baddesignThere are a lot of bad Web design­ers out there.

Of course, that’s noth­ing against Web design­ers — there’s also a lot of atro­cious Web copy out there, too. The dif­fer­ence is that every­one thinks they can write well, while most every­one believes they can’t draw. More­over, the pop­u­lar per­cep­tion of good writ­ing cen­ters on clar­ity, whereas the pop­u­lar per­cep­tion of design­cen­ters on cre­ativ­ity. All of which means bad design gets unleashed on the world, and goes un-optimized, more often than bad web copy.

Hav­ing dropped that turd in the punch­bowl, let me admit that I’m no designer myself, with any knowl­edge I do have com­ing from self education.

Yet pre­cisely because I am not a designer, I’ve always aimed my self-education at devel­op­ing a knowl­edge of design fun­da­men­tals rather than of design tools.  And this has left me con­tin­u­ally scratch­ing my head when I con­sis­tently see those fun­da­men­tal design prin­ci­ples vio­lated by Web design­ers.

Some­times I won­dered if it was just me and my own deeply-ingrained Conversion-centric view of Web design, pounded into me by Bryan and Jef­frey Eisen­berg.  But as it turns out, it ain’t just me…

Why does this mat­ter to a copywriter?

Because your Web copy’s effec­tive­ness will be dra­mat­i­cally affected by page design.

So what do I rec­om­mend if you’re a copy­writer who is forced to work with a mediocre designer?  Edu­cate your­self, learn to speak design, and force designers/clients to test dis­puted design decisions.

Here are 14 Starter Resources to Begin Your Design Edu­ca­tion:

When you can artic­u­late your objec­tions to bad design more elo­quently and pro­fes­sion­ally than the designer can advo­cate for his design, you’ll have a huge leg up.  And when that fails, you can always demand a split test between the sim­pler, cleaner design and what­ever cre­ative lay­out your designer has come up with.

So what about you?  What design resources have you found invalu­able?  What do you rec­om­mend when work­ing with a less-than-stellar Web designer?  Let me know in the comments!

P.S. The “Bad Design Kills” icon was cre­ated by Von Glitschka and used with permission.

P.P.S. Sorry for the lapse in posts.  Had some health issues and am just now feel­ing on the mend.


  1. Shane Arthur on 04.12.2010

    I’d also rec­om­mend Robin Williams “The Non-Designers Design Book.”

  2. Jeff on 04.12.2010

    Thanks, Shane. I’ve heard good things about that book, but have never read it yet, myself. I’ll have to check it out the next time I’m at the local bookstore.

    - Jeff

  3. Jeff on 04.12.2010

    Just saw this post over at The Future Buzz that has some excel­lent clean vs. clut­tered Web design exam­ples. Check it out:
    .-= Jeff´s last blog ..14 Design Resources for Copy­writ­ers =-.

  4. Colleen Wainwright on 04.13.2010

    What—no Tufte?!

    Seri­ously (and MAN, is that dude seri­ous), Tufte is prob­a­bly overkill, or at least, the advanced class. Yet his argu­ments for the ratio­nal, sane, non-decorative use of design are bul­let­proof. Prob­a­bly b/c, you know, he uses design. And a lot of unapolo­get­i­cally brusque—yet clear!—language.

    Good post. Too many good writ­ers out there get hood­winked. Too many good peo­ple in gen­eral.
    .-= Colleen Wainwright´s last blog ..Book review: The Book of Awe­some =-.

  5. william on 04.14.2010

    Good to have you back! Ive missed the posts!

  6. mark evertz on 04.16.2010

    Great arti­cle that helped me get a lay of the land quickly. Thanks a lot. Really appre­ci­ate the your sug­ges­tions and those from the peo­ple who com­mented.
    Always a big chal­lenge, telling a designer why some­thing isn’t working…when you’re not quite sure how to fix it. This will help.
    .-= mark evertz´s last blog ..Whine and the World Will Rain Down Upon You =-.

  7. Naomi Niles on 11.09.2010

    This makes sense. The only thing I don’t nec­es­sar­ily agree with is that peo­ple don’t think they can draw. Well, it’s true they don’t think they can draw, but they do think they know design. :)

    I can under­stand this com­ing from the per­spec­tive of a designer and would apply a lot of it in reverse.

    Many many of my clients have been totally unpre­pared on the con­tent end or they sup­ply copy that is sub-par. I’ve always pre­ferred to work the site design around the copy, but that’s not very easy to do when the copy is crap or non-existent.

    I don’t con­sider myself a copy­writer. I do most of my own writ­ing for myself, but I’m aware that I will even­tu­ally need to hire a pro­fes­sional to get it done right.

    That said, I’m slowly learn­ing more about it so that I can help clients bet­ter in that regard. I’m mak­ing my way through The Copywriter’s Hand­book and also Per­sua­sive Online Copy­writ­ing. Bryan and Jef­frey have some­thing for every­one, right? :)
    .-= Naomi Niles´s last blog ..Improve Your Con­ver­sion Rate by Being Human =-.

  8. Jeff on 11.10.2010

    Hey, Naomi,

    Thanks for the com­ment. You are right of course, there is a lot of bad content/copy out there which I can imag­ine would make it a night­mare to design around. The biggest prob­lem I think both good design­ers and copy­writ­ers have is keep­ing the project focused on mes­sag­ing and keep­ing the mes­sag­ing focused on the cus­tomer / busi­ness goals.

    We-we copy is to copy­writ­ing what con­fus­ing, non-usability-friendly design is to pro­fes­sional Web­site design.

    - Jeff
    .-= Jeff´s last blog ..To sell hap­pi­ness– UNHAPPINESS has to be the default option =-.

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