience, it is impossible to ignore the importance of this field. Although design takes years to learn and decades to perfect, applying even a few basics can make a huge positive change. These basics are the foundation of design and cover all genres, from a bellydance workshop poster to corporate stationery.
Since text is usually the starting point of a design, we will start here with an introduction to practical typography concepts and how to apply them to your marketing materials. I have included images of real world examples that I have made and links to additional resources at the end of this article. Typography is the technique of arranging and formatting type, and its successful use is vital in creating clean, polished pieces. These guidelines apply to both print and web.
Avoid easily identifiable, overused typefaces like Papyrus, Comic Sans, and Curlz. Audiences are tired of seeing them and their kitsch factor decreases the professionalism of your designs.
While thousands of free creative typefaces exist, many of them are practically illegible, even when sized for a large headline. Typefaces that are difficult to read not only confuse audiences, they create a negative impression and bring your professionalism into question. Instead, try versatile classics like Garamond, Bodoni, Minion, Futura, Helvetica, and Avant Garde. Their creators obsessed over every proportion, angle, and curve. Many typefaces, even ones you pay for, have not been blessed with this level of detail.
Remember that simple is elegant, not boring. Your personality and message will still come through with a classic typeface.
Instead of using a slew of different typefaces, use two at most: one for large text and another for small text. Simplicity allows audiences to focus on the message instead of on all the typefaces competing for their attention. For example, on a flier you might use Garamond for the headline, date, and time, and Futura for the description and address.
The poster at the top of this article uses two simple typefaces. The result is refined yet engaging.
Audiences can’t absorb everything at once, so create levels by choosing what you want them to see first, second, third, and fourth. The text you want them to see first should draw the most attention as the largest piece of text on the page, and your other hierarchy levels should decrease in size accordingly.
Use bold, italics, and special effects only to enhance the hierarchy of your message. For example, you might use a bold weight and a soft shine on a headline to make it stand out a bit more. However, if all of the text vies for attention, none of it will receive attention.
The flier at the right side of this page provides hierarchy by varying the weight, size, and contrast of the text.
Make sure the text is large enough to read, especially on business cards. Remember that typefaces read differently even if they are the same size; while Futura may be readable at 7 points, Garamond is not.
Go light on the special effects, as heavy effects can make text harder to read. Try to use effects in a way that will increase legibility. For example, you might use a drop shadow on small text to help audiences read the words on a textured background.
Do not torture the type. Manipulating the shape of the letters in any way, such as squeezing them together or stretching them apart, destroys the integrity of the typeface and decreases readability.
Left justify for optimal readability. In most western countries, our eyes are trained to move left to right. Blocks of text that are centered or right justified are usually hard to read and look messy. Fully justified text is also troublesome, as it becomes riddled either with uneven white space or with hyphens.
Keep line lengths short. Text is easier to read when it doesn’t span the entire page, so let go of the need to fill the whole space. Our eyes need room to breathe.
When formatting blocks of text, ensure there is enough space between each line by using the default spacing or increasing it by a couple of points. Do not decrease the spacing from the default, as it makes the text much harder to read.
When using script typefaces, keep it mixed case and large. Scripts in all caps are hard to read, as are scripts in small sizes.
Ask friends to check for legibility before you print the flier or go live with your website. Make sure they can easily read it all.
Always get a sample before ordering printed materials, as printed text looks and feels different than what you see on the screen.
illustrationThis poster contains lots of content, but is easy to read because the text is left justified, line lengths are short, effects are minimal, the hierarchy is clear, and there’s plenty of breathing room so the audience can relax and focus on the message.
These basic concepts will help refine your print and web materials, lending positivity and class not only to you as a dancer, but also to belly dance as a whole. However, typography is just one facet of graphic design, and there are other aspects that have the power to help or hinder you. Stay tuned for future articles on using colors, patterns, and images. In the meantime, use the links below to gain an even better understanding of the robust and effective tool that is typography.