A Noteworthy Guide on Visual Punctuation for Designers

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There is nothing like the holy grail of web designing. It rather is a concoction of several factors that are very crucial in their own right, and need to be injected into every design in just the right measure. A random color here, an unnecessary pattern bend here might not have a great impact, but the margin of error isn’t as big as you would like it to be. But that’s a story for another day. Among all the well documented and researched aspects of web designing, visual punctuation is often overlooked. And if you are wondering what the term implies, read on.

Punctuation is used to help a user understand and correct reading, but it is not only about using periods and spacing. Ben Wilson of Wordprax, a PSD to WordPress conversion company, quips, “Our web designers use punctuation in their designs to ensure that users do stop or pause, while reading a text-heavy line.” In web design, punctuation can be anything. The visual punctuation used in web design includes some common punctuation marks along with other key elements such as space, icons, color etc.

Understanding Punctuation: Text and Visual

The most common type of punctuation is called as text punctuation. Exclamation point, period, semicolon, question mark etc. are some of the most common symbols of text punctuation. The symbols are not used for writing or forming sentences, but can also be used for visual accentuation as well. And at times these symbols are used as part of a website logo or in the design elements to emphasize on certain part of the content or convey its meaning.

Since the punctuation symbols have well-understood meanings, they can be used in a variety of ways within a design. But there is another type of punctuation that many designers (especially the novices) aren’t aware of, called as visual punctuation.

Visual punctuation is an essential part of the writing process and is used to separate words to clarify their meaning of a typographical arrangement. It is available in two different forms – punctuation marks that cause a user to stop while reading or elements that compel a reader to pause when moving their eyes from one object to the other. Both forms of visual punctuation are equally important.

However, in this post we will only be discussing about the importance of visual punctuation in design and the most essential visual punctuation elements that designers should focus on.

Significance of Visual Punctuation

Using visual punctuation in a design is crucial for keeping the site visitors engaged in the design. Most importantly, using visual punctuation marks and elements prevents fatigue when a reader or a user is reading the text or viewing some design.

What’s more? Visual punctuation makes it easier for the users to understand the text and read it properly. Put it simply, it helps in making reading the text easier to digest. Additionally, it enables users to view the design by putting in minimal time and less effort. However, using punctuation incorrectly can make the text complicated to read.

In simple words, visual punctuation is what help web designers to separate or group or accentuate text, photos or other elements in a design. In fact, visual punctuation indirectly compels a person to stop, and then look at any part of the design. This clearly indicates that adding visual punctuation within the design can attract visitors towards it, and if it is good enough, it may even prove successful in making your visitors to take the action you might want them to take. And so, visual punctuation in a web design can help you get higher click-through rate.

Most Important Visual Punctuation Elements

1. Space

This is one of the most crucial visual punctuation elements that helps our eyes to travel in a particular direction. The basic purpose behind including space in the text is how it helps users to focus on several elements independently. In fact without proper space, elements in your design would not be visible to the eyes.

Space is created in between and around the elements (like images, lines etc.) of a design. In addition, it may exist between bulleted points and lines of text. Space helps to connect as well as separate the elements in a design. Use of wider spaces separate elements from one another, narrower spaces on the other hand connects elements and identifies the relationship between those elements.

Simply put, space as a form of visual punctuation helps create starts and stops and make your eyes to travel in a particular direction. At times, the space in between the elements represent the separation between the content on your web page, and thus lets you focus on multiple elements on your page independently.

Examples

Look at the image below from United Strands, you can see there is a certain amount of space between the “stack of shirts” as well as the “text”. The space between those shirts and the text acts as a reminder that makes user’s eyes to slow down and then show a way to connect the elements on the screen.

United Strands

Let’s take another example. In the MDW page below, confined space between the squares helps the viewer to view one particular section and then move onto the next, and identify the relationship between them. You can create a hierarchy of elements.

Mathew D. Williams Homepage

2. Lines and Rules

Lines (also referred to as rules) help create separation between objects. The line depicts the end and the beginning of a line of text. They are used along with space, but that’s not always true as sometimes lines may be written without spacing, which results in making the text look tight. This at times distracts a user and even causes fatigue – as users move their eyes to view one line to another. In order to bring attention of the users to specific content, make sure there is appropriate spacing between the lines.

Lines can be used in two different styles as shown in the examples as given below:

Examples

On the web incredible page, multiple lines are used. And these lines make the click-able part highlighted apart from the rest.

Incredible Website Design

Another example can be seen on Agra Culture page, lines are used in two separate ways: while one brings your attention to important content like logo, navigation menu and call to action button (like Locate a Store) on the main page; the other one makes your eyes move from element to the other.

Agra Culture

3. Icons

They also help to tell the users about the direction of a design. Most importantly, they help users to understand how to interact with the content. Icons are used for determining actions that users need to make while looking at a specific item.

In print design social media icons and logos can tell users that the website they’re accessing have their company profile active on social media networks – they can like or follow. Moreover, icons are also used as click-able links that take users to another site or web page.

simple social icons

This social media icons image is taken from 1000+ Flat Icon downloads.

Icons serve as excellent visual elements in the storytelling process and they excite the readers to go through the text or move from one object to another. In the following image you can see large icons as visual navigation elements. The icons in the web design tell users what they can do and where they need to go. The icons used in the design below shape the actions that users will take when interacting with a particular category.

Octopus Creative

4. Color

Color helps make a design look visually appealing and can also be used to create separation between the elements in a design. You can different color schemes in your design to grab attention of your users to specific parts of the design. Let us look at two different examples and understand the significance of using color in web design in the form of visual punctuation element.

Examples

Look at the following image, you can see two different color combinations are used to create separation between the main headings on the navigation menu. Whenever a user clicks on “Apostrophe” navigation item (as shown in the screen shot below) it will immediately make a visual impact to the user’s eyes. This will further help users make the distinction between the main navigation item and other categories (as both of them are written in different color combinations). So, using this visual punctuation in the design will make it easy for users to read the navigation items in a precise manner.

Apostrophe

Here is another example that will help you have a better take on using color as a form of visual punctuation. As you can see the NDOTO page uses color in a different way. Each content section of the home page uses a different color screen. Thus, users can easily distinguish between the section they’re reading and other content that will be reading next. These visual “lines” give you enough time to complete thinking about the first content section before moving to the next.

NDOTO

Wrapping Up!

Visual punctuation is used in almost every web design. They help create flow, and tell users about the direction they need to follow while reading text. In addition, they help prevent fatigue caused due to reading long lines of text without any separation between the elements. Sadly, many designers (especially) novices often overlook the crucial aspect of visual punctuation when working on their web design project.

Hopefully, reading this guest post will help you understand about the significance of visual punctuation in web design and its key elements used in web design.

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