I am a writer at heart, but as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. And the way I compose text does create a picture, in a sense.
Use of white space, grouping like content together, aligning it along certain planes, repeating and contrasting elements: these are all techniques that can be used with images but also with words. By laying out text on the page as carefully as I would compose a photograph or painting, I show the reader the whole picture, but also help signal the importance of the individual elements and the relationships between them.
We can use white space to help the reader understand relationships between concepts, and their importance. Elements that appear close together are related, like the sentences within this paragraph. Elements that are surrounded by space, like the heading above, are important concepts on their own.
In online design, white space acts as a sort of punctuation for ideas, letting the reader know when to pause or how to carry on to the next concept.
As with space, consistent use of typography helps orient the reader. For example, from the consistent bold text used in my headings, “Typography”, “Alignment” and “Space”, I know that each of these concepts is attributed equal importance.
The headings also help the reader to locate the specific information they need within the whole of the documentation.
Alignment provides the reader with more cues about how the information fits together and establishes a hierarchy of importance.
- Based on how I’ve bulleted this in off the left margin, I bet you’d assume that this point relates to the line directly above it, but is a little less important, right?
Knowing how readers are likely to scan the page, we can decide where to put important elements, like a “Sign up” button or other call to action.
Online media in incredibly competitive, not least because of the sheer volume of choices available to readers. A writer needs to use every tool at their disposal to lead the reader to the information they need. That means considering more than just the text, but also the elements of visual design when composing text.