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Print design in the web age: a starter toolkit

Print design in the web age: a starter toolkit

For LIS 601, "Information: Perspectives and Contexts."

Dorothea Salo

December 01, 2021

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  1. Print Design in the Web Age:

    A Starter Toolkit

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  2. The standard 12-point double-spaced Times New
    Roman term paper I am emulating on this slide is not a
    miracle of good design. In fact, it’s horrible design,
    except that it fulfills one useful purpose—letting
    instructors leave scribbled feedback—very well.

    If term-paper design is all you know about design,
    that’s not your fault—but you will do yourself a huge
    favor if you expand your design horizons.

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  3. Why does design matter?
    • Good design lends credibility. Bad design
    removes it.

    • Do you really want people thinking “oh, high school term paper” when they read
    your magnum opus? (Hint: no, you don’t.)

    • Good design assists reading and
    comprehension. Bad design impedes them.

    • Good design is accessible. Bad design
    frequently isn’t.

    • Good design persuades. Bad design frustrates.

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  4. Example: ALA accreditation
    • Accreditation is a high-stakes thing for the
    MA/LIS. Anything that makes the committees
    look kindly upon us helps!

    • In our 2014 round, the visiting committee
    cally mentioned how pleasant and
    legible the design of our Program
    Presentation (self-study) document was.

    • This made me very happy, as it was my work!

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  5. But Dorothea, I’m not a
    • Unless you are, in which case, why are you looking at this? You’re
    ne. Go do
    something else.

    • I know. Neither am I. Color theory bewilders me.

    • Though I know a bit about print typography because I did a little book typesetting
    back in the day.

    • What I have is a relatively small selection of
    useful design tricks that I use over and over
    again, and known-bad things I avoid.

    • You can build your own selection. I’ll walk you
    through what might be in it.

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  6. Today I’ll be sticking to…
    • … tricks that you can implement in almost all
    word-processing software…

    • … even Google Docs, which is incredibly resistant to good design.

    • I’ll tell you about “styles” and “templates” at
    the end, because they make good design
    faster to apply to documents and easier to
    share with others.

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  7. Huge caveat: context and culture
    • Design is deeply culturally-bound and contextual.

    • You MUST know about the cultural characteristics
    and design conventions of the people you’re
    designing for.

    • This is especially important for COLOR, which has
    widely varying meanings in different cultures.

    • What I’m telling you should work okay for most
    North American and Western European
    professional contexts, because that’s what I know.
    Anywhere/anyone else? STUDY UP, please.

    • If/when you travel, paying attention to local design conventions is a super-useful
    thing to bring home with you.

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  8. Human affordances
    • (accommodations for which have been worked out over several centuries of print
    design, and perhaps a decade and a half of web design)

    • Visual acuity, or lack thereof

    • “Saccades” (reading in short bursts of text)

    • One thing this means is that if a line of text is too long or has too many words in it,
    we can lose our place in it.

    • Same when text is too vertically dense (that is, not enough space between lines) or
    not dense enough (too much line space).

    • Inferring text structure from typography,
    layout, color

    • Literate humans are amazing at this! We don’t even usually think about it, or how
    amazing it is that we can do it so well! (Computers are total crap at it.)

    • But it does mean that designers need to work with it! Lean in on differentiating
    structurally-distinct pieces of text using typography, layout, and color!

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  9. Online affordances

    that affect design
    • Smaller screens, less resolution than print (even now)

    • No or poor hyphenation algorithms, widow/orphan
    avoidance, stranded-heading avoidance

    • A “widow” (sorry) is a paragraph
    rst line that gets stranded at page bottom. An “orphan” (sorry,
    again) is a stranded last line at page top. Both are bad design.

    • Too-short last-paragraph lines (“runts”) are also not great. Try for >4 characters, >1 word.

    • Different ways of accessing not-yet-read content
    (scrolling is different from turning a page)

    • More access to color (pricey in print! cheap/free online)

    • Bleeds (edge-to-edge content, often in image form) are
    totally, totally
    ne! Ditch those four-sides margins!

