by Roger C. Parker
Published by Paraglyph Press
When a book remains in print for 15 years through six
editions, you know the author has been doing something right.
In the case of Looking Good in Print, what Roger C. Parker
has been doing right is explaining the fundamentals of graphic design in terms
that non-designers can understand. (The book is unabashedly aimed at the
“Novice to Intermediate” level.)
Parker’s premise is that, no matter what kind of word
processing or desktop publishing software you’re using, you can’t exercise
control over your publications unless you grasp the principles of good design. Furthermore,
Parker argues that this truism applies to letters, business cards, and reports as
much as it does to catalogs, brochures, and newsletters.
Parker’s common-sense approach to design starts with consideration
of the way a page can be divided into grids or columns, with gutters and
margins. Next he examines the typographical elements that can be arranged on a
page, including headers and footers, headlines, “kickers,” subheads, captions,
pull quotes, sidebars, lists, and “jumplines,” as well as ordinary text.
He shows how a reader’s attention can be directed and
focused through strategic use of white space, borders, boxes, drop shadows,
screens, and bleeds. He also devotes one entire chapter to effective use of illustrations
and another to photographs.
The second half of the book describes how the basic principles
of design can be applied to specific types of publications, such as
newsletters, advertisements, brochures, catalogs, product sheets, and business
stationery, and to response devices such as forms, surveys, and coupons. A
chapter is also devoted to the special problems of navigation in large
documents and publications.
Two of the most valuable chapters are situated near the end
of the book. The chapter entitled “Common Pitfalls” shows examples of more than
two dozen problems in design that can occur in any publication, ranging from
misaligned elements and irregular spacing to lack of contrast between text and
other elements. The chapter entitled “Redesign” shows additional examples of
problems and then shows how those problems can be solved through simple changes
One weakness of the book is that it doesn’t discuss or even
acknowledge the sorts of templates that today are routinely packaged with word
processing and desktop publishing software. The reason for this is probably that
Parker didn’t want to limit the book’s audience to users of a particular
software package. That’s understandable, but it seems silly to assume that
every document starts with a blank page when 99% of users today start their
documents from a template of some kind.
It seems even sillier to recommend, as Parker does, that
users start a new document by sketching its layout on a piece of paper, rather
than using their preferred software package to explore layout possibilities. The
good news is that Parker’s explanation of design principles might help users
select the most suitable template from among those available to them.
The final chapter of the book, devoted to designing
documents for Web distribution, seems less carefully considered than the rest
of the book, and it wasn’t wise for Parker to presume that its topic could be
adequately covered in a single chapter.
Parker’s basic concepts have proven themselves over a long
period of time, and his plain, down-to-earth style is ideally suited to his
target audience of non-designers. If you lack knowledge of design, or if you’re
wondering why some publications succeed while others fail, Looking Good in
Print might be just what you need. On the other hand, if you’re looking for
pointers on how to harness the power of your favorite word processor or desktop
publishing program, the book won’t be of immediate help to you.
Editor's Note: This is one of the first design books I ever got. I actually was given it as part of a design/typography course I took many years ago. In fact, the book I received was probably the first edition, it was that long ago. It is a good book.