Writing online content can be a novel and exciting challenge for new writers. In trying to learn this realm, it can be tricky to know where to start. Surprisingly enough, a designer might be just the right person to turn to for ideas. There are lots of tips and tricks to be gained from understanding how designers approach online user interfaces. In this post, we’ll highlight just a few.
Here are 6 important lessons that writers can learn from designers:
As a non-designer, when you start to think about the content for your webpages or the user interface of a web app, it can be very helpful to seek inspiration from across the wider web. Look for competitors that cater to the same needs you’re trying to meet and examine their user interfaces carefully. Ask yourself what their approach is and how their text and design interact to create this result. Take note of what you like about competitors — such as message hierarchy, tone of voice and use of visual elements — but also what you don’t like. Sometimes, you can get the best insights by looking at an interface you think has been constructed poorly and then figuring out why that might be, e.g., too much text on a screen or excessive use of CTAs.
Regardless of the project they’re working on, many designers will start by seeking inspiration from companies with a great reputation for design excellence, like Apple or Google. These companies are very data-driven and know a huge amount about what works in the real world, so mining them for insights can be a great starting place for writers, too.
Tip: Google’s Material Design is one of the go-tos for designers embarking on new projects and it also has helpful hints for writers.
When you’re designing, as when you’re writing, the order in which messages appear and the visual prominence they receive is crucial. Placing content higher up on a page, bolding, italicizing or using larger fonts are all ways to make key messages pop.
As writers and designers who create the user interface, we need to think carefully about how users will be interacting with it. Most of the time, users scan quickly through webpages, eager to get at the information that is relevant to them. To hack this user behavior, place your key content where a user’s eye is most likely to hit the page.
Some of the strategies you could employ to get a user to pay attention include placing titles in large font, turning your text into bulleted lists or using color to draw users to key points. All of these are visual design strategies for the text interface and all of them cater to the same insight; when user interfaces are attractive and comfortable, users want to interact with them.
As any designer will gleefully tell you — and as content writers for the web have come to realize — when it comes to text in the digital world, less is generally more. Conjure up your inner designer as you review and edit your writing. Pair down ruthlessly and cut the fat from your words so that your messages are short and focused. This improves readability dramatically and increases the likelihood that people will stick around long enough to read what you’re saying.
When you sit with a designer at an early stage of a project, you’ll be amazed at just how quickly they start to draw. Designers are very often visual thinkers who use sketching to gain a sense of what a project is all about, much as many writers use meticulous note-taking.
Rather than writing up a project outline on Google docs, sketch an initial version of a screen for yourself — no matter how poorly you draw — or mock it up in PowerPoint. This will give you something far more tangible to share with designers and other team members so they can quickly understand your approach.
Not sure what the right text is to use on a particular screen? Wondering whether your paragraphs are too long? Put your text on a wireframe. Showing your text in context is the best way to test it out and see where adjustments and improvements are needed.
When I’m writing text for product screens, I always head straight to a trusty combination of Paint and PowerPoint to mockup my text into a basic UI. I find these simple tools let me do everything I need to create initial screens in a way that makes sense to me, and to the designers and writers I collaborate with. You can create your own mockups with any one of the endless options out there, including Snagit, Balsamiq, Sketch and so many more.
Ultimately, the design insights of a writer will only take you so far. Just as a designer who also writes will rarely deliver the same quality of results as a full time writer, so we amateur designers need to know our limitations.
I’ve worked with countless designers and I’ve always appreciated the huge contribution they bring to the creative process and to UI specifically. Thinking like a designer can help you write better content — but let the designers do the design. As writers, we’re at our best when we stick to creating amazing content. Let’s face it, content is more fun than design anyway ;).
Check out our tips on how writers and designers can collaborate.
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