Re. manual visual styles

Subject: Re. manual visual styles
From: Geoff Hart <geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
Date: Mon, 31 Jul 1995 08:55:26 LCL

Stuart Burnfield asks about "text dense" manuals vs. those with open
looks, lots of graphics and active white space. I can't comment on
U.K. vs. U.S. conventions, having never seen a U.K. manual (to my
knowledge), but the white space/graphics issue isn't simply a matter
of regional differences in opinion.

From my readings, there's extensive evidence that active white space,
supplemented by useful (rather than decorative) contextual graphics is
much more efficient for readers. Wall-to-wall text isn't done for the
sake of the reader, but rather for traditional reasons: fewer pages,
thus lower cost; fewer graphics, thus no need to hire an illustrator;
tradition, thus no need to think about what you're doing. I love the
Penguin classics for their content, but they're a shining example of
complete incomprehension re. typography and design... miniscule text,
a crappy font, etc. etc. etc. Open, airy, illustrated manuals are much
less intimidating, thus more likely to be read. If you have the
option, move your U.K. manuals over to the American style.

Caveat: This recommendation follows from the "you wouldn't read a
phone book cover to cover would you?" school of visual design. (Great
dramatis personae, lousy plot.) In defence of the opposite approach,
I'd note that I _do_ read dictionaries, albeit not cover to cover, and
find them useful aids. (Great plot, but no characterisation to speak
of and the authors could learn a thing or two about connective words.)
On the other other hand, most dictionaries do have the occasional

--Geoff Hart @8^{)}
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

Disclaimer: If I didn't commit it in print in one of
our reports, it don't represent FERIC's opinion.

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