The Simple Design Rule That Will Make Your Writing Better

There’s a lot we can learn from design thinking that can make us better at our craft, but first we need to stop thinking of designers as just the Wacomb wielding pixel pushers we rub shoulders with at the 9 to 5. A designer is anyone who is creating something with a clear purpose or goal. Industrial designers might make a more ergonomic toothbrush, UX designers might craft a better digital experience, copywriters should be carefully using words and structure to design a story. Still not convinced? Let the definition prove me right.

“Design: n. Purpose, planning, or intention that exists or is thought to exist behind an action, fact, or material object.”

I know what you’re thinking. It’s a pretty broad definition. Design is much bigger and broader than just making something look good. Designers, just like writers, need to think through the end-journey. How will this work for the intended user? Does my design (or message) clearly express the next step they must take? Is it intuitive? All of these are questions we, as copywriters, should ask ourselves every time we write something. But more than anything, there’s one design thinking philosophy I love and use every time I write. 


How to Use Design Thinking to Write Better

There’s a very simple test I learned back when I was a sound designer, but I think it works great for writing too. It’s a simple 3 question analysis that goes like this.

Is It Better? Do the changes positively improve the story, message or sentiment
Is it Worse? Do the changes negatively hurt the story, message or sentiment
Is it the Same? Do the changes make no change to the story, message or sentiment

If the answer isn’t ‘the copy is better,’ then I don’t make the change.


How The Better/Worse/Same Rule Works

The more changes we make to something, the more it loses its core essence. Think about it this way: the more you tweak and edit a sentence or headline, the more the meaning starts to drift or change. This rule helps keep our writing in check.

A lot of the time, we use this rule without even thinking about it. For example, if you change the wrong ‘their’ to ‘there,’ you’re essentially saying - ‘this grammatical change improves the clarity, and I should keep it.’ That being said, I like to actively and mindfully use this for larger changes. If I’m editing a manifesto and swapping a few lines in, I’ll use the Better/Worse/Same rule to see which sentence makes the biggest impact. If I’m trying to tell a story on a webpage I’m crafting, I’ll use it to make sure the headlines are compelling.

Think Like A Designer

Just because we’re writers doesn’t mean we can’t learn from design and design principles. Use this simple rule whenever you’re trying to make your writing as concise, clear and effective as possible. It’s literally as easy as one, two, three.


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