In 2007, Gerry McGovern, our resident sage advisor, wrote that web design is the design of words. Three years later, he is still as accurate as ever. In that time, many new media have come and gone, but through it all, the website still remains a primary platform for engaging customers, readers and everyone in between.
Optimizing the Design of Words
We have all these resources at our disposal, aimed at making it easier than ever to optimize the user experience. From videos and widgets, photos and advertising, there is a lot to distract us away from our words. And even when we focus on words, it’s in attempt to optimize them for searchability.
Recently we’ve been reminded about the importance of words from a design perspective, how they are laid out can influence and improve the reader experience. Though print may be dead there is a lot the web can learn from designing for print. Graphic designers have researched how the eye tracks along a page, what fonts and colors are most alluring and best practices for engaging readers without overwhelming them.
Relaying some of these practices and applying them to web design can help re-engage and simplify your designs. Here are a few worth mentioning.
Align and Conquer
Western languages have taught us to read left to right. Many newspapers still use justified alignment when laying out their text. Yet, when it comes to websites, centering your page can make a huge difference. Websites that force your eye to the left make it uncomfortable to read.
Safari Reader automatically centers the text of the article and fades side bar advertisements and other distractions into the background.
The layout of your words, when designed for a page centered on a screen, can allow for a cleaner, more organized perspective.
Safari Reader, released as a part of Safari 5, “removes annoying ads and other visual distractions from online articles.” The result is not only innovative and convenient, but also makes you realize how much extra content is cluttering up the page.
Communication Not Decoration
Phil Brisk reminds us that our websites are designed to communicate, not decorate. Though basic design elements are crucial for any website, Brisk, a marketing and advertising consultant, says that
Your users aren't interested in giving your web design work marks out of 10. They just care about getting all the relevant information, in as little time as possible, and then moving on.
Just as designs can get too distracting, language also has a way of getting out of hand. Dressing up the words you use will only serve to complicate, not simplify your message. Approaching your website as a conversation will appeal to more users because it is easier to understand and it's more personable. When all else fails, the basic principles of web writing prevail.
Activate Your White Space
Just as the alignment of your sites can influence the way users read, the amount of white space used can also impact their experience. By creating enough whitespace between your text and images using margins, content will look more organized and uncluttered.
Perhaps the most popular example of white space is the Google home page. Compare its use of white space against Yahoo's home page.
Of course, just because a space is white, doesn’t mean it is a strategic use. Larisa Thomason of Net Mechanic describes two different types of white space: active and passive.
- Active white space is that which is “deliberately left blank to better structure the page and emphasize different areas of content,” while
- Passive white space just takes up space around the outside of the page or blank areas inside the content that result from a poor design.
Know Thy Demographic
Ideally, you can’t have a website without content, but you’d be surprised. However, a successful website relies on serving a specific need or a specific audience. How you design your words can be best determined by getting to know your user. Depending upon their age, experience and interests, the words and layout you choose can make a significant difference on how they interact and engage online.