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Visual Signposts

Helping Readers Find Their Way Around a Document

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Navigation via a Table of Contents is one form of visual signpost for readers.

Navigation via a Table of Contents is one form of visual signpost for readers.

Print design is about communication. Print designers communicate with text and images. The arrangement and presentation of text and images can aid or hinder effective communication. One key aspect of print design is providing visual signposts or visual cues that let readers know where they are and where they are going. Signposting breaks up text and images into readable, easy-to-follow blocks or panels of information.

While there can be some overlap, visual signposts fall into five groups: artwork, titles, paragraphs, characters, and explicit navigation elements.

Artwork
Even before reading the headlines, readers are often drawn to the visuals on a page. Both the choice of images and their placement within a document provide information about the document, its purpose, and its organization.

Titles
Typically headlines and titles are larger and more prominent than other text. These visual cues signal the start of a book, a magazine, an article, or a major division in a publication such as chapter of a book or a sub-section of a report.

Paragraph Emphasis and Organization
Solid blocks of unbroken text are difficult to read. Text is made more readable by breaking up the text and using visual indicators to show where paragraphs start and end. Entire blocks of text can be emphasized by using devices such as call-outs, frames, and bullets.

Character Emphasis
Within larger blocks of text it is sometimes necessary to draw attention to certain words and phrases. Using bold or italics text is one common method of letting the readers know what information is especially important or noteworthy.

Explicit Navigation
Longer publications such as books, newsletters, and annual reports need some way to help readers find specific information within the document. A table of contents and jumplines let readers know where they are going. Page numbers, continuation heads, running heads, and end signs are visual signposts that tell readers where they are within a document.

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