There’s more to great UX design than selecting pretty pictures. It’s time to stop neglecting your text layout. The art of words is all about the way that words look on the page or screen.
Since the dawn of the written language, the manner in which letters are presented and arranged has always mattered. Today is no different. This post will take a look at why text layout is important, how layout techniques have evolved, and how you can create a masterpiece.
Let’s get to it!
Why text layout matters
Words are the copywriter’s job, right?
Graphic designers are having to be more flexible than ever wearing multiple hats for any given project. Don’t worry though, copy and design go hand in hand and we are starting to see a rise in hybrid positions such as the ‘UX writer.’ *ooohhh*
If you’re feeling uninspired about the art of words here are a few reasons to motivate you.
1. Your readers care… a lot
Clunky layouts and huge blocks of text have been proven to lead to higher bounce rates (people bailing on your website). People usually skim web pages for information, so bad typography, incorrect font size and poor spacing can make reading a real strain. This is bad times two: you’ve lost a user and your reader missed out on your awesome content.
In a world of GIFs, 7 second videos and memes, you’re competing with a lot of media, and if your copy doesn’t captivate a user, you’ll lose them. The reader is always right. Give the people the text layout they want.
2. Your copy is a boat and your design is the ocean
The two were made for each other, but they have to work together.
Great design can make a website look good, but if users aren’t reading your content, then you may be heading towards a marketing shipwreck. It’s the same with your written content. Without visuals and good design your copy is left incomplete.
A word of warning: add too many visuals and you run the risk of drowning out your content. Trust me I’m from Belfast. We built the Titanic. Using too many colors, photos, animations and text features will make your readers jump ship.
It’s all about finding that sweet spot. Keep it clean, keep it clear, keep it readable.
3. Easy to do. Big results.
A little formatting doesn’t take a lot of time, but it can go a long way with your readers. An extra 10 minutes could be the difference between a post that flops and one that goes viral.
You don’t have to be a protegé to master the art of words. The principles of color, layout and typography are simple and easy to follow—especially with help from thanks to some modern, helpful (and free) tools. Speaking of, let’s take a look at how you can create stunning layouts.
How to master text layout
Don’t worry: you don’t have to be a grid-demon or spend months styling your written content. Follow in the footsteps of those who have discovered these time-tested techniques for text layout.
1. Pick colors that work
Use different colors so written content stands out, but make sure you get it right. Text that’s impossible to read defeats the purpose of what we’re doing. Use tools like Adobe Color to set a color palette for your project with colors that complement one another.
Remember that visibility and readability are more important than pretty looks here. You’ve got to take a pragmatic and functional approach to the written or typed word.
2. Pair your fonts
The only thing worse than clashing colors is clashing fonts.
On rare occasion, dramatically different fonts can be used to provide a stark contrast between a headline/header and body copy. But it often just ends up looking ugly.
Use fonts that are in the same family to keep the art of words consistent across your entire design.
The good news is you don’t have to be a typography wizard to figure it out. With free tools like Typewolf, you can automatically find awesome examples of matching typography so you can find the perfect font styles that go well together and fit your brand.
3. Use headers properly
Header tags are a common feature in most writing platforms. They’re used to make your post look good by allowing users to scan your content quickly. They’re also important for search engine optimization (SEO) and ensuring that your content pops up on Google.
When Google crawls through your site, their system looks for header tags, which usually indicate content that is organized well. Google bots assume that this type of content is more readable and bumps it up in search engine results.
The same basic principles apply even if you’re writing copy for a poster, brochure, card or honestly anything else. Use bigger headers for the most important stuff (the thing you want the reader to see first) and work your way down from there.
For digital content, headers tags usually run from biggest (H1) to smallest (sometimes you’ll see up to H6). Shoot for the reverse pyramid based on importance and paragraph structure. Use H1 for main headlines, H2 for topics, H3 for subtopics and H4 for small details.
Here’s an example:
This is how you should use headers (H1)
See how I’m introducing the main idea in the headline?
Steps you should take (H2)
This is a topic and opens up a new angle to discuss and explore.
Use a reverse pyramid model (H3)
This is a sub-topic because I am exploring a point under the topic.
Secret conspiracies in copywriting (H4)
This is a tangent on a sub-topic. Perfect if you want to lead the reader further down the rabbit hole.
4. Karate chop your paragraphs
Long-winded sentences are a surefire way to make your readers lose attention quickly and when they go on and on they tend to switch off and you lose them quickly, in that time they may click away from your site entirely and move on to something more interesting like watching YouTube videos about the hidden messages in big corporation logos.
Humans now have a shorter attention span than goldfishes, so you gotta keep it short and sweet. Check out any major online publication and you will notice one thing: they rarely have paragraphs longer than three sentences.
Shorter sentences and paragraphs keep the reader engaged and makes your content much more scannable. Not everyone can put their feet up and spend 10 minutes reading an article. Most of us arrive on a page to find some information and then get outta there.
5. Use bullet points and numbers
It’s that simple. Here’s why:
- Bullet points break up your text layout.
- They provides short bursts of information.
- Lists are perfect for facts or details.
Also, try to keep your bullet points looking good.
- A general rule of thumb is that if a bullet point is longer than one line, it’s too long to be a bullet point. (Oops!)
6. Mix up your content
There’s a reason why sites like Medium, Buzzfeed and Upworthy are exploding in usage: they’ve made written content sexy again.
In general you should be looking to give readers a break from blocks of text every 250 words. Of course, you can do more, but look at finding a balance. All GIFS and no copy makes Jack an uninformed reader.
I’m a big fan of block quotes! They really help break up blocks of text, give your readers’ eyes a rest and highlight important sentences. Plus, they just look great.
Whether it’s a Quora answer, Medium post or a webpage, visual content increases the power of your content dramatically.
Photographs, graphics, GIFs, infographics and everything else are all great tools in keeping the reader engaged. The rise of Buzzfeed says it all.
Bold, italics, highlights and underlining
Bold is great to make a certain word or phrase pop out at the reader. Use it to make your reader stop skimming.
Italics can be used to emphasis a point, imply tone or even convey dialogue.
Highlights can help avoid overusing other features like bold or quotes.
Underlines are tricky with digital content. They may be confused for links, but you may still want to use them for emphasis or titles.
These are powerful weapons to deploy in the art of words but overusing them can lead to content looking unprofessional and cluttered.
If everything stands out then ultimately nothing does so reserve these for things you actually want to draw the reader’s attention to.
Go create beautiful written content
More and more platforms measure the success of content on read-through rates rather than merely the number of people who view an article. The art of words is your secret weapon to keep readers reading and guide them through content until the very end.
If you have made it this far, congrats! It probably means one of three things:
- I’ve done my job properly.
- Your attention span is much higher than that of a goldfish.
- (Most likely) you are heading to the comments to fight with me. *cries*
However you got here, use this quick crash course in text layout to bring your written content up to speed!