What is content design?

Content design is organizing, structuring, formatting and designing texts and combining them with images to create visually attractive and user-friendly content for your website, brochure or other documents.

If you have a good text, but it looks like a long piece of text without formatting, people are less likely to want to read it. A nicely formatted text where various components such as headings, paragraphs, frames, quotes and references are easily recognizable enhances the user-friendliness of the text.

Content design transforms your text into a visually attractive design to ensures that your key message becomes clear at a glance

Write short paragraphs of 5 lines

In a book or scientific publication you can get away with long pieces of text, but on a website or brochure you have to be short and to the point. Therefore you should write paragraphs that are about 5 lines long. This makes it more attractive to read and forces you to limit yourself to the key message.

Use headings

Headings (H1, H2, H3, H4) not only improve the readability and scannability of a page, they also help with search engine optimization (SEO). For a content designer, nothing is worse than a title written in bold font…. So write a title for each paragraph and ensure it has a hierarchy that makes sense: when you write about mammals with an H2 heading, the headings Humans and Apes that fall within that category are both H3.

Write your title as a summary

Don’t write a descriptive title – rather, make it a summary of a paragraph. This way it is easier for people to scan your page and get a first impression of the content. So you should not write headings like “Our services” but rather “We coach professionals in health care”. This is also better for SEO.

Write an introductory text

As you can see in the beginning of this article, an introductory text with a slightly larger font makes for a good preface. With a short summary or enticing text, you are helping the reader on their way.

Only use relevant images

Do not add images (clipart) of question marks in your text if it does not contribute to clarify the content. Only use images if they contribute to the content, and if the text would not be clear without that image.

Differentiate between main content and side notes

If you use examples in your text, or you want to explain a definition, you can use frames so that it becomes clear that it concerns a different type of content. If you use many examples in the text itself, then it is difficult to differentiate the main thread from the side issues.

Use quotes

Alternate your text with quotes. This enhances your content visually and allows you to bring forward the most important sentences so that no one can accidentally skip them.

A quote helps put a focus on important information.

Indent the text

Sometimes you want to use a quote of someone else or a longer piece of text that is not part of the main text. Rather than using a frame you can indent the text:

When you indent the text, the reader will immediately know that it is a specific example. You can use it for pieces in which you are having a conversation with someone (and indent all texts of the other person) or when you use a longer quote from a book.

Use real bullet points

Personally, I am annoyed by the use of hyphens instead of real bullet points for lists. It does not make the list any clearer and it is just as easy to hit the corresponding button in Word or WordPress. If you have to use a list, use the standard round bullet points or when it has a clear order (such as a recipe) use numbers. It is even better to utilize the design of the bullet points to clarify the content more. For example by using check marks instead of round bullets:

Do not underline your text!

On websites, underlined texts are reserved for links. So if you use it for regular text, you may confuse the visitor who will without a doubt hover their mouse over it. Therefore you should never emphasize a word by by underlining it. The only exception is when you want to want users to interact with the text and show a description or additional like a definition of the word.

Write better links

If you turn a piece of text into a link, ensure that it is clear to the visitor what happens when you click it. Always provide a description of what you link to. It is confusing to turn the word (click) here into a link, because a visitor does not know what this link will lead to (and it is bad for SEO). Our 5 simple tricks to improve your scientific presentation slide design is a good link. It’s good because your visitor will know exactly where they will be sent to and a search engine can also understand better how your site works. If you link to an external website, make sure that the link opens in a new tab and that the visitor knows they are leaving your website. Like this: Read more about typography on practicaltypography.com.

How to apply bold and italics properly

Use bold and italics sparingly, your text can turn out to look very cluttered when used incorrectly. In any case, do not use them in headings and titles. You use both to emphasize a word. Bold is usually used when the sentence itself is important and italics are used when you are putting emphasis on how a word would be pronounced or when you want to use a different tone from the rest of the text (but both can be used in the same way). Read more on the use of bold and italics on practicaltypography.com.

Italics are especially suitable for a small note by the author, or as an off-hand comment (and when it concerns a word in another language).

If you’re ready to learn more about content design and you want to apply it to your presentations, do our workshop Presentation Design. In case you want to make a poster or infographics, we have the workshop Poster design & Infographics. If you have any question or comment about this blog, you can contact us directly as well.

About the Author: Liesbeth Smit

Liesbeth combines her knowledge of science communication, technology and design to explain difficult topics to a wide audience. You can use her practical tips immediately in your (poster) presentations to create a bigger impact. She developed dozens of websites, infographics and animated videos, and regularly gives workshops about design at The Online Scientist.

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