A Scenic Tour of the Online World

Usability and Visual Design for Content Marketers

Friday, September 20th, 2013

A few weeks ago we posted a piece on “The Value of Typography for Content Marketing – Legibility Matters.” It was pretty popular (Analytics stats don’t lie …) so here’s a follow-up that looks at what we might call “content design” a bit more broadly.

First, it’s important to remember that the visual design process doesn’t stop once your graphics pro has created a beautiful color scheme and header design and page layout templates for the home page and the other types of pages on your site. Too often, that’s where designers do stop, and it shows when you do more than just look at the site. That is, you actually try to learn something about the products or services that the site is about.

Here are a couple of important rules of thumb to keep in mind. Rules were meant to be broken, of course, but if you’re breaking these, you should have a good reason, and you should still be paying attention to the underlying concepts.

(BTW, we’re talking generically about “pages” and are referring mostly to web pages, but the same holds true for email templates and app screens.)

White Space Isn’t a Waste
Clients too often want to get as much of their info onto every page that the pages wind up being completely unapproachable. You don’t know where to start. Worse, you don’t even want to start. Too much text, too many images, and not enough breathing room will drive your audience away.

Long Lines Aren’t Just a Drag at the Bank
Actually, thanks to online banking, ATMs and remote deposit, I can’t remember the last time I stepped inside a bank, much less waited in line.

But I do remember those lines not being any fun. Long lines of text aren’t any fun either. It is simply more efficient to read shorter lines. This is true for a number of reasons, not least of which is the increased chance of getting lost and skipping a line (or re-reading a previous line) if the end of the line is so far from the beginning that your eye can’t keep track of both simultaneously.

Modern desktop screens are incredibly wide, so your website is almost certainly going to require a multi-column format – sidebars with related information on the right and a navigation panel on the left, typically.

Cocktail Party Rules
Cocktail parties do rule, but that’s not what we mean here. Most of us know better than to monopolize conversation at a cocktail party. (And we’ve all suffered through being trapped by a bore who doesn’t get this simple concept.) Don’t let your copy do the same thing: Break the copy up into section. Use subheads, images, pull quotes and similar design elements to help break your copy up into digestible bites.

Forget the Print World
You’ll see a lot of advice about things like widows and orphans. Those are details you should definitely worry about in your printed materials. But the online world works differently. A well coded website should set font sizes, but should also leave them open to manipulation by the site visitor through his or her browser. Combine that with the different ways various browsers and operating systems render the same fonts, and controlling for widows and orphans is an uphill battle at best.

So there you have it: three Do’s and a Don’t for increasing the chances that the visitors you’ve attracted to your site will actually stay and interact with your content. And, of course, that interaction is key to strong conversion rates and your site’s effectiveness as a marketing tool.


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