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Adobe FrameMaker

Design good websites by following principles of technical writing style

Mar 1, 2007 • general

Designing good websites involves following the same principles of technical writing — be invisible in style. In this Edgework podcast, Joshua Porter explains that good web design isamazon good web design often invisible. Users shouldn't be concentrating on the design. Like Amazon, you focus on the content. You focus on the fact that it works.

I strive for the same in my technical writing. I want the user to focus on the content, not my literary style. I remember reading Armies of the Night by Norman Mailer and being awestruck by the literary flow. But while I was impressed, I preferred books that gripped me with the story rather than the style.

Technical writing doesn't call attention to itself for its style. Its style is invisible. Its purpose is to teach the user how to do something. You don't read to be impressed by literary acrobatics.

I hadn't thought how the same invisibility principle might apply to good web design. But it does. Sure you want to make a good impression, and graphic design counts. But the most popular websites are popular because they simply work. Google, Craigslist, Flickr, Digg, Amazon — you don't dwell on the visual design of these sites.

Often the simpler a site, the better. Porter even quotes Alexander Pope about how "he did not have time to make his letter shorter." In other words, shorter, simpler, invisible design is often harder than long, complicated, flashy designs.

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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here. You can also contact me with questions.