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Why bad writing undermines great design – and what to do about it.


Mere Filler

I have a favorite definition of the word ‘design’: “to do or plan something with a specific purpose in mind.” It’s a broad definition, sure, but I like that it puts concrete outcomes first — even before aesthetics and functionality.

The reason I’m rehashing it here is start a discussion about the crucial relationship between design and writing. All too often, I see the ‘specific purpose’ design aims to fulfill undermined by bad writing. That’s why I believe that as designers we need to sharpen our eye for copy — and stop considering text as mere filler.

‘Content’ Is Misleading

In recent years, all kinds writing have popularly been subsumed under the label of ‘content’. That may seem like an innocent umbrella term, but it matters: The terms we use are often reflective of the way we think — and vice versa. ’Content’ implies that writing just inhabits a design — without necessary contributing to it.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row el_class=”no-margin”][vc_column][image_carousel_alternative images=”325,323,321,322″ onclick=”lightbox” items=”1″ items_on_small_screens=”3″ navigation=”1″ slide_by=”by_page” navigation_style=”2″ slide_number_status=”1″ style=”1″ fade=”1″ lazyload=”1″ img_size=”large” css_class=”dark”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row el_class=”no-margin”][vc_column][vc_column_text]

A verbal identity is enormously important in how a brand is defined, communicated, and ultimately perceived.

The opposite is true. Rather than being contained or playing second fiddle to graphics or interfaces, writing is a very important design element. When used sensibly, text communicates clearly and supports the entire designed experience.

When it comes to identity design, writing is the most crucial: A verbal identity that expresses a given brand’s values is enormously important in how a brand is defined, communicated, and ultimately perceived.

Projects that fail to take this into account often feel confusing, age quickly, or (in the worst case!) undermine the experience with writing that’s sloppy, soulless, or just plain boring.

That’s why design must consider writing as an elemental part of design. When you’re thinking about interaction or audience guidance, don’t rely on visuals alone. Consider how a fitting verbal experience contributes to the clarity of your design, make it more understandable and relatable.

A Broader Notion of Design

The notion of content has also created an unnecessary separation between a designer’s and writer’s work — especially in the minds of clients. Today, many designers are hired for visual tasks alone; it is assumed that their work will later be supplemented with copy. Meanwhile, writers are asked to provide copy for finished designs with little to no input on their presentation. Not only is that unsatisfactory for both sides, it also makes very little sense when you consider your work holistically.

In a previous piece of ours, we’ve talked about the way we understand design: As a discipline that relies on interdisciplinary skills and collaboration, in the vein of the ‘functional design’ approach championed in the 60s and 70s.

Primarily, that means breaking down the unnecessary barriers separating a designer’s work from that of others. As modern designers, we must consider the entire experience and convince clients that we feel a responsibility for the product as a whole.

If that sounds like too much to ask, consider that the work of a designer is already quite holistic: It concerns digital and analog mediums, requires an sense for geometry, typography, photography, and often relies on interpersonal skills when dealing with clients. Adding writing will only complete your toolkit.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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