Writers’ Pet Peeves with Designers — And How to Move Past Them
Not all content writers are happy writers. In fact, some of us are downright peevish. But all content writers write letters. Here is my open letter to the Design Community.
Dear Design Community,
Good morning! As a writer, I’ve been following your work, and I’ve been quite impressed. The creativity, the style, the colors, the graphics. (And that’s just your business cards!) You people rock! And what you are doing with the new technologies, it’s mind-blowing! (Take it from me…. Jesse Woods James was robbing trains in all 37 states when they created the keyboard layout that I’m using right now!)
I’ve got some pet peeves to share.
1) Don’t start without me.
If you are creating a website, or an annual report, or anything that will need content, and I’m not involved until your work is done, then we have a problem.
I know, I know… I’ve given little due to THE question: “If design is a chicken and content is an egg, then which comes first?” To which I answer, “‘Tis a foul analogy, indeed.” Chickens make eggs. Eggs hatch into chickens. Good design certainly doesn’t “make” good writing, or vice versa. They co-exist with, inform, and complement each other. “What’s that? Turn the important sentence I italicized in my copy into a call-to-action pull quote? Great idea! Hmm? It’s slightly too long in relation to the other pull quote on the page, and so it throws the visual balance off? Here… I can re-write it, like this… And this… Now it fits fine and looks great! High-five! Ouch, too hard!”
2) Less can be more.
So, naturally, when a designer says to me, “We’re adding another web page. It’s about X. So we need a quick write-up about X. Don’t worry; we don’t want anything fancy, so it shouldn’t take you much time at all. Email it by Friday,” I’m pleased as Punch. Jolly as Judy.
Chipper as Chucky.
French mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” (Presumably, this brief line is excerpted from a massive communication.)
And it’s true, Blaise! Anyone with a keyboard and some fingers can tell his or her life story in 1,000 words or more. Just write something, everything, whatever pops into your head. List all the names you remember from your kindergarten class. Describe last night’s dream. Explain your relationship to your favorite vegetable, nut, spice, fruit.
But give me your life in 100 words or less? Many might try. Most would fail. Because it takes a wicked long time and lots of effort to condense, summarize and encapsulate topics and ideas that are complex enough to matter. Each word must be carefully chosen. Every word counts. Of course, that takes time. But it’s worth it.
3) Doesn’t great design deserve great content?
I like to think that I have a decent eye for graphics. I’ve designed a website or two, an annual report or three, business cards for a project I managed. Heck — I even chose, framed and hung all the paintings in our master bedroom.
But here’s the thing: When I compare my design work to the work of any professional designer I’ve ever hired or worked with… well… let’s just say that reality sets in.
So I accept my limitations, thankful to have just enough design sense to realize how great great design really is. On a project, I make my design suggestions, share my ideas. But ultimately, I defer to the pros with the 90+ mph fastballs. Selfishly, I want my words, my work, to be associated with the finest finished products.
I know that many designers are good writers and some are great writers. But quality writing — like quality design work — is part skill and part art and lots of practice and refinement and improvement over time. Many folk who think they are excellent writers, well, they aren’t. (Trust me — I’ve edited and re-edited and copy-edited and re-written and thrown up my hands at their prose. Did you know that, given the laws of quantum mechanics, there is no physical limit to the number of misplaced commas that can be crammed into a single sentence?)
You want your cleanest, coolest, smartest designs to share space with the cleanest, coolest, smartest content out there. And, by and large, that content will come from a skilled professional writer.
Well, that’s all for now.
Wishing you the best, DC, and please keep up the superb work!