I've been training a new graphics person for our little graphics team over the past two weeks, and during that time, I've told him that we take the artwork provided with the submitted content and extract every ounce of personality from it.
At developerWorks, we want our tech art and screen caps to look like they came from the economics teacher (Ben Stein) in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"... Bueller?... Bueller?... Bueller? ::snicker:: One of the great movies of the 80's.
Why?, you ask. Simple - we like things...well... simple and legible.
Let me show you what I mean. The top image is the one that was provided by the author, the bottom is the one created by the graphics team (read - ME.).
Which one is more legible? Is there sufficient contrast from the background color and the font color?
These are important in technical illustrations - if your reader can't read or understand your illustration, the point of it is lost.
Why did I remove the gradients? Aren't they pretty and make it more visually interesting?
Yes - they are interesting but at the same time they are distracting and take away from the larger message of the image.
Why didn't I use a dark background and keep the white text?
Where that might also have a high level of contrast, we prefer to use black text on a light color of background. If you took the time to look at ALL the graphics in the 40,000 pieces of content on developerWorks, I'm sure you will find the occasion where we did just that, but 99.995% of the time, we use black. Readability and contrast is important!
Other things to avoid in your artwork, besides dark backgrounds, white, italicized text, and gradients...
Just because the software you're using to capture your screen HAS these effects, IT DOES NOT mean they MUST be used. As your mother would say - if all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?
If it's there, we will remove it and the drop shadow that goes with it. Period. And with my example, that would mean some of the text would be lost too - hope it wasn't important.
Which leads me on to my next point - DROP SHADOWS
I realize that some operating systems have a drop shadow built in and your screen shots might have that - it's fine, we'll just crop it out. Not a big deal. What is a big deal is when you have drop shadows all over your screen cap and under your arrows, your ellipses, rectangles, etc. It's distracting, especially when it goes over important bits of your screen cap.
Notice the difference between the two? While it's certainly cooler to have the effect, at developerWorks, in our content, we're not cool - remember - we're that economy teacher in Ferris Bueller's day off...
Like I said - NOT COOL. (We don't REALLY look like that, and we're all actually pretty interesting, once you get to know us, but that's besides the point.)
Call outs work the same way - use neutral colors (gray) for the balloon/box/cloud/arrow, black text, 12 pt font, and no drop shadows.
Captions are also not needed in your artwork, but rather they should be in your text. Captions will be removed from your artwork and coded in.
And finally - what happens if you have any of these things in your content?
Simple - they will get sent back to you, with a note from your editor basically stating that the graphics people are mean, cruel people and want you to remove the unwanted elements from the noted screen caps. Now the first part about us being mean and cruel might not be in the note, but asking for new screen caps will be.
Trust me, mean is when authors submit 140 screen caps that are 80% covered in drop shadows that need to be removed. Cruel is when you spend 3+ days removing those drop shadows and then vowing to never do that again - and I haven't.