While traveling around the country presenting health literacy guidelines as they pertain to the creation of patient education materials, I have spoken with design professionals about the inherent challenges of working within these “rules.” Many designers feel this type of design can be very limiting and appear overly simplified. They tend to think that the “inner artist” is being stifled and the overall design integrity of the piece will be jeopardized by the inability to use certain staples of design that are an integral part of any designer’s toolbox.
One such guideline that conjures up gasps and defiant stares from designers attending these workshops at their client’s request involves the use of knockout type (or should I say the non-use of knockout type). Knockout type is created when light colored type is placed on top of a dark background. The actual guideline states:
“There should be a noticeable contrast between the text and background. A good rule is to always use dark text on a light background of color.”
Notice how the term “knockout type” is not actually referred to in the guideline. This recommendation is not about the use (or non-use) of knockout type. It is about trying to ensure that copy is as easy to read as possible for patients. It just so happens, though, that creating huge blocks of knockout copy is in direct conflict with the objective of the principle.
However, this doesn’t mean that a designer can never use knockout type in their patient education materials. Here is an example of knockout type that is easy to read:
This brings me to the moral of my story.
Health literacy and design? Is it really possible for these 2 disciplines to successfully work together in order to provide top-notch patient education partnered with powerful creative?
Well, I’m here to say, “Yes, they can!”
Health Literacy design is not meant to appear limiting or over simplified to those designers creating the materials. Guidelines are used for exactly that – in order to guide one through the process in order to create clear and understandable materials for patients. There are many opportunities, as shown above, for creative individuals to “make their mark” while working within the established guidelines. For those that see it as a challenge, their work will inevitably be original and unique. And for those that don’t, perhaps this type of design is not in their future.
VP, Creative Director, HealthEd Group