Content design is thinking about how to give your audience the information they need when they need it.
Why content design matters
As humans, language is the main way we relate to each other and the world around us. Think of words as an essential design material that communicates important detail, simiar to iconography or illustration. If you look at any of these pieces without the others, you’re only looking at a small part of your design. What you say, when you say it, and how are all important factors to keep in mind when designing an experience.
In other words, content is key.
A good content designer obsesses over people and their needs. Because the more you understand people, the easier it is to create content that’s useful and delightful to them. Content design eases complex tasks by highlighting key decisions, prioritizing next steps, and simplifying interactions.
Great content design starts with answering a few simple questions.
Who is your audience?
This could be broad—developers, for example—but defining your audience more specifically will help you pinpoint their needs and refine your plan.
What do they want to accomplish?
Your goal is to help them reach their goals on their time. Understanding what they’ve come for will help you help them.
How might they feel?
Are they anxious something’s gone wrong? Confused about which option is best? Happy to have completed their task? Understanding and empathizing with how someone is feeling will guide the the content you show them.
Good content meets people’s needs, but great content exceeds them. Part of writing is shifting tone to match the customer’s intent and frame of mind. Content can be friendly and inviting on a dashboard or just-the-facts in navigation menus and headers. Use words that are easy to understand, have the right amount of information, and guide people to the right action for them.
Keep these style tips in mind when writing:
Keep it simple
Use simply structured plain language. Break it up. Short sentences and fragments are easier to scan and read.
Get to the point fast
Make choices and next steps obvious. Give people just enough information to make decisions confidently. Prune every excess word.
Talk like a person
Write in an informal, conversational voice—like you’re talking one-on-one.
Some best practices
Write in the present tense
It’s often easier to understand than the past or future tenses and fits most contexts.
Use the active voice
The active voice emphasizes the subject of a sentence and the action they’re doing. The passive voice centers the object. You should almost always use the active voice; it keeps content direct and focused on people.
Use the passive voice only when you want to avoid saying “we” or “Microsoft”, or when the action is more important than who does it.
Capitalize based on platform
Microsoft products follow sentence-style capitalization guidelines, because its easier for people to read and it’s easier for translators to localize content. However, when our products live inside an operating system that follows different guidance we adapt to what’s natural for that platform.
Sentence-case for Windows, Android and web
Capitalize only the first word of a sentence or phrase and proper nouns.
Title-case for iOS and macOS
Capitalize the first letter of each word, except for articles (a, an, the) and conjunctions (and, or).
One person’s subject matter expertise is another person’s jargon. Simplify jargon to be meaningful to a broad audience.
Use headings to organize content
Think of headings as an outline for your content. If people don’t read the headings, they probably won’t read the text that follows either.
Second person is the best
In general, use second person (you, your, yours). Writing as though you’re speaking to someone supports a friendly, human tone and helps avoid passive voice by focusing the conversation on the reader. Avoid using first person (I, me, my, we, us, or ours) except if you need to write from the point of view of the reader.
To help people scan text quickly, only use punctuation when necessary. Always use a question mark, use periods only after full sentences, and avoid exclamation points.
When in doubt, don’t punctuate
Generally, use periods after full sentences but avoid them in UI elements like headers, buttons, labels, and bullet lists.
Steer clear of exclamation points
Use these only for situations that are exciting and celebratory. Otherwise, there’s no need to shout.
Make your content accessible and global-ready
Create content that everyone can enjoy, regardless of ability or locale.
Write short, descriptive link text
Link text should describe the link’s destination. Avoid generic text like “Click here”.
Don’t use directional terms
Using words like “above”, “below”, “right”, and “left” assume that someone can see what you’re referring to and don’t always localize well.
Think about the screen reader experience
Create text alternatives (alt text) for all illustrative elements other than text, such as icons and images.
Organize content logically
Use headings, tables, and lists to organize content logically, to emphasize key points, and to reinforce relationships between concepts.