Once you have organized your ideas, properly titled your warranty, and written the provisions in simple, easily understood language, you should think about making the warranty document visually clear and attractive. Good graphic design, which need not be expensive, can greatly enhance the readability of your warranty.
Visual clarity and attractiveness in a printed document involve a number of elements of graphic design, including:
- typesize, typeface, and weight of type;
- leading (blank space between lines);
- line length;
- white space;
- color (of both the type and the paper);
- capital letters; and
Typesize. Typesize is one of the most important factors affecting the legibility of a warranty. The size of type is measured in "points." In general, anything less than 8-point type is "fine print" and difficult to read. We suggest using a 10-point type in your warranty because it makes for comfortable reading.
Typeface. Another factor that affects the visual quality of your warranty is the typeface. Typefaces are divided into two classes: serif (those with small extensions on the letters) and sans-serif (those without extensions on the letters). Whether to use a serif or sans-serif typeface is largely a question of taste. Serif faces are slightly easier to read because the extensions on the letters draw the reader's eye along the line of print. Sans-serif type, however, looks more modern and can also be very readable, especially if the printer leaves a little extra space (leading) between the lines of print. Whichever typeface you select, choose on that is highly legible.
Once you choose a serif or sans-serif typeface, do not mix the two. Consistent style in your warranty includes keeping a consistent visual image.
Weight of the Type. Type comes in several weights, from extra-light to extra-bold. The lightness or boldness of the letters can affect the legibility of your document. Light typeface is fainter and harder to read. Boldface, on the other hand, is not necessary for ordinary text but can be used for emphasis. You can use boldface for headings and for words and sentences you wish to emphasize.
Leading. Another important factor that affects the legibility of a printed text is leading - the amount of space between the lines of print. use one to three points of leading with 10-point type. Too little leading can make the text look crowded. A little extra leading can sometimes dramatically improve the legibility of your text.
Line Length. The length of the lines of print also affects how easy printed materials are to read. It is difficult for the eye to move down the page form one line to the next without getting lost when the lines of print are too long. Research has shown that the optimum line length for reading ease is between 50 or 70 characters per line.
Margins. Margins also affect the legibility of printed material. When both the right and left hand margins are straight, the margins are called "justified." In order to justify the type, the typesetter buts extra space between letters and words. In a poorly-typeset manuscript, this sometimes creates "rivers of white" that flow arbitrarily down the page and may be distracting. In contrast, ragged (uneven) right margins end wherever the last word in the line finishes when normal spacing is used. Research indicates that readers prefer ragged right margins to justified ones and that ragged margins may make the text more readable.
White Space. Proper use of white space can also add to the attractiveness and legibility of your warranty.
Generous margins and ample space between paragraphs can make the text more inviting and call attention to the message. In fact, white space can be so effective in attracting the reader's attention and getting your message across that you should always opt for white space in place of nonessential information.
Color. When you use color in a warranty document, let common sense be your guide. For example, yellow type is hard to read. Bright yellow background can be hard on the eyes. Blue print on light blue paper may not produce enough contrast for easy reading. Patterned paper may also reduce the contrast between paper and type.
Using color in your warranty is not necessarily expensive. One color, used sparingly for emphasis, can be relatively inexpensive and very effective. But use color carefully to achieve maximum impact; too many colors can be distracting to the reader.
Capital Letters. Using all capital letters, a method commonly used for emphasis, actually makes the copy more difficult to read, especially if the technique is overused. Research has show that a block of text in all capitals is harder to read than the same block in mixed capitals and lower-case letters. When you have more than three or four words in all capitals, you lose the effect of emphasis.
You can use all capitals effectively for short headings and to emphasize individual words or phrases in the text. But if you want to emphasize more than a few words, you can use boldface, italics, colored type, or larger type.
Keep in mind the document designer's maxim: "If one device will do, don't use two." In other words one (or at most two) of these special emphasis techniques is sufficient.
Illustrations. Illustrations can add to the attractiveness and even the clarity of your warranty. A picture of the product on the front of the warranty can be useful to an owner who is trying to locate a particular warranty in a stack of other documents.
Illustrations can also help readers find information within a warranty and can highlight points you wish to emphasize.
Line drawings are often more useful than photographs, because they can eliminate irrelevant details that may be present in a photograph. If you want to highlight one part of a product or explain something about it (e.g., the picture tube of a TV set, the coils of a refrigerator, or the serial number on a furnace), a line drawing may be helpful.
Pictures should support the message, but should not replace headings or text. Do not clutter up the page with so many illustrations that you obscure the message.
Our suggestion about consistency of style in the warranty text holds for pictures as well. Do not mix different styles of illustrations.