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I am not a designer, I am a physicist. Back in 2005, I made a guide for students about how to measure cosmic rays, for a lab class I was teaching. Now I am redesigning it and would like to ask for the opinion of design experts.

I want to keep it simple but eye catching, since physics documents tend to be boring and unattractive. My end users are undergraduate students. I am doing it with LaTeX. This is what I have so far (to zoom, you can right-click and choose "View image"):

The cover:

cover

The titles of the contentssection, lists of tables/figures, references, etc. I decided to use a different style on those titles to differentiate them from the body of the document. Also, the numbering is in Roman numerals for those sections.

titles1

The chapter titles: Does the yellow hurt your eyes? I tried other colours like blue or gray but they felt overused. I wanted something warmer and fresher, and very bold.

titles2

Next you can see several types of content inside the guides.

  • the ordered and unordered lists: Are the numbers and asterisks too cheesy? Are the greys not readable enough?

  • the internal (red) and external (blue) links, is it a good idea to have them in different colours?

  • the style of the page numbers: The titles of chapters and sections are in grey and sans font, are they readable? would you make it in a different way? Should I play more with the yellow in this sections? is the grey too dull?

  • the grey blocks: they are used to call attention. I don't know if I am abusing of gray in the whole layout.

enter image description here

The style for snippets of code: again gray. Is it to much? how do you find the combination of colours in the code syntax? Are the line numbers to the left too much information? do they make it look crowded?

enter image description here

The style for tables and figures: Should I make tables pop up more? I wanted to keep it simple but I don't know if I should add more colours, do they look dull? I have read that you should avoid vertical lines in technical tables, so I am only adding horizontal lines. Also, I decided to keep the captions with a sans font, while the body is in serif, is it a good idea?

enter image description here

Would love to hear some feedback. cheers!

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    Very readable! Nice use of lots of white (perhaps the line spacing in the Contents is a bit too large). Are you going to run a spell check? I spotted at least one typo... – usr2564301 Nov 19 '14 at 21:22
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    We have guidelines for critique questions, please review them and edit your question accordingly: meta.graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/672/… – Ryan Nov 19 '14 at 21:23
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    You are not using proper minus signs throughout and set your subscripts in formula mode … – Wrzlprmft Nov 19 '14 at 22:31
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    @mestevens: 1) \(V_\text{threshold}\). 2) Not in the first column of the table, for example. – Wrzlprmft Nov 19 '14 at 22:45
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    The yellow helps people find the section and is not hard on they eyes and the gray is used appropriately. You have an organized brain. – Christina Nov 20 '14 at 15:47
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Your design is great! If I were to publish, your book will be a standard I would try to achieve. Your introduction does your work no justice.

My preamble to my answer is "It has been 20 years since I have opened a style guide for writing." At least I have some recent relevant experience: I'll spend hours reading articles, books, and web pages to research our products.

My feedback on your specific questions:

  • Yellow in chapter titles is great; I agree with the comments in your question and add that I looked at the images before your questions and this appears natural and designed by paid designers.
  • Your list markers are not cheesy. I prefer the muted feel of the gray and the simple stars. Solid dots are very heavy; these points separate the information without intruding.
  • I did notice the red vs blue and appreciate the internal vs external hyperlinks. Good idea.
  • You are definitely not abusing the gray. It contains the idea presented within and prevents run-on. Without gray boxes, the two equations at the top of page 72 would feel more like steps of a proof rather than different concepts.
  • The code snippets are perfect and I appreciate the colored syntax highlighting. The line numbers help when the code is referenced. Specifically, you mention changing line 49. This dramatically speeds anyone trying to understand your code usage and the context of the software near it.
  • Tables: no need for making them "pop" so long as the information is delivered. I do have a suggestion about horizontal lines to improve readability (below).
  • The "Plateau" plot, without a grid, I spend a lot of time looking at one axis then the other to get a feel for the values.
  • Gray page numbers with chapter title is great. It should be harder to read than the body of the text. When the brain wants the page number, it is instantly recognizable and leaps from its background position (in gray color).

When looking at your pictures two style elements leapt out at me:

too much like comic sans
1: The bold font usage here feels informal. At the first glance, my thought was "oh no, not comic sans" and then I had to look again to realize this is simply the bold variant of the font used in the text. Even though I observe this to be standard practice in texts, I've always disliked it and makes me want to skip those sections/paragraphs entirely.

I'd rather see the all caps usage from your table example or use the bold font from your Table 4.3 description.


2: Please, please, please add horizontal lines in your tables. One topic of my recent research literally had me trying to read tables identical to yours for hours in attempt to quantify the physical properties of various vendors' polyethylene. It was bad enough there were multiple units of measurement, but having to get a ruler to ensure I have the correct line was maddening.

My personal style for tables like this is to group three rows at a time. The table isn't full of lines yet figuring out which line of data I want is easy. Excuse the low quality of gray lines, this is an example:

horizontal lines added to table

  • 2
    Thank you very much for your long and detailed answer! Good call on the horizontal lines. I have tables of all sizes, so that is a great idea! I suffer from sight problems due to age and I also have a hard time reading them, but it never occurred to me to group rows that way. I'll also set the titles in the sans-bold variation of the font instead of the bold one and recheck readability. Regarding the grid in the plot, I thought it would be cleaner that way, but it's true that it'd be more readable with some grid lines! Thank you again for your help and time! – mestevens Nov 27 '14 at 20:37
  • Glad to help and thanks for appreciating my feedback. – Chris K Dec 13 '14 at 5:00

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