by Ilene Strizver
Why are headlines so important? Simple: if the headline doesn’t grab your audience, the rest of your book cover, editorial spread, CD or flyer design might never be seen.
A headline should be the first design element the reader’s eye lands upon. Its purpose is to draw your audience in, and it also sets the tone for the rest of the piece.
Follow these tips and you’ll be creating vivid, effective headlines in no time:
- Typeface.Choose a headline typeface that has strong visual impact and complements the body copy. Ideally, the “personality” of the headline face should help communicate the tone of the subject matter, whether it’s serious, humorous, romantic, news-driven or family-oriented. Good choices for business applications are bold weights of the body copy and neutral sans serifs. For more expressive headlines, consider decorative and calligraphic designs. When space is limited, use a condensed typeface.
- Point size. Contrast is the key here. Make sure the headline is markedly different in size from the body copy and pull quotes. Don’t be afraid of extremes: when space permits, an enormous headline can be extremely eye-catching. Likewise, a tiny headline can have tremendous impact, as its small size draws attention and intrigues the reader.
- Color. Black type is always powerful, but color and tints can provide added contrast and visual interest. Unless the subject matter calls for extravagance (a circus poster, perhaps?), use color sparingly and selectively.
- Caps vs. upper & lowercase. This is a decision best made by trying and looking. An all-cap headline can be very powerful as long as it looks good in the chosen typeface, works with your layout, and doesn’t impair readability. Let your eye be the judge. If in doubt, use upper and lowercase.
- Alignment. A centered headline packs the most visual punch. Unless you’re trying to create a very formal, conservative look, flush-left headlines usually don’t offer enough contrast from the rest of the layout. Don’t justify headline type: it creates bad letterspacing and serves no purpose.
- Line breaks. Never hyphenate within a headline. When line breaks are needed, break at the end of a phrase.
- White space. Use it! White space around a headline and within your layout helps focus the reader’s attention. A crowded layout created visual monotony; the reader doesn’t know where to look first.
Above all, be courageous! A shout or a whisper draws more attention than a mumble. Making strong, high-contrast choices is the key to effective headline treatments.
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- Editor’s Note: Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer and writer specializing in all aspects of typographic communication. She conducts Gourmet Typography workshops internationally. Read more about typography in her latest literary effort, Type Rules! The designer's guide to professional typography, 3rd edition, published by Wiley & Sons, Inc. This article was commissioned and approved by Monotype Imaging Inc.