What Writers Can Learn from Chefs about Cooking Up Good Design

Last night, I made dinner for my wife. We had chili. Nothing fancy about that meal. But you know what? I did my best to make the meal amazing. I set the table, used cloth napkins, put grated cheese in a bowl — the whole works. It wasn't the Olive Garden, but it wasn't bad.

Why go to all the trouble? Because people eat with their eyes first.

Chef Photo
Photo Credit: Olle Svensson (Creative Commons)

My dad (who owns a restaurant) taught me that. Every time he prepared supper for us as kids, he would obsess over how the food looked on the plate before we could eat it. He knew people connected the pleasure of an experience with the initial impression.

The same is true for your writing.

First impressions matter

Before your readers can digest your content, they're going to “taste” it with their eyes. They'll get an impression of your writing before they read it — this is inevitable.

They're going to look at layout:

  • Is it scannable?
  • Easy to skim?
  • Full of subheadings and bolds?

In an age of distraction, this has never been more important.

They're going to look at length:

  • How concise is it?
  • Can it be read in one sitting?
  • Should they read it now or later?

They're going to pay attention to design:

  • How does your website/book look and feel?
  • Is the typesetting elegant or sloppy?
  • What kind of images do you use?

Everything around your words colors how people perceive what you're saying.

As they say, the “medium is the message.” If you neglect this fact, you will make a serious error.

A recipe for disaster

Of course, people mess this up every day.

They write super-long emails that are one paragraph long. They settle for ugly, poorly-designed websites, because they don't know better. And they sacrifice a great message because of a bad package.

It's a shame, really.

Whatever you have to say — whether it be preaching a sermon or writing a book — I hope you pay attention to how you say it. This matters now more than ever before.

It doesn't trump what you say (you need to have meat to your message), but it is the “appetizer” to a longer conversation.

If the presentation is a mess, people won't stop and listen.

Bon appetit

So speak with care and sensitivity to how you'll be perceived. Prepare and practice an excellent delivery. Invest a little money and time into building a quality platform.

Write in a way that will actually get you read. Pay attention to presentation. It'll make all the difference. (To see what I use for web design, check out my theme.)

How have you seen design affect your writing? Share in the comments.

*Photo credit: Ole Svensson