    • (Bleeds are pricey in actual print, because printing equipment doesn’t like to print edge to
    edge. It can be done… at a cost.)

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  10. If it bleeds, it… looks good, actually!

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  11. The side margins at the top

    don’t help this at all.

    (it has other design problems too)

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  12. Quick font type primer
    • Serif font: has those little lines and round thingies
    all over the ends of the letters. (Times New
    Roman is serif.)

    • Not fashionable today. Only use deliberately; only use with great care. Almost
    never use for titles and headings, and if you do, only for deliberate effect.

    • Sans-serif font: doesn’t. (Like Avenir.)

    • Humanist font: Usually sans-serif, with careful
    attention to stroke width. Some are quite lovely!

    • These can work well as the single font within a document, if they have enough
    weights and other variants to work with.

    • Aeris is a favorite of mine, but it’s proprietary. Lato and Open Sans are pretty good.
    Use “humanist” as a font search term, though — you’ll likely strike gold.

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  13. This is all context

    for what comes next.

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  14. Avoiding gray pages;

    accommodating scrolling

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  15. On typography, layout, and color

    A page (print or web) that doesn’t sufficiently
    differentiate text structures (headings, paragraphs, lists)
    from one another turns into what typographers and
    book designers call a “gray page,” a page with a whole
    lot of text and no visual interest whatever.

    This is a very gray page. Awful, isn’t it? I’m wincing
    just typing all this, thinking about you trying to read it.

    Such a page is typically viciously difficult for people to
    enjoy reading, or absorb information from. It’s easy for
    the eyes to get lost in it, and for the reading experience
    to feel exhausting.

    Gray pages are even worse for people with various
    kinds of print disabilities, visual and/or cognitive.
    Avoid gray pages, in print and online! They are bad!

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  16. An actual gray page

    (Mistakes: insuf
    cient line height, full justi

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  17. FULL JUSTIFICATION makes gray pages worse,
    adding “LOOSE LINES” and “RIVERS” of space.
    DO NOT. EVER. Not for online. Left-align
    everything (also called “ragged right”).

    A page (print or web) that doesn’t sufficiently
    differentiate text structures from one another turns into
    what typographers and book designers call a “gray
    page,” a page with a whole lot of text and no visual
    interest whatever.

    This is a very gray page. Awful, isn’t it? I’m wincing
    just typing all this, thinking about you trying to read it.

    Such a page is typically viciously difficult for people to
    enjoy reading, or absorb information from. It’s easy for
    the eyes to get lost in it, and for the reading experience
    to feel exhausting.

    Gray pages are even worse for people with various

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  18. Accommodating scrolling:

    narrowing the page
    • Two-column newspaper-style text
    ows are
    absolutely obnoxious online because of
    scrolling and mobile. Please don’t use them.

    • Yeah, yeah, a lot of publications do, still. You’re better than that. You don’t.

    • I truly, madly, deeply wish computer-science conferences would learn this! All
    their paper layouts are two-column, argh!

    • But you can’t put a single column of small-font
    body copy across a whole page either. Lines
    become too long to read easily!

    • I’ll show you some ways to cope with this.

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  19. Marginalia!
    • Margin column can contain any of: art, footnotes
    (including citations), pull quotes, bullet lists (“key
    points”), graphs/charts if they work at a small size

    • Okay to have big stretches of empty right margin!

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  20. Completely empty right margin?


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  21. Left margin can also work!

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  22. Lines/boxes/art to
    ll horizontal space

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  23. Don’t fear big font size in body
    copy (or anywhere else)!

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  24. Don’t use all of these at once!

    Pick the one or two that work

    for the type of document

    you’re creating.

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  25. More common design mistakes

    you learned from term papers

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  26. Indenting the paragraph

    right after a heading
    • This is term-papery hell. Just don’t! The
    rst line of the
    rst paragraph after a
    heading should never be indented.

    • Look at well-designed non
    ction books, please!

    • Paragraph indentation is unfashionable
    today anyway; web defaults created a
    long-term trend for vertical whitespace
    between paragraphs instead.

    • Personally, old-school book typesetter that I am, I don’t love this… but
    ne with y’all doing it because it’s so common.

