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Let me ask you something. How confident would you be buying a meal from a food truck that is so rusted and smoke-stained that you can’t make out its name on the side? Or how confident would you be staying at a motel where the paint was peeling off the doors, siding was missing on the building, and duct tape held the cracked windows together? Or how confident would you be buying a car from an auto dealer whose windows were so dirty you couldn’t see through them and whose sign was missing a couple of letters?
I bet your confidence wouldn’t be very high in those situations.
How do you think a client would feel if they came across a website that contains errors while looking for a designer? I bet they wouldn’t feel too confident in hiring that person. That’s what I want to talk about today, making sure your messaging doesn’t contain errors.
Let me give you a bit of background here. I decided to talk about this today because someone sent me a message earlier this week.
Now, if you’ve ever contacted me for whatever reason, there’s a good chance I looked at your website. It’s just something I do. Any time someone emails me or contacts me on social media, I’ll try to find their website to see how they present themself.
So, someone sent me a message earlier this week, and when I found their website, the first thing I saw was a spelling mistake. The very first line of the website was “I Designs Websites.”
Other places on the website included passages that lead me to believe this person is not a native English speaker. But I’ll touch more on that later.
And even though it was a beautifully designed website, and this person had a fantastic portfolio, those spelling and grammar mistakes made me question the quality of this person’s work.
Now imagine I was a client looking for someone to build a website for my new business. Those errors may be enough to make me second guess this person and move on to another web designer.
Be careful with jargon.
But it’s not just spelling or grammatical errors that can hinder your chance of landing clients.
Another section of this same website described their services and how they work. They mention that the first thing they do is build a wireframe to show the client before making their website using WordPress. Elsewhere on the site, it said their web hosting includes a CDN. You probably understand what I just said if you're familiar with websites.
Imagine a client with no knowledge of websites other than knowing their business needs one. “Wireframe,” “WordPress,” and “CDN” don’t mean anything to them. Reading these things may cause them more confusion, which may make them look elsewhere for a web designer.
I talked about Jargon in episode 217 of the podcast. Jargon is common terminology in specific industries but maybe not so common outside of them.
I’m a web designer, and I remember wondering what wireframes were the first time I heard someone use that term. It wasn’t until I understood what a wireframe was that the word became part of my vocabulary.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t use these jargon terms in your communication. But if you do, you should add some clarity for anyone unfamiliar with them.
“We start by building a wireframe, a mockup layout of your website for you to approve before we start building the real thing in WordPress, a popular website platform, powering over 60% of the world’s websites.”
“Our web hosting includes a CDN, a content delivery network that improves the efficiency and speed of your website and helps you rank higher in search engines.”
Even if a client doesn’t recognize the jargon, they can still understand what you’re saying because of the descriptions.
A designer's job is communication.
As designers, people think our job is to make things look good. And in part, it is. But more importantly, a designer’s job is to ensure a message is told clearly and understandably.
Design is about communication. And if the communicated message is confusing, then the person, company or organization behind that message will appear less competent.
But what can you do?
The first suggestion I have is simple. Spell and grammar check your work. A spell and grammar checker can help eliminate most problems, but only to an extent. They can identify misspelled words but are not as good at finding incorrect or better words. For that, I use a tool called Grammarly.
I’ve been using Grammarly for years. Not only does it find spelling and grammar errors, but it helps improve my writing by suggesting alternatives. It helps me be a better writer by making me sound better. It’s well worth the small price.
Be wary of mistakes in headlines.
I read a report that said there were more errors per capita in newspaper headlines than in the body copy. It said that, on average, there was one error for every 1000 words of body copy compared to four errors for every 1000 words of headline copy.
Most people don’t read headlines; they skim them—even the proofreaders whose job it is to find errors.
Don't only rely on spell checkers.
The other thing about spell checkers is they won’t help you identify jargon. For that, you need to have someone else read over your text and tell you if there are problem areas.
We do this all the time in the Resourceful Designer Community. People share their work, and others point out any problem areas they detect. Then the designer can choose whether or not to make a change.
Having someone else read your work is especially important for anyone where English isn’t their first language. This is probably the case with the website I looked at this week. The person wrote the copy themself to the best of their ability, but the fact that they are not native English speakers is evident. And this may turn away potential clients.
The more precise and accurate your writing, the more professional you’ll sound, and the more willing clients will be to work with you.
Different dialects for different regions.
And it goes beyond just language. Regional dialects also come into play. For example, if you’re targetting clients in North America, you may say something such as. “I design custom logos.” However, if you’re targetting clients in Europe, you may want to write “I design bespoke logos.” Both words mean the same thing, but “Custom” is more common in North America, whereas “Bespoke” is used more often in European countries.
Colour is another example. You’re going to spell it c-o-l-o-r if you're talking to Americans and c-o-l-o-u-r for most other parts of the world.
I’m in Canada. And any time I’m looking for a printer or supplier, I’ll take note of the spelling on their website. If I see “color,” I’ll know it’s an American company, and I may continue my search to find someone in Canada.
Make it count.
You only get one chance to make a first impression. And if you fail at that first chance because of poor writing, there’s not much you can do to regain someone’s trust. So I suggest you take some time and closely go over your website and other marketing material. Or have someone else do it for you. Identify any problem areas or areas that could be improved and make changes.
The better you sound, the more professional you’ll appear, and the better the chances are that a potential client will hire you. Don’t lose out because of poor writing.
I would love to hear from you. You can send me questions and feedback using my feedback form.
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I want to help you.
Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business, please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at email@example.com
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As a former design director and editor at a daily newspaper, I can’t entirely agree with the report you cited regarding newspaper headlines.
The Poynter Institute’s eye-tracking studies consistently show that headlines are among the most-read words in newspapers — print and digital. Readers skim and skip around, but reading a story’s headline almost always precedes reading the story.
Newspaper headlines might seem to contain more errors than body copy, but this is likely due to space limitations, not carelessness. Headlines must fit within an uncompromisingly tight space while still communicating the gist of the story. Sometimes, the best way to do this is for copy editors to bend the rules in ways that might come across as mistakes to some people.
Thanks for your comment Cory. I’m hoping that things have changed over the years. The report I read was from back in the 90s when I worked in the print industry.
I agree that headlines are among the most LOOKED At words in newspapers. But that doesn’t mean they are fully read.
I can also attest that at the print shop I worked at, every printed piece was proofread by at least three people (two in-house plus the client) and yet errors still found their way onto the printed page. Most of the time, those errors were in the headlines. In my experience, people don’t read every word in a headline, they skim a few words to determine the topic before reading the body or moving on to the next headline.
As I said, hopefully things have changed over the years.