Design By Writing

"The content is the interface."


Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it's decoration.


Every word and letter in an interface matters. Good writing is good design. Text is ultimately interface, and it’s us, the designers, who are the copywriters shaping this information.

Our work is not about putting random things on screen and making them look pretty, but instead starting from the most important parts, the copy and the content, and figuring other details up from there. That’s where the core of our craft lies.

Of course, there are more nuances to interface design; things like balance, positioning, hierarchy and structure, but good copywriting and typography takes us 95% there.


Good writing is arguably the most important piece of a design project. Yes, writing. A stellar design will only get you so far if the content is lacking. Clunky, mistake-laden, or even just plain boring copy will almost certainly ruin any project. Great copy will help a design shine.


As product designers, our hero must always be the content. Technologies fade into the background. Content stands alone.


What you liked was the content. If the content was good, you kept buying. We want the words. We want words that have been lovingly prepared, and agonised over. Gratuitous decorations and ill-thought-out interactivity only frustrate, because they act as a barrier to what matters.

A return to the quietness and cleanliness of the page as an unnoticed backdrop, with the single spotlight falling squarely on well-considered words. When you respect the reader, the content itself is the only relevant medium.


There's not much here. Just 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.

I wrote this in a text editor. It's 6 kB. I didn't need a Content Management System, a graphic designer, or a software developer. There's not much code on this page at all, just simple markup for paragraphs, hierarchy, and emphasis.

And if your words are good, people will read them. Instead of starting with a style guide or a Photoshop mockup, start with words on a page.

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's "no", don't add it.

At its heart, web design should be about words. Words don't come after the design is done. Words are the beginning, the core, the focus. Start with words.


When you’re using the [Readability] app, you’ll notice there are very few elements like buttons. The content is the interface.


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.


Good design is as little design as possible - Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.


I visit it almost every day. It’s not responsive. It’s not optimized for iPhone. It looks blurry on a Retina display. It doesn’t use the latest HTML5/CSS3 framework. The fonts are nothing special. It is neither skeumorphic nor flat. It doesn’t have its own favicon. It doesn’t have a native app or Twitter or Instagram. It doesn’t use AJAX or SCRUM or node.js or Sinatra. It doesn’t have an API or an RSS feed or VC funding.

It tells me the soups of the day. Freely distributed information that’s relevant to the person reading it. That’s web design.


It’s important to remember that while there is a science connected to how your words are designed, no amount of good design can save bad content. Write well first. Design well second.


Don’t tell us text is not important. 95% of what is commonly referred to as web design is typography.


A great web designer knows how to work with text not just as content, he treats “text as a user interface”.


It's a fun, simple tutorial.

The purpose of design is to enhance the presentation of the content it's applied to. It might sound obvious, but content being the primary element of a website, it should not be established as an afterthought.

Written content, like the paragraph you're currently reading, makes up for more than 90% of the Web. Styling this textual content will go a long way.

When a page looks "broken" to a user, it's usually a spacing issue. Providing space both around and within your content can increase the appeal of your page.


And as a website owner, you aren’t helping the reader by promoting your products or mailing list in every possible bit of whitespace, you’re helping yourself.

That’s why being able to read your content is the most important thing on your website. If you create value in the content you write —for the reader—they’ll be much more willing to do what you want them.

Serve your readers first, and then they’ll gladly become your audience.


Blogs are my newspapers, thats why. For me accessibility and downwards compatability outweigh the "product" a lot. I have a low-end smart phone for which most "products" are ununsable. Why do people throw away expensive hardware that woks perfectly fine? Because the modern software doesn't run on it.

Take for example the opposite: http://blog.fefe.de

That is a product that meets my demands: I can read on any device, using multiple clients. I could read this page with a dual-core as well as with a gameboy. Serve TTF font's, maybe I rather use bitmap fonts? Doesn't matter.

I could read that blog using Mosaic, lynx, w3m... kindle displays... It also works fine for braille terminals.

I guess I am more interested in powerful systems than the pityful products of the App-bubble. After all I am a programmer.


I believe comfort, not convenience, is the most important thing in software, and text is an incredibly comfortable medium. Text-based interaction is fast, fun, funny, flexible, intimate, descriptive and even consistent in ways that voice and user interface often are not.


Don't get me wrong, I like me some illustrations, photos, movies and music. But text wins by a mile. Text is everything. My thoughts on this are quite absolute: text is the most powerful, useful, effective communication technology ever, period.

Text is the oldest and most stable communication technology (assuming we treat speech/signing as natural phenomenon -- there are no human societies without it -- whereas textual capability has to be transmitted, taught, acquired) and it's incredibly durable. We can read texts from five thousand years ago.

Text is the most socially useful communication technology. It works well in 1:1, 1:N, and M:N modes. It can be indexed and searched efficiently, even by hand. It can be translated. It can be produced and consumed at variable speeds. It is asynchronous. It can be compared, diffed, clustered, corrected, summarized and filtered algorithmically. It permits multiparty editing. It permits branching conversations, lurking, annotation, quoting, reviewing, summarizing, structured responses, exegesis, even fan fic.

The breadth, scale and depth of ways people use text is unmatched by anything. There is no equivalent in any other communication technology for the social, communicative, cognitive and reflective complexity of a library full of books or an internet full of postings. Nothing else comes close.

So this is my stance on text: always pick text first. As my old boss might have said: always bet on text. If you can use text for something, use it. It will very seldom let you down.


A commenter stated what works for me:

Everything you say is true; even so, you leave out one point that’s crucially important, at least to me: text is also the most efficient technology when it comes to bridging that last gap between the computer and the human mind. Send me a link to a news story that turns out to be a video, or an audio file, and I’ll close it unconsumed: I haven’t got that kind of time. Send me a transcript: I’ll finish reading in half the time it would take me to passively sit there while it played, and I’ll more clearly remember it.


"I think independent of the visual medium, text always has a place in the world. I don't think that's ever going away. As we talk about these shifts toward visual, I think it is important to remember that the written word is always going to be something that's important and useful."


Recently, we’ve all been going crazy Snow Falling the crap out of everything while forgetting that the best reading experience is one that lets you get lost in a narrative; one that induces a state of flow. If you don’t believe that an uninterrupted, plain-text reading environment is optimal, I suggest you pick up a book. Those things are essentially a few hundred pages of nothing but text. And yet, they seem to have done alright over the years.


My Thoughts

The page below works because it provides useful information for interested readers.

It loads fast and simply. It contains no web-abusive aesthetic cruft that infuriates the reader. It uses 13 small images that comprise most of the download weight. It will take a little more effort to read it on a phone, but it's still readable. Pinching and zooming works.

That single page, however, is more superior in web design than most of the well-known social media sites and news orgs because at times, those giant properties abuse normal web behavior that has existed for more than 20 years.

The above page focuses on what's important: the content. We don't need websites to act like native apps all the time.

#manifesto