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  27. Double spacing
    • This also is term-papery hell. Don’t.

    • The correct amount of line spacing for body
    copy is “whatever is easiest to read,” and
    it varies by font — sorry, there’s no hard-and-
    fast rule I can give you here.

    • Start at about 1.4x. Eyeball it (on mobile
    too). Adjust for legibility.

    • My unscienti
    c opinion: fonts with larger x-height (where an “e” is
    close to the same height as an “l”) need more line spacing for
    legibility than fonts with more height contrast among lowercase letters.

    • Don’t let fonts with big ascenders/descenders “crash,” either.

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  28. Just one tired boring font
    • For clarity: one font can actually work, if you
    vary other aspects of the typography (size,
    weight, color, etc) and if the font isn’t dead
    boring and/or horribly overused.

    • One-font design, today, is usually done with sans-serif and humanist fonts.
    Don’t try it with a serif font unless you really know what you’re doing; it can
    look very term-paperish very fast.

    • But if everything is in Times New Roman (ugh)
    or Arial (UGH), you can de
    nitely do better.

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  29. Just one text color,

    and it’s black
    • Look at these slides. LOOK AT THEM.

    • Could I be doing better if I popped in some
    color? Yeah.

    • Do better. Color’s free online!

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  30. Just one background color,

    and it’s white.
    • A fairly light background color for part of a
    page can add a lot of pop to that page!

    • So can reverse video with an interesting color.

    • (… probably not this particular green — it’s too bright and too saturated — but
    just to give you the idea…)

    • Great for pull quotes (or entire pull sections,
    which some documents have), block
    quotations, lists, headings, page-number

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  31. 12-point body copy
    • Once you’re done with school, there’s
    nobody you have to prove you wrote
    enough-but-not-too-much to.

    • I know. Heady, right?

    • So play with body-copy font size —
    almost always in an upward direction.

    • In most body-copy fonts, 12pt is much, much, MUCH too small for
    online reading.

    • Have mercy on people reading on their phones!

    • Have mercy on middle-aged and older folks whose eyes are going!
    (Mine sure are.)

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  32. No hyphenation
    • (People learn this from the web as well as term papers.)

    • Turn hyphenation on for body copy in any
    word-processing or layout software you use
    that allows you to.

    • Not in headings, though. Don’t hyphenate heading words!

    • In headings that span more than one line, never end a line with a hyphen!
    Bring the whole hyphenated word/phrase onto the next line.

    • You can get away without hyphenation if
    you’re using ragged right (as you should be).
    Still nicer to have it.

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  33. Again, don’t go hog-wild.

    But don’t term-paper either.

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  34. At last, the actual toolkit!

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  35. Contrast, Repetition,
    Alignment, Proximity
    • (yes, that acronym is terrible—but you’ll remember it, won’t you? Good
    uency heuristic at work.)

    • Use these to keep yourself from going
    overboard with the stuff in your toolkit
    (which is a danger).

    • Design-by-slot-machine is not good design.

    • For any design choice you make, look at
    these four principles and ask yourself
    which you’re invoking.

    • Use “contrast” sparingly. Less is more!

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  36. What’s in your toolkit?
    • Fonts and font variations

    • (let’s not have the “font vs. typeface” argument here, okay?)

    • Color

    • Layout (where things are on the page)

    • Whitespace, other dividers

    • (borders/lines, rules, ornaments, shaped/colored backgrounds, etc)

    • If you don’t know what you’re doing, prefer adding
    whitespace to anything else. Good use of whitespace is
    tremendously elegant!

    • Art (including photos)

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  37. Picking fonts
    • Can feel paralyzing; there’s so many! So…

    • It’s more important to avoid bad choices than
    to make the perfect choice. Bad choices are:

    • Overused (Times, Arial, Gill Sans, Zap

    • Widely hated (Comic Sans)

    • Illegible in context. Don’t use a spindly serif font like Baskerville.
    And for pity’s sake do NOT put elaborate fonts IN ALL CAPS

    • Prefer fonts that:

    • Have several weights available, not just regular and bold

    • Look okay in all-caps (and small-caps, if available). Gives you design options.

