How design can help a long piece of content to be better read.

January 2, 2021

I am glad you asked. 

In my work, sometimes I have to deal with a very long document of text.
If the words are mine, I can put myself in the shoes of a ruthless editor and cut the copy with the axe.
Sometimes, the copy comes from a client and it is not my job to revise the text. Some other times, the length of the content is necessary to deliver the message as I want it to get across. Long story short, I need to balance the release of a lot of content with the confidence of knowing that my readers will read my story.

In this article, I will have a look at how to use design as a visual break and help people reading your long pieces of content: newsletters, emails, website and more.

How design can help a long piece of content to be better read: hierarchy and heading styles.

In a long piece of content, not all your words and concepts will be of equal importance. This is why you want to divide the most crucial segments of your written work to the tiniest ones using headings. Headings are word, phrase, or sentence that give both readers and search engines a clue about the content’s hierarchy.
Do not be shy when you use them but keep in mind how to do so: H1 is for more important sections while H6 defines the least significant.

Heading styles bring also clarity to content because they help readers to easily scan the page: darker, larger headings visually feel more important than smaller weight headings. Heading styles also helps Google to understand the article structure and topic and if you are smart enough to include keywords in the headings you can work towards a better ranking.

How design can help a long piece of content to be better read: graphics and images.

I am biased here: I love images (no wonder why I only use Instagram as social media). I am a huge supporter of fine photos for websites and publications (although I am aware that an excellent photo will never replace some terrible content). I am also aware that knowing how to use eye-candy graphics and images is something to master over time. 

An example:

Well-placed and relevant images and graphics can boost the reading of a text significantly. Think about how you can outline the proper use of your product with the use of a photo. Or how an illustration can walk your reader through a yoga pose you want to explain.

Consider also the value of a photo that shows the amazing countryside outside your B&B. The visual will give your readers a break from the content they are reading and, at the same time, will add up to the same story you are telling.

Tip: when working on a website, use photos to complement your content instead of using them as a replacement to an important piece of information. Keep usability in mind all the time: some of your users may experience a lack of accessibility if your text is replaced by images only.

How design can help a long piece of content to be better read: colours and blocks.

If you have a very long chunk of text, start by dividing the text into blocks. By simply using blocks, you already help a lot your reader to digest a long piece of content. This seems a simple advice but browse online and you will find many pages with the longest of texts displayed. True story.

Another way to break up long content is to use colours to create more readable sections of text. Coloured backgrounds help us to create enough contrast to highlights the important bits of content. It also helps to alternate the paragraphs of a bullet list.

A good idea might be to use a pale background when using dark text. You can even go for a more distinct visual break, maybe combined with a white text but be sparing in the use of this solution because it may tire the eye too much and have the opposite effect you would like to achieve.

Tip: if you do not have a palette already, sit down and create one for your brand. It is important to use a branded palette to create consistency and awareness.
Many websites can help you in the creation of a palette
. I personally use Coolors: you can pick a palette from an image you like, create gradients or check colours contrasts.

How design can help a long piece of content to be better read: use pull quotes.

Pull quotes are generally short sentences extrapolated from a longer portion of text and are used to emphasise excerpts of your content. Think of them like focus anchors to fix your reader’s attention to the most important parts of one article. 

Once you identify one important statement in your copy, create a visual break using a pull quote.

Pull quotes are generally placed on the right side of the page but I tend to leave this bit at the discretion of everyone’s taste: add a photo or use a background colour to make them pop if you feel like it. Or keep it super simple and clean.
The only suggestions I would give you regarding pull quotes are:

  • keep them short;
  • be consistent with the style you are going to apply to your quotes;
  • consider sufficient space between the adjoining text.

Did you enjoy this article or want to know a bit more about how to deliver good content using design?
Send me a message or book a free consultation with me, no strings attached. Really.

While you think what is best for you, exercise.
Open up one of your articles and read them again. See if you start to get distracted and where. Try to apply some of the suggestions above then check again if the reading experience gets better.

Let me know what your favourite visual break is!
Usually, simplicity is the smartest choice but creativity rocks so do not forget to experiment and look around to find your true voice!

See you next month with Francesca Poggi, a graphic designer living and working in Zürich. Francesca is a proud creator of many interesting and cool projects she will present you next time on the blog, together with her business tips.