I'm working on a couple of small documents (third party user-guides for some software) which will end up as PDF exports from InDesign, viewable both on screen and printed on paper. I want them to have a professional, modern and stylish look and feel. I suppose that means a lot of empty space, aligned text and images, a nice, readable font etc.
I'm thinking a leaflet of some kind with a nice title page (perhaps as part of a "series" of all those documents as a uniform look and feel) might be the way to go. They will contain text and illustrative images, and one will contain tables.
Unfortunately I have no background in design/layout, and have questions like:
- which font is generally suitable?
- how should my text be organized (paragraphs, spacing, type, size etc.)?
- how should my tables be styled (every second row in a different color etc.)?
- how much of the page should be used for the content and how much should be left for whitespace (margins, page numbering)?
and the list goes on....
I'm sure you will get a lot of reponses to this, but I'm going to start off by saying there is no single right answer. There are probably thousands of appropriate fonts, and many equally good layouts, as well as many bad choices.
Making design decisions is not as simple as going down a checklist, and, in all honesty, if you don't have the background in design or amizing innate talent for it, you probably shouldn't be doing this type of project. That doesn't mean you shouldn't write the copy, if that's your skill set, but for a professional looking layout you need professional skills, and a fair amount of back-and-forth with the client trying out various ideas before coming to a final decision.
You are asking, to one degree or another, how to do something that people spend years preparing for. It's like saying that you know nothing about auto mechanics, but you want to rebuild your transmission. It can be done, but you aren't going to get more than tips on a forum like this. Your best bet is to look at things that other people have done that are similar to what you want to make and see if there are common elements that you would like to emulate. You can also find a "for dummies" type of book. Here's one I found on Amazon: The Non-Designer's Design Book: Design and Typographic Principles for the Visual Novice [Paperback]
I most definitely didn't mean my questions to come out like that
It goes without saying that a novice can't deliever the same quality of work as a trained professional.
What I'm looking for however is some starter and general advice. "Usability" guides for web design talk about stuff like clear and concise navigation, not to use splash screens etc. but there's very little to be found on the actual layout of text/image content, which fonts are better suited etc. and so far I haven't found anything on things that get printed.
I'll definitely check out that book -I see it gets a lot of good reviews.
"The non-designer's design book" (which I've now read mostly through) is a good intro to the subject, but perhaps a bit on the light side. Are there other recommended introductory books which go a little deeper but are still not too hard to follow?