Are you involved in approving the design of marketing material? Knowing some solid facts and figures about legibility will help you keep creative people on track.
Using graphics: 98% of people start reading from a photograph. Therefore don't confuse the reader - have one dominant image on a page. Don't waste audience interest on meaningless stock graphics in key areas. Yes, a world map is cool, but unless it says something about your company it's a waste of that all-too-short reader attention span.
Captions are the second-most important object; say something interesting (and preferably about your core competence) in the caption. But don't be obvious - tell him something more than what he can see for himself.
Subheads and bold text help the reader along and keep him reading - make them interesting. Quotes (in boxes or different colour/size text) also add interest.
White space illuminates the story - don't "fill it in" with words and photographs. Build white space into your design.
Don't ignore gravity. Layouts, like books, should move from top left to bottom right. Most humans are used to that direction. We like it that way. So keep to the same principles in your design. But if you market in the far east, or Israel, you may have to adapt to some new directions.
Be consistent: whatever colours, fonts, text sizes, banners, borders and justification you choose, keep it the same throughout the publication or website unless there is a good reason for changing it. I always use templates to ensure consistency.
Don't use too many colours - less is best. And don't use colour for its own sake with bullets, rules, bars etc. It is not there to decorate the page - it is there to sharpen the message.
Use colour to link separate elements. See how I used the burgundy of the headline in the "subheading" text - it helps to create a cohesive design.
Any colour should be surrounded by plenty of white (or in a website, the background colour) to bring it out. The larger the tinted background area, the lighter the tint should be and the bigger/bolder the type on top of it.
Headlines - if you're really looking for readability, use black on white. Also good is blue on white, black on yellow and orange/yellow on black or navy blue. Be careful of colours that "vibrate" togehter such as orange with royal blue, or red with emerald green.
Avoid mixing pastels (or muted colours) with primaries - it seldom works. And even if your personal taste runs to the exotic, remember your readers or viewers may be more traditional.
Ad agencies and web designers LOVE sophisticated designs, where semitransparent words and images overlay each other. Sometimes it looks STUNNING. Sometimes it is illegible and messy. And in a web page tinted large graphics are S-L-O-W to download.
Fonts are divided into two main categories - Serif vs San-serif typefaces. Serif typefaces have "short lines" at the end of the letters (i.e. serifs); San-serif typefaces are the modern faces, and do not have them.
Serif faces work best in print - people are used to reading newspapers and books which have serif faces. The serifs in fact help the eye to define the letters quickly.
San-serif faces work best in electronic media - websites and presentations. This is because the serif tends to be diagonal - and diagonals on screen become jagged. The more "square" the typeface (like Tahoma), usually the better it looks on screen. Simple typefaces with no "curlicues" usually look best.
Websites will be viewed in the fonts that the READER has installed on his computer. Therefore, if you use a fairly unusual font such as "Helvetica" or "Georgia" (which are common on the Apple Mac computers found in Ad agencies), very few readers will see it as you intended. What they will see depends on their computer settings - and it will probably be Arial, Courier or Times Roman.
The average monitor is surprisingly 800x600 (your website statistics will tell you if YOUR audience is different from the average), and then the actual working space of a website is usually 750x400 due to the toolbars and banners on the page. If you prefer to have non-scrolling pages (and many clients do), you will have very little space to work with.
Keep your photographs small and well compressed. You wouldn't believe how long 10 seconds "official" downloading time feels on a slow South African Internet line!
GIF Animation has been available on websites for the past 6 years. An animation works like a "cartoon" - it is a sequence of static images that usually loop continuously. Here is an example...
GIF animation should be used sparingly - to draw attention to a key point, or to show a hyperlink. Try to choose an animation that demonstrates your point, not just because its cute like this one.
WHAT ABOUT FLASH?
Flash graphics are the next generation of animation. While all other images are made up of coloured pixels (small squares), Flash images are made up of "vectors" - mathematical shapes combining line lengths, line widths, line colours, line direction (i.e. vectors), and joining angles. Areas contained within lines can be "filled". Because the image is in fact an "object", that object can then be twisted, moved, rotated and recoloured on the screen instantly. It can even be interactive - expanding or contracting, or changing colour when you hold your mouse over it.
Flash is very clever, and very, very difficult to do even moderately well. It is expensive (because it's time-consuming) and therefore prized by agencies and some clients. It is also usually gratuitous, irrelevant, slow and often frustrating for the reader to use. Sometimes he will have to "grab" a graphic moving around the screen to navigate to a section of the website.
To date, I have seen little marketing benefit to having your logo roll around the screen, or turn somersaults. I doubt if it improves legibility, convenience or memorability. But it has its place. For example it will show off a 3D part or motor car from several angles. And it can draw attention to an important area of your webpage.