The most high-leverage skill a designer can hone

Suppose I zoom out of the timeline of my life and see the 'profound realisations' I've had. What I'm about to share with you is I'm sure only a blip, like how humanity is a blip on the timeline of the universe. My realisation is this. The most important aspect of design is the written word. I first began to realise this during my day job as an interaction designer. My job was to make software easy to use. I'm good at designing 'user interfaces'. 'Good' in this case meant that you don't have to think - you get the software to do what you want it to do. Animation is one of many ways to achieve this. It gives a user feedback to the result of their action. For example, when a file gets deleted, seeing it disappear in a poof of smoke communicates that the file is gone. But the problems I encountered were not if people understood the animation, but whether the words made sense. For example, what should the button that deletes the file say? Delete? Erase? Move to trash? Archive? It's surprising how what's obvious to you, isn't always apparent to the people using that button. The most friction we observed our users having was trying to understand the words we had chosen.

When you take away all the words from a website, you are left with empty boxes. You could have the fanciest animation you like - but if someone has any ounce of doubt about what a word means - your design fails. This realisation that came about whilst I was working at the BBC. My good friend Dave Cunningham shared with me a copy of Sarah Richard's book, Content Design. Reading Sarah's book was one of those paradigm shifts one has in life. The uncommon-sense becoming commonsense. As this notion of 'content is design' stuck with me, I started to notice that it's the most essential part of not only interaction design, but all communication. Marketing, emails, presenting, you name it. If a design relies on words - then the content is at the heart of its function (so we can safely exclude car door handles from this broad definition of design).

Good content design is everywhere if you pay attention. The contract you are about to sign written in plain English. The road sign you just missed, but remember. The website with the easy option to decline the cookies. The Google search result description that gives you the answer in the page title. Words are at the root of all good design. I'm grateful to be aware of this fact. To write boldly and clearly is hard, but I believe it is the most potent and high-leverage skill a designer can hone.

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