March 2020

Content and Design: How Are They Related?

with Ginny Redish

As technical communicators, we tend to feel very comfortable talking about content. Content is everything we create that provides information to our audiences: words, images, videos, audio files, etc. – in all the channels we use. But then what about design?

Over the four weeks of this Roundtable, we’ll discuss how both Big D and several types of Little d relate to content.

The word “design” has many meanings. You’ve probably heard the new buzzwords, design thinking. What does that mean? Does it differ from user-centered design? What about information design, interaction design, graphic design?

I like to think of it as Big D and Little d. Big D = design as the overall process of creating the product that works for the organization and the audience. Little d = the principles and guidelines for each aspect of design (for example, the Gestalt principles for information design; the cognitive psychology guidelines for interaction design).

Over the four weeks of this Roundtable, we’ll discuss how both Big D and several types of Little d relate to content.

Weekly Content

STC Roundtable Webinar
Big D and Little d: What do we mean by “design”?

Date: Wednesday, March 4, 2020
Time: 1:00 PM Eastern

In this webinar, we considered the latest names for Big D: “Design thinking,” “service design.” What role do technical communicators have in helping to achieve Big D?

We also dived a bit more deeply into Little d: Information design and interaction design. What do technical communicators need to know about meshing content with those aspects of design?

No matter what types of communications you work on: UX writing, websites, how-to or troubleshooting guides, infographics, large databases of product information, or anything else, both Big D and Little d are intimately relevant for your content.

Watch Ginny Redish as she invites you to consider how deeply content and design are related.


The Roundtable comes with a list of Resources: Books, book chapters, articles, and blogs on Design Thinking and Information Design. For Week 2, choose the item from the Resource list that is most relevant to your work or of greatest interest to you.

In the Forum, I’ll ask:

  • Why did you choose this item?
  • How does it relate to your work?
  • What is one take-away that makes you think more deeply about the topic, makes you ask a question, or is something you will now use?

I’ll watch and contribute in the Forum threads. Let’s have good discussion among the Roundtable participants.

Panel Discussion: Answering your Questions about How Content and Design are Related

PANELISTS: Suzanne Boyd, Dr. Emma Rose, and Dr. Karen Schriver
DATE: March 18, 2020
TIME: 1:00 – 2:00 pm EST

In Week 3, we’ll spend an hour in a lively discussion with you and our esteemed panel:

  • Suzanne Boyd, Founder and CEO of Anthro-Tech, whose team combines technical communication, design, and usability to deliver great products for clients
  • Emma Rose, Associate Professor at the University of Washington / Tacoma, School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, in the field of Culture, Arts, and Communication
  • Karen Schriver, STC Fellow, Ken Rainey Award winner, researcher and world-renowned expert on information design

In Weeks 1 and 2 of the Roundtable, send your questions about content and design (Big D or any aspect of Little d) to Ginny Redish ( or  That way, even if you can’t join us during the live panel time, we’ll know what you want us to talk about. Then, you can listen at a time that is convenient for you.


Suzanne Boyd, CEO of Anthro-Tech, where her team does great work combining content, design, and usability

Dr. Emma Rose, Associate Professor, University of Washington, Tacoma (teaches technical communication, user-centered design and usability)

Dr. Karen Schriver, STC Fellow, expert and scholar on information design

Exploring Resources

One of the issues we discussed in the Week 3 panel was collaboration. If this is one of your concerns, for Week 4, read the case study that is the last item on the Resources list.

Is there a take-away in that case study for you?

You’ll also find other questions about collaboration in the Forum. Contribute to our discussion of collaboration there.

On Both Content and Design

Letting Go of the Words – Writing Web Content that Works (2nd edition)
My book full of practical guidelines and many examples.
Download 3 chapters to get a sense of the content, style, and information design.

On Design Thinking

Marion Baylé, April 13, 2018, “Design Thinking: an enabler for social innovation?” (The first half of this article is an excellent review of design thinking. The second half is a case study of trying to help homeless people. So the first half is directly relevant to our Roundtable. The second half is not so relevant because it did not involve technical communicators.)

Rikke Friis Dam and Yu Shang Teo, January 2020,”What Is Design Thinking and Why Is It So Popular?” (a short and clear description of design thinking)

On Information Design

Ginny Redish, May 2000, “What Is Information Design?” Technical Communication

Kai Tomboc, April 2019, “What Is Information Design and Why It Matters Now More Than Ever,” (a recent article that takes the graphic from my 2000 STC article and relates it to current needs)

Karen Schriver, 2013, What do Technical Communicators Need to Know about Information Design? (book chapter), University of Chicago Press.

UserTesting, “7 Gestalt principles of visual perception: cognitive psychology for UX,” April 2019, (an excellent article relating the principles to the information design needs of websites)

On Interaction Design

Don Norman, The Design of Everyday Things.
If you haven’t read this classic book, you should. You will never look at a door or an appliance in the same way again. The first edition had the title, The Psychology of Everyday Things, which made the acronym POET. The book became very popular under the revised title, which makes the acronym, DOET (which we could pronounce as “do it.”) Norman published a revised and expanded edition in 2013.

Caroline Jarrett and Gerry Gaffney, Forms that Work.
If you design any type of form, you need this book. It’s a companion in style and information design to my Letting Go of the Words.

A Case Study of Collaboration Between Writers and Designers

Lauren Pope, July 26, 2018, “Art and copy: bridging the gap between design and content” (a short article about how advertising agencies were more successful when they put “art and copy” in the same room)

Curator Bio:

Janice (Ginny) Redish

Ginny Reddish

Ginny Redish has been a passionate evangelist for plain language and usability for her entire career.

Ginny began her work in technical communication as Project Director of a government-funded initiative called the Document Design Project. “Design” in that name was “Big D”: Creating the product that works for the people who need the information. But Ginny’s interdisciplinary team also dealt in all the aspects of “Little d”: how information design, interaction design, and graphic design have to work with content to make Big D succeed. That connection – how content and design are related – has been part of every project Ginny has done over the decades of her career.

Ginny’s most recent book, Letting Go of the Words – Writing Web Content that Works, includes information on content and design, how they have to work together – and how content specialists and design specialists also have to work together.

Ginny is an STC Fellow and recipient of both an STC President’s Award and the Ken Rainey Award for Excellence in Research. With Janice James, Ginny co-founded the STC SIG on Usability (now Usability and User Experience). Ginny has spoken at many STC conferences, chaired STC committees, and continues to serve on the Editorial Board of Technical Communication.

Twitter: @GinnyRedish
LinkedIn: Ginny Redish

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