“Oh! You won’t believe our new website. It’s beautiful and so professionally done!”
The young woman, a member of a local nonprofit, was very enthusiastic about the organization’s new website, so I eagerly looked it up when I got home. She was partly right.
The site was visually stunning. The photos were superb, the colors were well used and balanced, and there was just enough animation to be interesting without being annoying. It was everything we like to see in a well designed web site.
Then I started to read.
There were serious (and I mean serious) word use and grammar errors. It’s not like they were buried deep in the content, either. Some were right there in flashing headlines.
It was like opening a beautifully wrapped present only to find a moldy, half-eaten PBJ inside.
On the other hand, you could have the best content in the world, but if it looks like garbage, it will be treated like, well, garbage. In that case, it is like wrapping a diamond in wrinkled newspaper that had already been used to wrap fish.
No matter how stellar the words are, we need to dress them up nicely to get people to look. (This can be a struggle. Take it from someone who has discovered that WYSIWYG isn’t always what you get.)
But getting people to look isn’t enough to make it “professional.” The content — the message — has to be clearly and cleanly written. After all, the purpose of a website is to show people what we can offer them. If we can’t explain it clearly (and without blatant errors), they won’t stick around long enough to discover the gems we offer.
This tension between content and design isn’t new to the Internet. It has been around as long as people have presented writing to a public. There has always been a need to balance beauty with substance.
The good news is that, in our electronic age, it’s a lot easier to fix.
Now all I have to do is try to figure out a gentle way to tell all those nice people that they need someone to copy edit their site…