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The Secret of Good Forms

There are those who are bored to tears by the thought of designing a form and those who love the fussy challenge of creating a good, clear, usable document. Forms are seriously underrated in the world of graphic design.

Of the four basic design principles (contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity), the secret to a good-looking form is alignment. Lack of alignment is the single biggest failure that makes a form appear unclear to the user. The other principles are also very important, as in any design, particularly contrast to help direct the user through the form, proximity to keep groups of related pieces of information together, and repetition to tie it all together. But alignment is the key.

The top example uses interesting typefaces and calls out the major features in bold for clarity in communication and visual contrast and repetition, but it doesn't look as clean and clear as it could.

In the lower example, elements are aligned, which naturally presents a cleaner look. Cleaner (usually) communicates better. Also, the spacing was adjusted so that the elements that belong together (like those two lines of "suggested donations") are closer together, and the separate elements have a wee bit of extra space between them (following the principle of proximity).

Robin Williams Design Workshop

by Robin Williams and John Tollett

If you just stumbled into design, maybe via a hobby that grew into a career, and you want to improve your work without having to enroll in a degree program, this book can bridge some of the gaps in your acumen. Not really a primer on basic facts, Design Workshop is more like a guide to style. The book applies a similar set of makeovers to various types of design projects: logos, forms, newsletters, tables of contents, etc. In the final section, seven designers, including co-author Tollett, break down the process that they went through on a job of their own.