There are many types of content. Words are the most common type by far. They’re easy to create and consume. They’re a natural fit for screens of all sizes. They’re the backbone of the web.
Click away from the pen tool... Put down your Pantone book... Stop rearranging your layers... Close your stock texture folder... Log out of your Dribbble... And god dammit, hug your copywriter... Designing for the web is still about words.
We've become obsessed with fancy designs, responsive layouts, and scripts that do magical things. But the most powerful tool on the web is still words ... Think about all the things you could communicate with a simple page like this. If you're a businessperson, you could sell something. If you're a teacher, you could teach something. If you're an artist, you could show something you've made. And if your words are good, people will read them. If you're a web designer, I challenge you to think about the words first ... Just start with one page, with a single focus. Write it and publish it, and then iterate on that. Every time you're about to add something, ask yourself: does this help me communicate better? Will that additional styling, image, or hyperlink give my audience more understanding? If the answer is "no," don't add it.
Words are one of the most powerful design materials available. They convey deeply complex meanings in a compact space. They load fast. They're easy to manipulate and easy to transmit.
Basecamp’s Jonas Downey told me that they prefer to use words.
[One of our design principles is] preferring good copywriting, and taking the time and space to explain things with words, instead of making minimalist UIs with lots of unlabeled buttons, etc. (Although we're still guilty of having a few of those.)
Even when you use images you still need words. They’re important even in traditionally visual media.
Graphic design has just as much to do with words as it does with pictures, and a lot of my favorite designers come to design from the world of words instead of the world of pictures.
Words often have a bigger impact.
Words are powerful, they spark a theatre in the head. People reading your words make their own pictures at a speed pictures could never be transmitted. Instead of giving one image you create a gallery, one that you will never see, but your readers do. And this gallery is very personal to them and thus gets remembered much more ... Words are beautiful. Paint with them, compose with them, woo people with them.
Words can do anything. A novel’s words can take us into someone else’s life. Two words can seal a promise. Words can start and end marriages, deals, and wars. One word can forever follow a newborn. A magic word can help a child get what she needs. Final words can give peace to a life as it ends.
Clear communication might even mean you need more words, not fewer. This is not at odds with the idea of simple design.
Sometimes puffy writing is more efficient communication, because it's the best way to get a complex idea through. I'm learning to appreciate that the clear thing isn't always the simple thing.
But the words need to be good, and not just beautiful.
Once a designer has the typographic skills in their pocket, anyone with their head on straight realizes ugly words in beautiful typefaces are still pretty dumb. I tripped over this observation while struggling to make good designs and clear illustrations for idiotic articles and muddled ideas. I then fell into something I'm still attempting to understand: words are the most explicit example of clear thinking.
Start with words. See if they’re not enough.
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