Brevity in Design

Many articles have been written on the benefits in store for designers who write. I can testify that they’re endless. Over time, the line that separates writing from speaking, coding and design gradually fades away. Eventually, you realize that they’re simply different forms of communication.

When you execute any of these four actions, you’re conveying a message. A good writer, speaker, hacker, or designer is measured by how well they’re able to convey this message. There are many rulers that could be used for this measurement.

  1. Quality: No grammatical errors? Good powerpoint? Clean code? Solid UI/UX?
  2. Value: Worth writing? Worth saying? What value does it bring to the code? What value does it bring to the interface?
  3. Sustainability: How long will the article be applicable? How long will the speech carry weight? Is the code future-proof? Is the design future-proof?

and Brevity

In writing, it’s the ability to impart an idea in a short amount of words. Seth Godin’s blog is a perfect example. Everyday, he delivers a rich piece of advice in what most blogs will consider a mere paragraph.

In speaking, it’s the ability to verbalize an idea in a short amount of time. One presenter may take two hours to deliver a lesson while another may take 20 minutes to deliver the same. The first will bore the audience to sleep, the other will likely keep their attention.

In coding, it’s the ability to identify what line of code will render the other ten useless and give the same effect. What may take a novice 60 strings of JS may take an experienced coder just 4.

…and in design

As I continue to shorten my articles, I’m also “shortening” my designs. And by that, I mean finding the best way to do something.

In design, brevity is finding the best way to perform an action in the fewest steps without losing efficiency or the message. And it requires building a visual hierarchy–understanding what the most important actions are for your product.

I’m currently working on Evomail, an upcoming iOS mail client. So my most important actions are composing/replying, archiving/deleting, flagging, and switching between accounts. This is where drawers and gestures come in handy.

What’s most important now? Show that on top. What will be used infrequently? Show that later. How many steps are needed to access them–are they all necessary? Could removing this or adding that drop the action time by one step or second? These are the questions I ask myself when designing. I make my first design pass, then revisit later to “shorten.”

To be concise

I’m not suggesting that we only look for the short route in doing things. Sometimes the long way is the best way. Rather, I’m suggesting we look for the most efficient and concise way.

Mastering brevity is an art of its own. It involves linguistics. In writing and speaking, it’s word choice. In coding, it’s the code languages. In design, it’s the many design languages, styles, and aesthetics (yes, flat and skeuomorphic). Then from there, it’s wit.

I’m on Twitter.


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