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i WED: SXSW on marrying writing, editing, designing

Unifying your content in a multimedia era

We’ve all heard the expression, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but when viewers look at your webpage, app, and yes, even book, they instantly judge whether it’s worth their time to continue reading or not. That’s why it’s imperative that your writing, editing, and design are presented as a package that represents what you want it to.

At this year’s South by Southwest conference, Roy Peter Clark – writer, editor, teacher, and writing coach – and Mario R. Garcia – newspaper and magazine designer – presented on the way you should “wed” these three aspects of presentation with their session, i WED (writing, editing, designing).

One of the most important principles of creating well-designed content is to start with the blank page and design and write together, according to Clark and Garcia. Don’t simply write the text and add design elements afterward or you will lose valuable opportunity to make your content an experience rather than just some words and a picture.

It would be like watching a movie with no music and minimal settings. To tell a story with emphasis, you have to consider all parts with equal care.

Techniques and elements to consider

  • Making content design functional and intrinsic
  • Storyboarding ahead of time, and not repeating content
  • Planning key points and emphasizing them using design elements
  • Using white space as punctuation to create emphasis and tension
  • Creating an interesting dissonance of conflicting components; Clark explains this further in his TED talk in the video above
  • Designing for the different platforms on which content is published

Writing, editing, and designing content for different screens

This infographic shows that attention spans online are shorter than ever - which is why it's so important to make your content emphasize your points effectively on different platforms. Image found here: http://www.huckleberrybranding.com/category/blog

This infographic shows that attention spans online are shorter than ever – which is why it’s so important to make your content emphasize your points effectively on different platforms.
Image found here: http://www.huckleberrybranding.com/category/blog

Many newspapers will now cover the essentials of a story immediately for their websites and mobile apps, and then write a more in-depth story later to be published on media for which readers tend to have longer attention spans.

This trend keeps in mind the way to design differently for each platform, and allows readers to get what they want out of your various applications.

In fact, The New York Times has a set of staff dedicated to designing content for their mobile app NYT Now, which gives bullet points of stories and links to the longer articles on the website.

  • Phone – Readers on this screen have shorter attention spans, about 3 minutes, and would therefore need more truncated and bullet-pointed design.
  • Tablet – Readers here have more engagement, have more time to spend, and are looking for more entertainment than on phones.
  • Online – You want to encourage engagement and sharing, and must also write for “continual partial attention,” meaning thoughtful use of subheads and bullet points to encourage readers to continue reading.
  • Print – These readers can’t interact as immediately as with the other media, and this reader has already invested in your content by the time they have the print version in their hands, so you can go more in-depth. You still want to encourage engagement with your brand, however.

As Garcia and Clark say, “Digital news is the raw meat; print is the cooked meat.”

While Twitter and blogs are fantastic for giving an impression of the raw meat of a story, you don’t want to lose sight of how the whole dinner will come together.


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While this session was strongly tied to multimedia from a publisher’s perspective, what takeaways do you see for your brand? Looking forward to your seeing perspective in the comments.

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Social Media Bible by Lon Safko | Video Book Review

The Social Media Bible: Tactics, Tools and Strategies for Business Success, Second Edition – by Lon Safko

The Social Media Bible is a 700-page “encyclopedia”-esque book is best used as a resource where you can pick and choose the sections you would like to read.



  • Target audiences could be better defined for different digital platforms
  • Usability is difficult & descriptions could be better
  • Introduction section in most chapters is excessive
  • Expert interviews do not always relate to their respective chapters

The Social Media Bible, second edition, By Lon Safko

Publication date: October 28, 2010

Bottom Line:  “Cherry-pick” your way through this book.  Case studies are useful for tips but target audiences for different platforms needs to be redefined.