Approaching from the opposite direction

Approaching from the opposite direction

“Normal” designers start with the Word document provided by the client. Usually this is a hefty document, with an academic form. This content describes (at worst) what experts want to say to other experts. Normal readers will not find what they want to know.
It takes a lot of effort to turn this into something that properly answers reader questions. On one A4, or 5 slides, or 10 pages, for journalists or administrators or citizens.


I think there is a misunderstanding. Designing is serving, true. But not serving the client with his Word document. Of course not. Both the designer and the client must ensure that their knowledge reaches the reader. You don’t do that by putting the expert’s entire bookcase on the reader’s doorstep. So get rid of the Word document. Its content is intended for peer consultation or as an inventory for communications people. Fine. But the form of that content is inappropriate for the outside world. The Word doc is the base, but it should claim the stage.

Therefore, I do not start with the supplied content. Don’t be alarmed, I read everything.

What I do is “reverse engineering”. Sometimes this is called “storyboarding,” outlining the structure of the story you want to tell. Then you start writing-while-designing.

Why is this course of action the right one?

Everything used to be printed. You could just add a page if you wanted to add more. Nowadays, all formats are strictly defined: a social media post, a powerpoint slide or a poster for on a bus shelter, the number of words on it, and what images is deemed fitting is restricted by (unwritten) laws. These are not only strong conventions, they are baked into the technology of global platforms.

The poster

An innocent example: the poster. Everyone knows, there’s a title on there, a place, a date, a nice recommendation and the artist’s name. There aren’t 100 words on a poster. In the Word document of the briefing there are. The first draft of the poster kills the Word document.
Does this also apply to scientific content? Yes it does. For example, a report page is an A4. Should it include a headline and a figure, then you are left with roughly 350 words for the text. You don’t add a whole A4 if you have 1 line too many. The form (the A4) and not the Word document is decisive.

It seems perfectly obvious to me.

Opposing scientists

I quite understand that for a moment scientists feel that I am tinkering with their content. It’s not like that. I only discard the form, the Word document. I keep the content. Just pretend that knowledge is a cloud, in heads. Once Word is started, knowledge takes shape. A very dominant shape, but the wrong one for your audience. I give knowledge an appearance that does work.

form content word

You have to serve so many channels these days, for very different readers, with different devices. Once you’ve established what you need, you see that the copy for a report might not work for an animation.


form content word

I don’t throw away content, I put it 1 click away. Like this jewelry web shop. On Instagram, they briefly give a nice idea of what types of piercings there are, and then you click on.

form content word