Courtney Eckerle

Marketing 101: What are widows and orphans (in design)?

October 13th, 2017
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Marketing has a language all its own. This is our latest in a series of posts aimed at helping new marketers learn that language. What term do you find yourself explaining most often to new hires during onboarding? Let us know.

“Widows” and “orphans” sound incredibly morbid, and the designer who coined these terms was definitely a macabre lady or gent. However, it does accurately convey how seriously design lovers take this faux pas.

In typesetting, widows and orphans are lines at the beginning or end of a paragraph that are left dangling at the top or bottom of a column. This separates them from the rest of the paragraph and, generally speaking, is considered unpleasant looking by the design community.

I personally have experienced the woe of having an orphan and widow when working on a downloadable book with our design team. Reviewing the finished copy, the team was distressed over some parts of the copy that when put into the template, created these widows and orphans.

So we went through the copy, and I adjusted it so that there wouldn’t be any orphans or widows in the finished design piece — which, as I write this, sounds like a wonderful thing.

Here is a common mnemonic (supplied by the lovely folks at Wikipedia) to help you remember the difference: “An orphan has no past; a widow has no future,” or “An orphan is left behind, whereas a widow must go on alone.”

Alternatively, if you’re really into depressing mnemonic devices to help you remember common design elements, here is one more: “An orphan is alone from the beginning; a widow is alone at the end.”

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Courtney Eckerle

About Courtney Eckerle

With a focus on aspirational, customer-first marketing, Courtney’s goal has been to produce clear, interesting and actionable external content for MarketingSherpa readers. This has included writing over 300 case studies, moderating live event interviews, and producing video content. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, Mass Communications and Film Studies from Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind., and was a correspondent for USA Today College prior to joining MECLABS Institute.

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