Why Freelance Writers Need to Care About Design

Carol Tice

By Brandon Yanofsky

Have you ever picked up a book and started reading just because the cover was interesting?

If you have, you’ve experienced firsthand the power of design. Beautiful books just beg to be picked up and read.

Likewise, your website’s visitors are more likely to read your articles if they are well-designed.

That’s why freelance writers need to learn design — especially writers who have their own blogs.

Below, I’ve laid out five design basics that will improve your blog and attract readers.

1. Whitespace

Readers hate blocks of text. Just look at the following passages:

Über den „toten Bühl“, einen Teil der Hochebene im südlichen Schwarzwald Badens, braust der Herbstwind in langen Stößen; es seufzt der Tann in den niederen Lagen, oben aber auf der kahlen Höhe ächzen die wenigen alten knorrigen Buchen und am einsam ragenden Kruzifix bebt die Holzfigur des Heilandes, nachdem Regen und Wind die Holznägel gelockert und die Befestigung mürbe gemacht haben. Öd und rauh, unwirtlich ist dieser Strich badischen Schwarzwaldlandes, den der Volksmund selbst bezeichnend den „toten Bühl“ nennt, weil die Hügelreihe wahrhaftig an den Tod der Natur gemahnt, heimgesucht von scharfem Westwind und häufigem starken Schneefall, der schon auf die alten Strohdächer der Walddörfer fällt, wenn drüben am glitzernden Rhein, im sonnigen Garten des badischen Unterlandes Wiesen und Matten noch im spätsommerlichen Glanze prangen.

versus

Über den „toten Bühl“, einen Teil der Hochebene im südlichen Schwarzwald Badens, braust der Herbstwind in langen Stößen; es seufzt der Tann in den niederen Lagen, oben aber auf der kahlen Höhe ächzen die wenigen alten knorrigen Buchen und am einsam ragenden Kruzifix bebt die Holzfigur des Heilandes,

Nachdem Regen und Wind die Holznägel gelockert

und die Befestigung mürbe gemacht haben. Öd und rauh, unwirtlich ist dieser Strich badischen Schwarzwaldlandes,

Dden der Volksmund selbst bezeichnend den „toten Bühl“ nennt, weil die Hügelreihe wahrhaftig an den Tod der Natur gemahnt, heimgesucht von scharfem Westwind und häufigem starken Schneefall, der schon auf die alten Strohdächer der Walddörfer fällt, wenn drüben am glitzernden Rhein, im sonnigen Garten des badischen Unterlandes Wiesen und Matten noch im spätsommerlichen Glanze prangen.

Both are the exact same paragraphs, in German. The only difference is one has whitespace, and the other doesn’t.

Whitespace is basically parts of a page that have nothing there (like the white of a blank piece of paper).

An article that’s one giant block of text isn’t attractive to the eye. Your visitors are less likely to read these articles.

2. Visuals

Just as you can use whitespace to break up blocks of text, you can also use visuals. A well placed visual will make your text more appealing and inviting to readers.

However, don’t limit yourself to images. Lists, italicized text, and checkmarks are other ways to add visual appeal. As well as blockquotes, such as the one below:

This is a blockquote.

3. Headers

In addition to whitespace and visuals, consider using headers so your articles have sections.

I’m using headers in this article. Each design point is divided into a section with a bolded, large header.

By sectioning your post with headers, you make your post easier to digest, and therefore more inviting.

4. Font

There are two basic “families” of fonts: serif and sans-serif (there are more, but the others are for decorative purposes).

There is one difference: serif has the little tails on the ends of strokes for each letter. Sans-serif does not. (Click here to see examples.)

When deciding which to use, you need to balance readability and design.

Serif is much easier to read, especially for long form writing. That’s why novels use serif fonts.

However, sans-serif has a more modern look. That’s why many websites (including this one) use sans-serif.

When deciding which to use, consider your reader. While the sans-serif fonts may be more appealing, if you write long posts, it may be beneficial to use serif fonts.

5. Color

Colors are a challenge. But here are some tips when choosing colors for your blog.

Generally, pick only two or three colors for your blog (a great tip from Pamela Wilson). If you have more, it can get chaotic and distracting.

Also check out Colour Lovers for some great color tips and palettes.

One important thing to keep in mind with colors is readability. The reason black text on a white background is used so often is because it contrasts and makes it much easier to read.

Black text on a dark red background, on the other hand, doesn’t offer much contrast and is very hard to read.

When choosing your text and background colors, find something that contrasts.

Two Words of Caution

Design is about balance.

Too much whitespace is just as bad as no whitespace. Too many visuals can distract from your writing.

Let your intuition guide you. If you think it might be overboard, it probably is.

Rules Are Meant to Be Broken

These rules are, like all rules, meant to be broken. There will come a time when a block of text may be appropriate, or your blog may need 10 colors. Again, use your intuition.

Remember: design matters. People do judge books by their covers.

33 Comments

  1. Jonathan

    Rules are meant to be broken. However, this rule (design matters) is very true especially in today’s age. It’s a difficult task if you’re unable to code, but it can be done, sometimes I feel like you need to hire someone.

    Question, did you hire someone to do reformat your design on the site?

    • Brandon Yanofsky

      Hey Jonathan,

      Are you referring to my site or Carol’s?

      For mine, I did it myself, but I’ve spent years learning CSS and HTML and spent days reworking the code.

      If you don’t have the time or patience, it’s worth investing in someone else helping you.

      Feel free to email me if you’d like some more information on DIY vs Hiring: brandon [at] blistmarketing [dot] com

    • Carol Tice

      I personally have found it invaluable to pay pros — many including Brandon are very affordable. When you think about your hourly rate — and how many hours you would waste trying to figure out that tech issue — to me paying means I have more billable hours. Plus I hate doing tech and love writing, so which should I spend time on? 😉

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