Colin Wheildon on Direct Mail Design
In 1995, journalist, designer and editor Colin Wheildon added “international author” to his curriculum vitae with the release of “Type & Layout: How Typography and Design Can Get Your Message Across—Or Get in the Way.” In-the-know designers and marketers responded by adding his treatise to their repertoires. What made Wheildon’s concepts so intriguing is that they were based not on his own design aesthetic or anecdotes, but rather on a nine-year study into the readability and perception of various typographic elements.
A decade later, Wheildon joined with writer and editor Geoffrey Heard to expand on his earlier work. As Wheildon explains, the revised edition, “Type & Layout: Are You Communicating or Just Making Pretty Shapes,” adds to his original with “greater detail about my methodology and the advisors who helped me put the program together; important additional material by Geoffrey Heard on applying the guidelines which emerged from the research; on the physiology of the act of reading; and on the effects of the printed word on non-fluent readers.” Wheildon now pauses to reflect on the study that drove this important work and its implications for direct mailers.
TG: How did you go about putting together your study?
CW: I was a newspaper and magazine journalist, designer and editor for most of my working life and, as a result of being the son of a printer, I’ve always had an interest in type and layout. My father had a set of design maxims (e.g., serif text is easier to read than sans serif), and it always troubled me that they were just that: maxims, not supported, apparently, by research. … My motivation was the need to be sure the design work I was producing was working. When I started the study, I was designing leaflets, brochures, annual reports and marketing materials for a major motoring organization, and I needed to be able to justify in my own mind any design decision I made. I also wanted to be certain I was producing successful material, whether it was sales-oriented or information-oriented.