    • Use “true italic,” not oblique. (How to tell: the lowercase “a” has a completely
    different shape in true italics, e.g. Baskerville a vs. a.)

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  38. A decent example: Avenir
    Light weight

    Regular weight

    Medium weight

    Demi-bold weight

    Bold weight

    Heavy weight

    And even condensed, in all the above weights!

    CONDENSED ALL CAPS look pretty good.

    That said, it’s not perfect.

    Doesn’t have true italics.

    So… I just never use italics when I’m using Avenir.

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  39. Font variations
    • Weight, as we just saw

    • Italics (though sadly, Avenir just has oblique)


    • Size

    • Condensed/expanded lettering (horizontally)

    • Increas ed/decreased letter-spacing

    • Decrease with care! Too little space harms legibility.

    • Increased is often used for running heads, occasionally for headings; often combined with
    small- or all-caps.

    • Use a few of these (but don’t go overboard!) to help
    create a hierarchy of visual importance.

    • Non-body-copy must contrast with body copy!

    • Don’t mess around with body copy. Legibility is paramount!!!

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  40. Putting fonts together
    • For beginners, I recommend picking no more
    than two fonts for a design project. They should
    contrast signi

    • One serif font, one sans-serif font is a common pairing.

    • Or a sans-serif for body copy, and a more elaborate cursive-type for headings.

    • Use one for body copy, the other for everything

    • Hack: Try for a similar x-height. That is,
    lowercase letters like “x” without ascenders/
    descenders should be about the same height
    relative to the other letters in each font.

    • This creates fair visual harmony (repetition!) right off the bat.

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  41. Color
    • A few schools of thought here; do what works for

    • One: Imitate.

    • E.g. building a palette around a color in a photograph you’re using (look for a “magic
    eyedropper” tool to grab a color from an image)

    • Or taking your color cues from your industry

    • Two: Use a palette-creation tool (the web has lots).

    • Start with one color, let the tool give you a palette

    • Three: Keep it simple with shades of the same
    color, or one accent color plus black (like my syllabi).

    • Always keep text/background CONTRAST strong.

    • This is basic to legibility, including for many people with visual disabilities.

    • I will grade you down for insuf
    cient contrast! It’s that important.

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  42. Contrast errors I often see

    in the wild
    • Red on black. Like this. It’s illegible. Don’t.

    • I see posters do this, and I’m just all “what were they thinking?”

    • Gray on black. Gray on white (WEB DESIGNERS

    • Have mercy on everyone’s eyesight! Contrast, please!

    • Text on a too-busy photograph

    • One way around this: put a translucent-colored shape behind the text to give it greater
    contrast with the photo. (An opaque shape works too, but is a bit less elegant.)

    • Another way: put the photo on a black background, then reduce the photo’s opacity to
    darken it. (I do this in slidedecks a lot.) Or blur the photo until the text is clear.

    • Third way: put the text on a relatively one-color, contrasting part of the photo.

    • Other options here! Just please, watch that contrast!

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  43. Reverse video
    • It’s a pretty effective contrast tactic, used

    • (Check out my syllabus front page.)

    • It can get a little… stark? eyebleeding? if it’s
    too high-contrast.

    • I actually used light gray and dark gray above, not pure white and black.
    When I tried white and black, it came out super-harsh.

    • Too low-contrast and it’s illegible. Be careful!

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  44. Layout
    • Whitespace is your friend! Use it strategically!

    • I don’t mean doublespacing, drat it — don’t doublespace body copy in
    anything that isn’t a term paper! I mean using empty space to give
    elements of your layout (headings, lists…) space to breathe.

    • If you’re thinking about a line or border or ornament, try whitespace
    rst! It’s
    almost always more elegant.

    • Rule of thumb for the whitespace around

    • What’s the font size you’re using? Divide that amount of whitespace
    above and below the heading. Use more above.

    • So for a 36-point heading, try 24 points above it, 12 below.

    • Eyeball this. Tweak it. It may not be quite right. But it’s a good place to start.

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  45. Sideways headings
    • Can look pretty slick!

