I once attended a design lecture that featured a well-known Canadian thought leader in industrial design. He waxed on about the hallmark of great design—and he opened the question up to the room: “What constitutes good design?”
The room was silent. Then a few voices mumbled. In the following two minutes, the group gathered the answer.
“The hallmark of great design is a product that compels the user to use it in the way it was intended with ease and simplicity. The form of the product and the details of that product help users to clarify the function of that product for the user.”
An everyday example is the standard milk carton. The form protects the contents from warming up or sun damage. The plastic twist spout allows the contents to be poured easily and keeps the content fresh.
As we left, I wondered about how universal this truth in design was for people in communications, content development and print. It boils down to creating standards that are created with the reader in mind—standards that we as content creators and readers can be comfortable with. And in the case of business, print, and web writing creating and maintaining these standards can mean the difference between readers understanding you and readers not understanding what’s in front of them.
When we talked about it, a few relevant design considerations for content writers emerged:
- Website design follows a grid in a similar way that newspapers and magazines follow their own specific grid templates
- The hierarchy of information puts the broader information at the top of the grid and the deeper details and supporting information within the grid
- In news journalism, disseminating news content from broad to narrow is referred to as the upside-down pyramid
- This gives people the ability to scan the information, if they lack the time to read further, but it allows them to gather what they need
- The principles of this are mirrored online, where people’s eyes work from the top left point of the page to the main header area (where the headlines are). People’s eyes then scan downward and toward the right of the page, much like an “F” pattern
- For newspapers, magazines and websites: Headlines, bylines (the name of the writer), subheadlines, and introductory paragraphs give scanners a chance to gather what they need to move forward
- Those who have the time to read further can feel free to do so without losing a sense of where they are going
- White space keeps the readers’ eyes from getting tired, and it keeps readers from losing their place while they read longer pieces. They are more than a simple convenience.
So with this information in mind, we took a look at our client’s materials, and this included proposals, business plans, website copy, blogs and landing pages. Some jobs needed a short review, but keeping up on design principles in the medium we write for keeps us up to date, and our readers will not get confused or fatigued.
If you want to look further into the elements of content design, a great primer is Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think.
Forever choosing his words carefully,