What the %&@! is content design


The %&@! is known as a grawlix. You’ve probably seen it in comic strips and cartoons as a polite stand in for curse words.

Beetle Bailey cartoonist Mort Walker coined the term, but the practice goes back aways. At least as far back as 1902.

It’s also an example of content design. The grawlix does more than represent an artistic choice. It’s the solution to a problem: how you represent obscene language, without using” obscene language?

Content design is the practice of using words, language, grammar, and symbols to solve interaction design problems. Some of those problems are communication-based problems, like the comic strip example above. But some are not.

This tool tip appears in Slack to introduce new users to the at-mention feature. There are two ways for the user to interact with this. They can dismiss the tool tip with the ❌ or they can click the linked text that reads Try it.

Notice that this linked text isn’t information. It’s a way to enable action. The tone helps it feel like a request more than a comment. It means: Learn more if you want. The nearby ❌ helps reinforce that the action is optional. This paragraph will end up being 54 words. They used two.

Content design is all this and more.