Excerpted from Adobe's The Non-Designer's Guerrilla Marketing CD
This article is provided courtesy of Peachpit Press.
The biggest problems with newsletters seem to be lack of alignment, lack of contrast, and too much Helvetica (Arial is another name for Helvetica).
Choose an alignment and stick to it. Trust me—you'll have a stronger and more professional look to your entire newsletter if you maintain that strong edge along the left. And keep everything else aligned. If you use rules (lines), they should begin and end in alignment with something else, like the column edge or column bottom. If your photograph hangs outside the column one-quarter inch, crop it.
You see, if all the elements are neatly aligned, then when appropriate you can freely break out of that alignment with gusto. But don't be a wimp about breaking the alignment—either align the item or don't. Placement that is a little bit out of alignment looks like a mistake. If your photo does not fit neatly into the column, then let it break out of the column boldly, not barely.
First paragraphs, even after subheads, should not be indented. When you do indent, use the standard typographic indent of one "em" space, which is a space as wide as the point size of your type; that is, if you're using 11-point type, your indent should be 11 points (about two spaces, not five). Use either extra space between paragraphs or an indent, but not both.
If your newsletter looks a little gray and drab, you can instantly juice it up simply by using a strong, heavy, sans serif typeface for your headlines and subheads. Not Helvetica. The Helvetica (or Arial) that came with your computer isn't bold enough to create a strong contrast. Invest in a sans serif family that includes a heavy black version as well as a light version (such as Eurostile, Formata, Syntax, Frutiger, or Myriad). Use that heavy black for your headlines and pull-quotes and you'll be amazed at the difference.
For best readability, avoid using a sans serif for the body copy. Try a classic oldstyle serif face (such as Garamond, Jenson, Caslon, Minion, or Palatino), or a lightweight slab serif (such as Clarendon, Bookman, Kepler, or New Century Schoolbook).
For more design tips from Robin Williams, check out The Non-Designer's Design Book, The Non-Designer's Type Book, and The Non-Designer's Scan and Print Book (with coauthor Sandee Cohen), all published by Peachpit Press and found at quality bookstores everywhere.