Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Reviving Anorexic Web Writing

Making content a positive user experience ...

"Monday morning began precisely as Monday mornings are not supposed to begin: with an argumentative prospective client standing in my office (sans appointment) telling me why I should stop what I’m doing and build him a “quick and dirty” website for his latest project. I smiled at him, nodding in all the right places, and when he stopped talking for just long enough I said, “All that sounds great. When you’re ready to give me the content you want to use so I can see what I’m dealing with, let’s talk.”

The client balked. “Can’t we just add that later, once the design is finished?”

My inner writer growled, but my outer designer smiled, accustomed to the request. “Sorry; can’t do it. The content is the heart of the website. I can’t build you a body until you give me a heart.”

Content is the heart of a brilliant user experience. From the body content to the alt text to the footer, the words that shape the page lie at the very center of an engaging visit. If the words aren’t beautiful and meaningful, the sleekest design in the world won’t compensate for it. The body can never replace a missing heart.

But we’ve gone astray as an industry, and we’ve starved all the life out of web writing. The kind of writing we encourage is lifeless, insipid, and calorie-free. If we want to get back on track—to allow writers to write wonderful user experiences—we have to change our expectations and our rules.

A history of anorexia

I have always been disheartened by the ubiquitous advice to keep all writing on the web short, though I understand where the advice comes from. For years designers and writers worked separately, designers working their magic to make the website as flashy and awesome as possible while the writers, if they were invited to the party at all, were given a paltry few days to whip up some words to fill the white space on the page. Because the two teams worked separately, much of the purpose of the website was lost: pages were designed to be looked at, but not read. Line lengths were much too long. Typography was unheard of. Color schemes were not designed to facilitate easy reading. Center-aligned text in Comic Sans ruled supreme.

In those dark days, the people writing the web copy weren’t actually writers: They were secretaries, product engineers, and—horrors!—designers; more often than not, the content was thrown together as an afterthought by someone who didn’t know a semicolon from a hole in the ground. Web writing was simply painful to read. Not only were the pages not designed for reading, the content itself wasn’t worth reading. As a result, writers and designers cultivated impatient, lazy readers, and this in turn bred the advice to skip the art of writing altogether and merely summarize."    (Continued via A List Apart)    [Usability Resources]

Anorexic Writing - Usability, User Interface Design

Anorexic Writing


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