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8 Ways to Create Print Materials Your Older Donors Want To Read

It's All About Our Eyes


Older people are readers. They read magazines, newspapers, books, brochures, newsletters, even direct mail. They visit the public library frequently, and they may be the last subscribers to the disappearing newspaper.

Yet marketers, profit and nonprofit, continue to make grave errors in their print materials for mature audiences. Here are the top do's and don'ts of designing printed material to appeal to your mature readers.

1. Augment Your Type

A senior man reading the paper in the garden
I Love Images/Cultura/Getty Images

Type size must be larger than average. Ask your designer to use 12 pt type and larger if you target an older demographic. Twelve point type looks good and not like a large print version of Readers Digest - something that might turn off some people.

2. Use Appropriate Typefaces

Serif typeface
Stockbyte/Getty Images

A serif type is preferred for large blocks of printed text. A popular serif typeface is "Times Roman," but there are many others.

Never use only upper case letters LIKE THIS. Limit the use of italics, script and ornate typefaces.

Use sufficient leading - (the white space around each character) between characters so that the letters don't seem to run together.

Make line spacing larger than usual. Single space may be too hard to read so try 1.5 or double spacing.

3. Use Good Contrast

Black type on a white background
David Gould/Getty Images

Use dark type on a light background. This provides the contrast that older eyes need in order to see well. You can never go wrong with black type on a white background, so use it most of the time. Use reverse type (that is when you use a light type on a dark background) only for headlines, never for large blocks of type.

When choosing a "white" for your printed piece, pick a bright white, not an off-white. The brighter the white and the blacker the type, the easier it will be for older eyes to read. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, the popularity of new electronic devices with mature people may have something to do with the fact that one can adjust both the brightness and the size of the type on e-readers and tablets.

4. Break It Up!

Layout of a printed newsletter
Medioimages/Photodisc/Getty Images

Write short paragraphs and use subheadings, in bold, to break up long copy. Paragraph after paragraph of text without subheadings looks gray and dreary and is hard on the eyes. Also, subheads make it easy for readers to scan and read only what is relevant to them.

Make generous use of bullets, numbered lists, sidebars, and pull-out quotes to help break up your pages. Line length should be short--about five or six inches. Use columns when necessary.

5. Color It Carefully

Colored Pencils
Dimitri Vervitsiotis/Getty Images

When using color for headings or backgrounds, choose carefully. The older eye develops a yellow cast, and it becomes harder to distinguish between certain colors. For instance, blue, purple and green may look alike when used together. Yellow, orange and red are much easier to tell apart.

6. Use Photos Effectively

In focus photo of older man.
Jeff Hutchens/Getty Images

Never put type over a photo, not even your headlines. Here is an easy test for readability: photocopy the page. If the photocopy is easy to read, then you can be sure the original is readable. Type printed over images will not be readable when photocopied.

Use photos that are sharp and crisp. Using something fuzzy for artistic effect will have older readers trying to clean their glasses.

Favor photos of people, especially faces. A face looking directly at the reader is a powerful force.

Black and white images work fine and can be very effective. Avoid coloring a black and white photo or using any unneeded photographic effects. Sepia, for instance, might be artistic, but it makes a photograph harder to see for older people.

7. Make It Easy For Your Readers

Man squinting.
McMillan Digital Art/Getty Images

Never use glossy paper. Light reflects from the gloss and makes it very difficult for the reader to see the print. Use a matte finish. Don't laminate materials or put them into plastic sleeves. This is a favorite ploy for salesmen, but will have older readers tilting the plastic-encased material to see past the glare. Glare becomes a real problem for aging eyes.

Avoid complex folding of your printed piece. Conquering a complex folded piece (just think of the old road maps) becomes harder as we age. For brochures, use a simple double or tri-fold.

In your newsletter, use jumps, where an article is continued on another page, rarely. The reader should be able to read an article through without having to look for the continuation. That's a good reason to keep those articles shorter too.

8. Did We Say They Like to Read?

Older couple reading.
Rob Melnychuk/Getty Images

Don't take print for granted. Work with your designer to make sure that your mature readers can easily access your information. With care, your material can be both stylish and easy to read.

Mature adults are willing readers. Take advantage of it.

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