    • Consider these as chapter/section
    markers (instead of boring old ordinary

    • Watch the size/weight/color; you don’t want them to be distracting.

    • You will probably have to make a text
    box and rotate it; you won’t be able to
    do this with text in the main
    ow of the

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  46. Art
    • photographs, icons, etc… even ornaments

    • Do not let me catch you using cheap tatty
    pixelated clip art. That was over in the 1990s.
    Please, please, PLEASE don’t.

    • One possible exception: if you are designing for very young children.

    • In fact, don’t use art if you’re unsure about it.

    • For me, and I’m not alone in this, it’s the hardest tool in the toolkit to use
    effectively, and the easiest to mess up.

    • (This tells you something about why my slides are how they are, yes.)

    • If you’re feeling arty: check out the Noun
    Project and (yes, really) OpenClipArt.org.

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  47. Is this all there is to design?
    • Heck no. It’s barely a start.

    • But “barely a start” can put you head and
    shoulders above your competition when
    it comes to:

    • Résumés and cover letters (though here it is especially
    important not to get too cute — aim for maximum legibility!)

    • Lots of kinds of work communication, especially
    marketing/PR, whitepapers, newsletters…

    • Even term papers, when you have design leeway! (So that your
    other instructors don’t come after me: if they give you speci
    c design
    instructions, please follow them, even if they’re bad.)

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  48. Graphic designers
    • Are amazing people! Who know more and do
    better at this than I ever will!

    • HIRE AND PAY THEM to create “house style”
    and templates for your organization, okay?

    • Word-processing templates, slide templates, and ideally you’d tie this into the
    organization’s web design/stylesheets as well.

    • Amateur design just plain looks amateurish.
    Come on, we’ve all seen it.

    • People jump to extremely rapid conclusions
    about organizations based on visual design.

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  49. A quick intro to styles

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  50. Ef
    cient design
    • Changing font, font weight, font size,
    whitespace above/below, and/or color every
    time you type a heading is a giant timesink.

    • Fortunately, you don’t have to do this.

    • STYLES. Learn to use them! They will keep
    you from hating design forever!

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  51. Styles? What?
    • Come up with a bundle of design changes.

    • Give the bundle a name.

    • That’s a style. You can apply it wherever you
    need it.

    • And if you change your mind about the design, you change the style
    nition, and everything marked with that style changes to match!

    • In most software, two kinds of styles:

    • “Paragraph” styles: for blocky things like headings, paragraphs, pull quotes

    • “Character” styles: for a span of text within a block, such as a sudden
    pop of color and weight for emphasis

    • (If there’s a third kind, it’s probably for lists, which have their own design

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  52. Built-in styles
    • Every word processor has them: Heading 1,
    Heading 2, Paragraph (or “Normal”), etc.

    • The default design for them is usually
    amazingly ugly.

    • Plus it ticks the ‘overused’ button because so few people change defaults.

    • You can still use them, though! Change how
    they look, make sure the changes get added
    to the style, and keep right on going!

    • How to make changes stick to a default style is software-speci
    c, sorry.

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  53. “Templates”
    • A bundle of styles and layout options.

    • Dedicated word-processing software has these.
    Google Docs… sort of does but not really.

    • You can also
    nd templates online for popular
    word processors.

    • Some are good (Apple’s are usually good).
    Some aren’t. Some are too much hassle.

    • But you can make and save your own!

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  54. Step 1: Type your text,
    select it, change its design

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  55. Step 2: Click “New Style,”

    give the style a name

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  56. Step 3: Got all your styles?
    Save as template
    • This will be different from saving as a
    document! Read the Save options in the
    software carefully.

    • Alternately, create a document containing all
    the styles, and make it read-only. To use the
    styles in a new document, make a duplicate of
    the original.

    • If you don’t make the original read-only, somebody WILL accidentally muck up
    all the styles. Guaranteed. Been there, done that.

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  57. keeping the style pane

    less cluttered

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  58. Thank you!
    • This deck copyright 2021 Dorothea Salo.

    • This deck is available under a Creative
    Commons Attribution 4.0 International

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