Skip to main content

7 Simple Rules for Designing Attractive Business Documents

  • Author:
  • Updated date:
Attractive business documents start with thoughtful planning  and an understanding of a few timeless design rules.

Attractive business documents start with thoughtful planning and an understanding of a few timeless design rules.

How to Design Attractive Business Documents

Have you ever been called upon by your boss to format an important document such as a proposal, annual report, or flyer, but you didn't feel you had the skills to do it? Have you tried designing a document, but when it was finally completed, you couldn't figure out why it didn't look very good?

Relax. Not everyone is a born designer. Thankfully, creating professional-looking documents is easier than you think. If you follow a few simple design rules, you can create attractive, easy-to-read documents and promotional materials that will surely impress your boss.

Here's how to get started on creating a professional print document:

1. Be objective.

Good design is not about your personal preferences. Sure, certain aspects of your personality will show through in anything that you create, but at the end of the day, you're designing your business document with a singular purpose: to communicate an important idea, concept, or story. Your goal is to please the audience reading your publication, not your grade eleven art teacher.

2. Design, don’t decorate.

Good design is about making your document easier to read by visually guiding the readers' eyes to the most important information first. Embellishments such as unnecessary flourishes, bullet points that look like emoticons, or serial exclamation marks (!!!!) will distract readers from your main message.

3. Understand your text before you begin.

What tone do you need your document to convey? Is the document filled with serious information (i.e., a critical incident report)? If your document is instructional, how would you lay out the information so that it's easy to follow, step by step? When you understand the intended tone and purpose of the text, it's much easier to find the right style and format for your document.

4. Limit fonts to no more than three different styles.

Two is even better than three. Use sans serif fonts for headlines and subheadings, and use serif fonts for body text. An example of a san serif fonts is Arial: it has no 'hooks' on its edges. Serif fonts, such as Times New Roman, have tiny swooshes that reach out from the ends of the letters. Serif fonts make reading longer chunks of text easier on the eyes.

5. Use a simple layout grid.

You don’t need a grid made up of hundreds of tiny squares when you begin laying out your document. Instead, divide your page into a 9-square grid, then follow the rule of thirds. By organizing your layout into thirds rather than halves and quarters, you'll keep yourself from breaking rule number 6.

6. Avoid symmetry at all costs.

The symmetrical layout is boring and predictable. Asymmetrical layout based on the golden ratio has been the cornerstone of good design for over 2,400 years. The golden ratio can be found in nature, too, the nautilus shell being one of the most well-known naturally made objects linked to the golden ratio.

7. Finally, use color to unify the entire document.

Familiarize yourself with the basic principles of how the color wheel works, then choose simple blocks or sections where you can use a few complementary or harmonious colors (hues). Be careful not to use too many colors, though; you want to leave enough white space to give your readers' eyes a break from too much visual stimulation.

Sometimes all you need to overcome your doubts about your graphic design abilities are a few simple guidelines to ensure the intent of your message is fully preserved and not overrun by zany bullets, lopsided layout, and garish colors.

Think like a wise man, but communicate in the language of the people.

— William Butler Yeats

Choose the right font for your document. According to an article in Bloomberg Business, the worst font you can use for a resumé is the common default font, Times New Roman. It suggests to the person reading your resumé that you couldn't be bothered to take the time to choose a font that is fresh, modern, and easy to read. According to typographers interviewed for the article, Helvetica was the best choice of font for your curricula vitae.

Proofread your document. No matter how much effort you put into the design and layout of your business document, nothing is more distracting to your reader than a typo or spelling mistake, especially one that appears at the top of your document when you're trying to make a good impression. Be sure to carefully examine each chunk of text, every title and sub-title, and every photo caption to make sure that your document is free of embarrassing errors.

Business Document Design Tips

Human subtlety will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple, or more direct than does nature because in her inventions nothing is lacking, and nothing is superfluous.

— Leonardo da Vinci

Don't waste your money on fancy computer tools and programs until you understand the fundamental rules of good visual design and document layout.

Don't waste your money on fancy computer tools and programs until you understand the fundamental rules of good visual design and document layout.

What are your tips for making business documents look good when you don't have a graphic designer on staff?

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2012 S Davies


Tolovaj on March 01, 2014:

Keep it simple is probably the most important rule to follow. Thanks for this explanations. It's always good to refresh one's memory:)

S Davies (author) on February 23, 2012:

Thanks Danwe!

S Davies (author) on February 19, 2012:

Thanks for stopping by! I am glad that you agree these tips can help others. Have a great day!

Danwe on February 14, 2012:

Nice hubb since I have been making my own design lately ;) A lot of facts that I have already been familiar with but still useful and simple.