The element of a page that we will talk about today has many names. Some refer to it as deck, other as kicker, standfirst or intro. So many names for one single element which plays a big role in providing information and grabbing readers attention.
In this article we will call this element intro.
Intro gives to the readers a summary of what they can expect from the article. Intro should work with the headline and this is why it is almost always the best thing to place it just below the headline. In this way they form a unit. Natural flow of the article should be: 1. headline, 2. intro, 3. body copy. In this way reader can easily follow the story in its natural way.
Of course, some long feature articles have the liberty in opening spread design and it is not unusual to see headline and intro on one spread, followed by body text on another, but the order is basically the same.
Headline grabs readers attention and intro gives a short description what lies ahead if the reader decides to continue reading the article.
In a way, intro is more important than the headline. It sells the information to the reader and acts as a link between the headline and the rest of the story.
If it is not informative and appealing, the reader may decide to quit the story.
This is why the intro should be carefully written. It should not be too long, but it should not be too short either.
Usually written by the copy editor, intro should be around 30-50 words long. Sometimes it is ok to deviate from the norm, but the most important thing is that it should sound good and it should include the necessary information to keep the reader interested.
If you stray from the norm it is better for intro to be shorter than longer, since longer one can seem uninteresting to read.
Regarding the text, intros should not repeat the words from the headline and the first paragraph of body copy.
Like with all page elements, design and look of the intros are determined by the style of the publication.
The text size of the intro should be much smaller than the headline but bigger than the body copy. This is self-explanatory of course. Also, intros should be smaller in size than the pull quotes (if you use pull quotes on the same page).
However you style them, they should be instantly recognizable and they should be clearly different from the surrounding elements, mostly headlines and body copy.
If they are longer you can increase the leading for easier reading.
Do not justify the intros, especially if they are laid out in narrow columns. It will create awkward gaps in the text, and definitely turn off hyphenation option.
Avoid styling them in all caps, since all caps are harder to read, especially in long form. If you want to make an emphasis on certain words, set it in bold type or in italics.
Also avoid letter spacing in intros. This treatment is especially hard to read. As a matter of fact, avoid letter spacing at all. You can use is maybe for headlines or for text elements that are few words long.
There is one practice that I see a lot and it is to design intros with negative leading. Negative leading is when you set the leading of less than 100% of the type size. Default value is 120%. Negative leading is OK to be used with short headlines or subheads, especially in larger sizes, since 120% leading in those cases would create too much gap between the words. But this does not work well for intros, since they are generally long and styled with smaller sized type where negative leading produces bad readability.
If the intro is spanning few or even several rows break them for meaning, just like you would do with the pull quotes