The Voice is in the Words

Ben Brooks wonders if Instapaper and RSS readers are making the web bland1:

It would seem that everyone has a relationship with the way a writers site is designed — be it dark text on light backgrounds or light text on dark backgrounds. We get emotionally attached to these bits and channel that design while we read the articles. A site’s design helps to convey the message of the written words.

This is great, but what about people who never read the articles on the actual sites?

People like me. I do most of this kind of reading on my iPad in Reeder.

Brooks point, I think, is that removing the writing from the context of the site may be doing yourself a disservice as a reader.

I see his point, but I also think about writers who use standard templates on sites like Blogger and Tumblr. Experience Points is an excellent, in-depth blog on videogame analysis with a common Blogger template. Same thing with Game-ism, which covers the same subject but with a WordPress layout you’ve probably seen on other sites. Shaveblog uses the Colophon Tumblr theme, which is also used by Instapaper’s Blog and countless other writers on Tumblr.

How about Twitter? The most you can customize your Twitter page is by changing the background and maybe some colors. You can’t change fonts. It could be read on a computer, on a phone, in Twitter for Mac, Twitterrific for iPhone, a text message, an RSS feed, Twitter.com…I think I can detect the author’s voice among the other tweets coming in that all look the same (with the exception of the profile image and text). If you’re on Twitter you simply can’t know where and how your followers will read your tweets.

Brooks writes “Wouldn’t it be neat if Instapaper saved the site color and font information?” Sometimes that’s exactly what I don’t want, because writers aren’t always designers.

Is that different on the internet where you see writers like Shawn Blanc who are clearly good writers AND designers?

John Gruber’s post regarding blogging platforms2 touches on this topic a bit, but his point isn’t so much about a writer’s voice being told by a site’s design. It’s more about how default templates do little to portray a unique brand.

I’m making an assumption, maybe incorrectly, that most people who write online aren’t good designers. That’s why there’s Blogger and Tumblr and Posterous and WordPress.com. And that’s fine. You can usually tell a writer’s voice through things other than design – things like how many times they use the word “and” in a sentence, or how many exclamation points they use, or if their paragraphs are long or short. This is how we’ve been reading books for centuries.


  1. Are We Making the Web A Bit Bland? — The Brooks Review

  2. For those of you who can “just tell” if a site uses WordPress by looking at it: Daring Fireball: Blank Slate

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