The Who, What, Where and When of Color In Your Documents


This article will help you to assess and maximise the impact your use of color in your documents and presentations will have on the readers. First of all you need to identify the following;

  • who your readers are
  • what your purpose is
  • when to use color
  • where to use color

Who and What?

Determine who your target readers are and what the specific purpose of the document is. Is it an internal product for your employees or is it for the eyes of potential or existing customers.

What is the purpose? Is it to advise, explain, sell, market etc. How many documents are involved? Is it just documents or are multimedia presentations needed. What results are you expecting? All these parameters need to be covered.

Are your target audiences conservative or more open to vibrant colors in documents and presentations. Some cultures associate serious business messages with black and white. Just give your specific situation some thought.

When and Where?

If you are sending a marketing proposal document to a client you will be looking to impress your existing or potential. But beware, the use of bright, fluorescent colors might not go down too well with a firm of accountants or lawyers but may well be appreciated by a music/video company.

If it is an internal document, do you need to use color at all? Consider the cost implication of doing this - Ink cartridge and laser toner usage etc. Unless the purpose of the document is, for example, to explain some major change in company structure, then I suggest you keep to black and white or minimise the color involved.

A situation where you may consider color for internal purposes would be for the production of safety messages. These need to stand out and be noticed.

Finally remember:

  • Don't use too many colors or too much colored text. You may lose the impact and readability of the work.

  • White text on a black background is harder to reader than black on white.

  • Similarly, avoid placing too many color pictures, images or icons on a page.

  • Use a color photograph in preference to an illustration or drawing..for selling in particular.

  • Used correctly, color can break up the monotony of black-and-white text reading.

  • Whatever color theme you have, stick to it throughout the document or presentation.

  • Graphs and charts in particular will capture more attention if in color.

  • For the graphs etc, don't forget to explain what the colors mean though!

  • And don't forget to put captions under pictures. Apparently people read these more than the copy!

  • Don't use too many different font types. One type for 'headers' and one for the body text should be sufficient.

  • Carry out a readers test on various samples before settling on your final selection.

  • Ask several people for their opinion on the samples. Ask them about the readability and the impact factors.

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