How to design a white paper
A white paper is well designed when the layout, graphics, font and overall appeal invite easy reading and comprehension – turning readers into prospects or buyers.
But when producing white papers, companies tend to make one of two errors. They either:
- Ignore design and publish a dry, academic-looking paper hurting business reader engagement
- Obstruct the paper’s natural flow with too much formatting pizazz and disconnected visuals
White papers should generate leads, nurture prospects and build mindshare. To do this, readers must stay engaged in the paper content and be enticed to read – top to bottom. Maintaining this interest is hard; especially in this era of bite sized content and short attention spans.
By employing classic design principles, marketers can boost a paper’s usefulness and writers can ensure that their content delivers the intended impact.
Here are five key design concepts to keep in mind:
Add texture to your text. A writer’s final draft will usually show up to the designer as a dense body of left-aligned, block-formatted text. At this point, some companies just slap a logo in the footer, add a cover page and publish.
The result is an intimidating wall of text. People are naturally wired to want small, easy wins. If they perceive friction, their fear sensors push back.
Instead, visually break up your copy so readers see a smooth path to proceed. This will keep them engaged. They’ll think,
“I will just read this one page Executive Summary and see how I like it.”
But after that, they’ll have some momentum…and you’ll have them hooked.
Design devices like adequate line spacing, bullets, sidebars, emphasized pull-quotes, and alignment variety work well. These create form hierarchy and add visual cues that transition a reader’s eye from top to bottom.
The copy kaleidoscope. Overdoing design screams amatuer. Fair or not, a reader will judge the usefulness of your content by the quality of your design. If you are selling to software executives, for example, understand what aesthetics are popular in the industry. In this case, clean, modern design with white space and subtle color shades, may make sense.
Some basic rules of thumb here:
- Rarely should you have more than two colors of text on a page
- Design elements should complement each other, not compete
- Mixed graphic types, typefaces and styles (tables vs. pie charts, hand-sketched lettering vs. flat icons, conflicting fonts, etc) should be avoided
Try two columns. Building a two column layout can keep the page from becoming messy or disorganized. With this grid layout, the paper is boosted with visual structure and rhythm. Some studies suggest that 60-70 characters per line is the optimal length for readability. This approach puts a paper inline with that recommendation.
Apply the same motif throughout. It is surprising how many papers lack basic consistency page to page. If you are using a blocked footer, or a color band down the side of the page, for example, make sure it is used throughout. Logo placement and other design elements should be predictable. The white paper is a cohesive piece of content, not a mashup of distinct pages.
Harness the appeal of “numbers.” White paper readers are drawn to hard, quantifiable facts…they are reading a white paper after all! Emphasize numbers and important research metrics with design. This doesn’t just mean to create numbered lists in the copy, but to actually create graphics or illustrations around key numbers.
Oversized dollar signs, stats and figures will cause readers to stop and examine. But be sure to use the same colors, blocks and line styles to group your numbers and help readers interpret what content belongs together.
Remember: design and good copy are responsible for downloads.
Consider the above design elements to make the white reading experience pleasurable, and strategic. Design should encourage engagement, draw readers to important data and drive top-to-bottom readership. Not only will it enhance the paper, but build the brand behind the paper. Also, if you want to hire a writer, be sure to reach out.