Better Writing Through Design

by Bronwyn Jones

22 Reader Comments

Back to the Article
  1. The quest is being the site guide which your users want the site guide to be, but that is not always easy. To make things worse, looking at your (more successful) competitors’ awful content only confuses things further.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  2. Thanks for the great article Bronwyn. It is sad when beautifully designed sites fall down due to poorly written copy. It is indeed ironic that we spend so much time on design and then just leave blanks for the copy to be filled in later. Thanks also for the specific ideas for improving website copywriting for those who can’t work with a professional writer. I wrote a couple newsletters awhile back that I think contribute to your subject: Word’s Make the Web Work (www.newfangled.com/writing_for_websites) and Unleashing the Power of Words (www.newfangled.com/the_power_of_words). I also blogged your article,  (www.newfangled.com/copywriting_on_the_web_from_a_list_apart), tagged it, and Stumbled it. Thanks!
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  3. What can i say it’s really great article, in my opinion one of the best here on A list apart. I agree with the author that “Say it, don’t display it”. And also i like this part of article “Great web design reflects the way we interact, and the primary vehicle for that interaction remains text. ” - that’s whay I buy new cms and design for one of my latest project.
    Bronwyn Thanks for great ideas!
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  4. Thanks very much for your kind words! As Eric points out, I think it’s important to give actionable advice about how to improve written content on the web. Writing is often seen as this touch-feely, subjective enterprise, but I really do believe that a little research and insight goes a long way toward making even non-writers feel more comfortable behind the pen.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  5. but unfortunately ego, agenda, fad, and perception contribute daily to the abrogation of simplicity, quality, clarity, and service to the end user.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  6. Fabulous post - words are so often the poor relation when it comes to websites.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  7. Thanks for the great article. It reminds me of a time I practically begged a client to hire a professional copyrighter, because the content they handed over was written by someone, who had learned English as a second language… and didn’t effectively communicate the real value of the products they sold.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  8. I’d hasten to differ, I start everything with a set of keyword establishing a ‘common language’ its all part of strategy and SEO before I even touch Photoshop as it helps me understand their market, what drives custom and as the term common language suggests, helps me address customers in their own language and terminology. Doing this in advance makes writing copy easy as you know exactly what’s going to turn people on!
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  9. Excellent article. Are there any books or sites you recommend to help develop our own copyrighting skills? The links that Eric Holter provided had some great tips, now I want even more fuel!
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  10. Nice post.
    As described in post, site should answer the following questions:
    1) Who’s visiting this site?
    2) What does she want to know?
    3) What does he want to do?
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  11. Great article, lest we forget: the web has always been a remains a text-based medium, primarily. A visual designer who knows his or her trade will pick up a pencil (or open Word) first, to establish what and who the project is about well before mousing around with design tools. Visual design is just as important but process matters most. A recipe of only ingredients without process is mush. So context > content > design > test > serve > chill.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  12. I absolutely agree. Great article!
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  13. It’s good to see that writing isn’t totally lost. I’m quite proud to be part of the technological generation that still knows how to spell but the projects I’m involved in are largely CMS related. I don’t get any say in the content of the sites we produce (the worst of all - template driven, off-the-shelf jobby’s). I guess it’s not really my problem but it’s gutting when I’m ashamed of the websites I’m responsible for. So that said, I’d love to see some effort put into reaching the people who are actually writing ‘content’. Be it designers, end users/clients or SEO specialists… In light of the increasing adoption of web standards the actual content that is being made accessible needs the same consideration. Are there any existing repositories of knowledge that are publicly available as a reference for educating content authors? I can definitely see a business case for it if not… (b4 orl hp iz lst)
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  14. I’m a terrible writer. Not because I don’t know the English language. I just don’t think enough about it. As designers we often rush to complete a project, beat our clients down for the content we do receive, stick it in, and then leave it at that. I will keep this article bookmarked as a great reminder that I need to stop and think about content before I go chunking content into a design.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  15. It’s a good thing, professional web people start to put more emphasis on content. Up to a while ago everything was about web design, html/css and programming. For web designers and web developers content is by far the most difficult task to handle. And it is even harder for most clients. They don’t know much about how web communication works, don’t want to spend on a professional writer and wreck the project by writing content themselves.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  16. The simple questions that you outline (what do your site visitors want to know / do; what do you want them to know / do / feel) are ones that should drive not only the content but the architecture and functionality of sites. This is an interesting related article from Jakob Nielsen:
    http://www.useit.com/alertbox/features.html
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  17. “So how is it that the very foundation of the web, written text, has taken a strategic back seat to design?” This sentence kind of sums up my 6+ years doing interactive copy in an agency environment. Things are slowly changing, and copy/content is being brought in earlier and earlier in the process, but ultimately, design is still leading the charge. It’s funny since the “content is king” mantra has become almost cliched at this point, yet Creative Directors with design backgrounds are 8:1 over those with copy backgrounds at my agency alone (and I think we’re actually ahead of a lot of others in that respect). I’ve also found we get more client involvement online. When you hire an ad agency to develop a campaign, generally a few high-ups will jump in and play copywriter, if that. With interactive, there’s a lot more to deal with in terms of volume. In addition to brand and campaign creative considerations, we’ve also got product information of varying levels, and everyone with Word installed seems to think they can contribute. The bigger the company you work with, the worse it gets. (Okay, maybe I’m just venting client frustrations at this point). Anyway, great piece. 100% agree. Consideration of voice and story is as important as anything else when developing a site and that does need to stop taking a backseat to visual design elements. All hail the copywriter!
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  18. I can’t tell you how many times as a web project manager I’ve heard, “well, I don’t know exactly what content I’m putting up, but I want my website to look like this… .”  The content is vitally important.  After all, that’s why the users are there.  And no, you can’t take your printed marketing brochure from last year and “slap it up on the web.”  Writing for the web has a particular style to serve particular needs.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  19. you make some great points. I have seen too many websites where they style of text and the style of the site just don’t mesh. This can be exacerbated by the individual “voice” of a writer. Unfortunately too many people just don’t have the skill to effectively communicate in a genuine and cohesive manner. But for those that can it provides a real opportunity. This looks like a great blog. this is the first time I have ever visited it today and I am impressed. Tim McCormack
    http://www.iRent2u.com - The Online Rental Marketplace
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  20. I’ve always understood that good content is the basis for any great website design. I dwelt on that a great deal while creating a new website for myself. I wanted to hire a copy-writer who was more experienced than I - someone to keep my thoughts on track and keep me from making grammatical blunders. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the funds to support such, and was left to fend for myself. The most common advice I received from fellow web designers was to “write like you talk”. After writing a few sentences, I would read them allowed to see if they felt unnatural.  They did.  I finally came up with a design that focused more on the text than on graphics, and started a blog so I could practice writing on a regular basis. I wish this article was around then - Its entirely helpful and I look forward to going back through my site and taking a concentrated look at my content. Cheers!
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  21. we say in german. plain and good.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  22. The Better Design you users will read more, but there are some websites which are “overdesigned”.
    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.