I’ve Got Problems: Too Much Text!

After my first I’ve Got Problems post, I was immediately contacted by a few readers with specific problems. Avoiding my problems with procrastination, I immediately began working to provide them with options for their problems. That is right after a long vacation in Chicago, some 23 other posts and much careful thought (note no serial comma, just for Paul). Sorry that I put it off until now. You more than likely have solved your problem by this point in time and should be writing this post yourself.

I was contacted by an interpreter who does a fair amount of design work. We will call her “Chris” for the purpose in this post in order to protect her from her co-workers who have created this problem. I will call myself “Mr. Shea” in this post in order to protect myself from the obviously girly name that my parents bestowed upon me and that has created many gender-confused emails and phone calls in the course of my life. It is true, I am a man.

Chris’ problem is related to the amount of text that she has been given to layout in a newsletter. She is unsure what to do with way too much text. Her supervisor (an interpreter) is providing her with the text and has not been receptive to her hints and suggestions to edit or cut copy. In fact Chris has been told that all of the text is “valuable and pertinent information for their museum’s membership and should be included in the newsletter.”

So, what can you do with all this text to make the newsletter inviting to read, mailable and visually appealing? My knee-jerk response would be to provide the proof to the supervisor with type in the smallest point size possible that would allow it all to fit on one page. This would illustrate the need for cutting copy. This is not the best way to ensure future employment, but could be personally satisfying. (Designers are jerks. Paul will take on this issue in a few weeks.)

Here are some legitimate options. The first step that I would take would be to layout a grid that allows plenty of room for vertical columns. Four columns on an 8 ½” x 11” sheet of paper is the max. Make sure the gutters are comfortably wide but not awkward. Think personal space. You know when that office acquaintance is standing just a little too close. Keep the text rag right (also called left justified). The shape provided by this type of margin will create counter space that will give the reader’s eye a break from time to time. You can also open up the line spacing or increase the leading to make it easier to read. Don’t go too crazy with the line spacing but follow the guidelines in chapter 4 of IBD. Dial down the point size on body type and dial up headlines or leading lines. I wouldn’t use anything smaller than an 8 point type, and 10 is preferred. Keep other page elements (page numbers, title bars and other newsletter stuff) as simple and small as possible. If the text is that important then the text should be the focus.

If you provide the best layout possible considering what you were given and the document is still too large, your supervisor may be more interested in revisiting it for an edit. If not then at least you know that you have maximized the text in the space allowed and made it legible. Whether or not it gets read is the real issue.

The next “I’ve Got Problems” post will deal with this confession: “I’ve been told I need to think outside the way I design things and that I should break some rules.” Being somewhat an expert on breaking rules, I feel comfortable taking on this problem so look for my confessions in future blogs.

I’ve Got Problems

“When I’m working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong”—Buckminster Fuller

Generally speaking problem solving can be complicated. For me it is simple. I have a problem and my wife tells me how I am going to solve it. It is that easy. It is too bad that in most cases she created the problem for me in the first place.

When problem solving it is important to not lose sight of the problem at hand. It is easy to become distracted with side issues and loosing focus of mission, themes, goals, and the intended audience. If necessary, when working with a group or by yourself, focus specifically on the problem itself and avoid pitfalls that keep you from fulfilling that mission, theme, goal or meeting the needs of the intended audience.

I’m kind of a slow thinker. When problem solving I like to sit back, think, see what happens, collect information, synthesize approaches and then decide. My wife calls this being a procrastinator but I call it being analytical. You should be aware that some solve problems through various approaches that may or may not meld well with your approach. I tend to wait for the “Ah ha” moment to happen. The period before it hits is known as the incubation period.

Inspiration hits me at strange times, usually when I am away from the problem, program, or the computer. For me it is usually when I am driving or watching baseball. I don’t know if is because my mind works differently at those times or if it has to do with me eating peanuts and Cracker Jacks. More than anything it breaks my current cycle of thinking and allows new ideas to flow. The sugar and carbs help too.

If you wait too long in the incubation period you could be forced into the pressure cooker phase of problem solving. I have seen several talented people who thrive and excel under the pressure to meet a groups needs or finish a project under a tight deadline. Solutions to problems can flow out of necessity in this approach. Just leave time at the end for evaluation and re-design if necessary.

The longer I work as an interpreter and a designer I see that the majority of my work is problem solving. In some of my future posts I will take on common problems faced by interpreters and designers. Be on the look out for the I’ve Go Problems titles. If you have a problem professional or socially send them our way and we’ll take them on. In the mean time continue working on what problem solving approach works well for you and your specific situation. Don’t be afraid to take on different approaches or just listen to your significant other.