Making Design Choices
When personal computers were first used for desktop publishing and document design, things that appeared in headers and footers were largely limited by what the software would allow. A distinct change came with Jakob Nielsen's Usability Engineering (Morgan Kaufman, 1994), which sparked the movement toward user-oriented design. While page designers certainly had existed before the usability movement—in fact, before the invention of movable type—this new direction was driven largely by the then-blank canvas of the web page, in an effort to make this new media support user needs. Happily, it gave a new reader-centered focus to the design of printed pages as well.
In the post-usability design era, some things remain the same. Text is smaller in headers and footers, and many designers choose a sans-serif font such as Arial, Helvetica, or Verdana. These fonts offer a cleaner look because a serif font can look cluttered in smaller sizes.
There are changes, of course. The tendency is toward more balanced page layout so that the mirroring effect of right and left pages is reduced. For example, page numbers are frequently put in the middle of the footer when the document has different right and left pages. This strategy reduces the reader's need to send his eyes from side to side on the page to track how far he has come in the text. And concern for security has led many to restrict company information, such as document filenames, from displaying on the page in any form.
Not all page design elements appear in a header or footer out of concern for the user, of course. A logo is not on a page because the reader wants to find it there. It's on the page for branding—because readers remember what they see over and over again. Companies are well aware of the importance of this kind of subliminal message and appreciate the page designer who is sensitive to the need.
And that brings us to the final point about headers and footers. You might as well be conscious of the opportunities they offer in your own presentations. If you send your work out as a freelancer or if you present portfolio pieces to a potential client, make sure that your name appears with this kind of regularity in headers and footers, so that the repetition works to support your bottom line, too!