Me and Chelsea Larsson have decided to write a book together. We are doing this by publishing excerpts from the book as a fortnightly newsletter, which you can subscribe to if you like.
When you tell people you are writing a book, they respond with rude questions like “What is your book about?” And “Can I read it when it’s done?”
The first question was getting on my nerves, mostly because I would react with 180 seconds of rambling about “language and design.” This would leave people with the impression that they most definitely did not want to read it when it was done, and I’d like to nip that right in the bud.
Here, in Q&A format, is an attempt to answer this question.
The “smallish book” is the world’s first and last philosophy book about content design. It’s the collected brain vomit of Chelsea Larsson and V. Sri, two eccentric content designers who think they are smart and interesting.
We get to that in the book. But we promise no boring, techie, jargony, self-important explanations. We also skip the idea that content design can be explained in one clean, pithy sentence—that’s fewer than 80 characters, and on brand, and translatable into 28 languages.
We started with the question, what is content design? And it turns out to be a pithy sentence after all: it’s everything it takes for language and design work together in a user experience.
But this is vague, and we didn’t want to write a textbook on how to write onboarding flows. The “stuff” of content design changes all the time. We feel that the principles of content design are more important than a list of best practices that will feel moldy by 2025-Q2.
So the book is a handbook for anyone who cares about using language and design to help people do things.
You could be building software or a website, or you could be designing an in-person experience in a store, or a game, or a museum exhibit, or desiging the award winner envelope at the Oscars. Words and design are everywhere.
..about you, and everything you bring to the practice of content design. There are twelve chapters with titles like “You don’t need a framework to be human,“ and so forth.
Each is a reminder/invitation/declaration on the craft of content design.
If you are the type of person to notice flaws like inconsistent language in software, or a weird information hierarchy on a restaurant menu, or a process in the airport that could be three steps shorter, then you think like a content designer.
Just about everyone does some “content design” in their work or life. The principles in this book can help anyone communicate more clearly and make more sense of the world.
No, it’s a call to action because our world could be ƒūçKé∂. The world desperately needs more principled thinking about language, because as things get more internet and meta our world is becoming increasingly, language.
[TK doomsday quotes about AI furbies]
To be clear, we’re not advocating for more meta, more internet, or more screens. We want less meta, less internet, fewer screens. We are starting with our own discipline, content design, because where else would we start?
Content design is the intersection of UX design (applied cognitive psychology) and writing, an ancient practice that has evolved over millennia in thousands of ways across the world.
Let me say that again. Content design is a mix of UX design and HCD and lots of West Coast Work ideas formalized in the 1970s and LANGUAGE, a mind-blowingly abstract framework that is completely human created and used by every single person that has ever lived, ever.
(Except for that feral wolf girl, and probably even her.)
Now our minds may be adapted for language, but writing (and reading) is not something we were “designed” to do. Written language was created to help us make sense of an increasingly complex world, and writing has changed as the world has gotten more complex. Written language allows us to hold and process concepts. It’s a framework like money or laws.
Except it’s more fundamental because those frameworks require written language themselves. And it’s more complex because language is ungoverned. And it’s more powerful because written language is ubiquitous. Language is the foundation for everything. As the internet gets more internet, content design really becomes about designing the foundation of our digital reality.
This is not a linguistics book. V secretly wishes he were a linguini, and Chelsea doesn’t care (Chelsea: “I do!”). For the purposes of this book, we’re philosophants. (Chelsea: “I heard ’we wear flossy pants.’“)
This is a book that brings together what two content designers believe about language and design and how we think writers of all stripes can shape the world. This book “believes” what we believe. To that end:
This is a book believes that our socially constructed world is pinned into place by language.
This is a book that believes that we can change the world to look like whatever we want and the principled use of language and design can help.
This is a book that believes that all it takes to change the world are some clearly presented ideas and motivated people.
This is a book that believes there are twelve delicious slices in the content designer pie that is you.
This is a book that believes that thinking like a human can make you a better writer, and that thinking like a writer can make you a better human.