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  • Writer's pictureDon Wood

Put Your Mind in the Gutter!


Good design requires a bit of gutter thinking!

Sometimes we get the assignment to create a quick program or brochure for a project. Maybe it's a quick bio insert for a program at work or church, or it may be something that will have two columns and will need to be folded. I want to point out a COMMON mistake that people make and offer a solution that will significantly improve the quality of your designs in Word. After this you may throw out the templates and make your own. So the first thing is to open a Word doc. I'm using Word for Mac, so my interface may look a little different, but it all works the same way.

When you open Word it has a default portrait orientation with one column. I set this so that the column area shows. Unlike actual design programs, Word only shows the amount of column you have currently worked. So that empty bar is where my cursor is and, you see, it stretches across the whole page and the page has one inch margins. Now, if we are going to do our folded bio insert, we need this page to be in the landscape orientation. So go to the LAYOUT tab on your ribbon and click ORIENTATION. Choose LANDSCAPE.

You see the page has flipped and we have a wide text area with big margins. Before we set our columns let's fix our margins.


While you are on the LAYOUT tab go to Margins and choose Narrow, which will give you .5 inch margins all around as you see above. Now Let's set our columns.

Now we have two columns and our correct margins. But let's look at the problem that I see all the time.

I put some text and images into my two-column layout and it looks pretty good (All those lines are there to show boundaries and won't print). Here's the problem: See that vertical line in the center? I put that there to show where the fold would be. Now that we have our beautiful project all set up, we print it out and fold it and it looks weird. It looks weird because we did not adjust the gutter. The gutter is the space between columns, especially where projects fold. Here's an important rule. The gutter (space between columns) should be twice the size of the page margins. So, since we have .5 inch margins, the gutter should be 1 inch. If this were a trifold brochure, there would be two gutters. Each of these gutters should be twice the size of the page margins. When the brochure folds, all the content will be perfectly placed if we make that adjustment.

You make this adjustment under FORMAT>Columns>then adjust spacing to 1 inch. Now we have equal margins on both sides of our text and that spacing matches our margins. When you fold your masterpiece, you can be confident that it will look really professional. Why is this important? Because enhancing readability maximizes the power of your message, and we owe it to our readers to give them the best. Margins, gutters, fonts and colors are our tools to add power to content. Practice this simple tip and people will think you bought some expensive design program or that you went to design school! Tell them you went to Uncle Don's School of Design!


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