Swiss Design refers to a design style that first appeared in Switzerland in the 1920s. Way ahead of its time, the style emphasized precision, attention to detail, and an inventive approach to typography. Simplicity was key, and while minimalism features heavily, the focus was placed on the typography and layout of a piece. It became an international style in the 1960s, and influenced a lot of the principles that now govern web design, among other things.
That’s all well and good, I hear you cry. But you’re a blogger, or a copywriter. How can you apply such visual principles to your written copy?
1) Give your copy space to ‘breathe’.
White space is crucial in design to creating coherent and readable designs. It explains why inviting blogs have minimal sidebars, and user-friendly interfaces, rather than millions of widgets and irrelevant features.
This is equally important to your copy! There’s nothing worse than landing on a blog post to see a wall of text.
Remember that reading on screens is hard work on the eyes!
Your post might contain everything a reader has ever needed to know about that particular topic, but they’ll never find that out because chances are, they’ll click away.
Unlike the Swiss designers, you probably won’t employ a grid system for your copy. After all, if you’re submitting it to a client, you won’t have much control over how it looks. But you can imply a system by breaking your copy up into blocks. Keep paragraphs to 2-3 sentences.
2) Use structure to convey your information.
The Swiss designers created a huge range of posters which swapped photographs or illustrations for typographic means of displaying data. The layout became the way that a viewer understood how units of data related to one another.
This follows on from the previous point. Use your layout – your structure, if you will – to help the reader follow a logical thread through the copy.
If you’re writing a blog post or email copy, you can ‘signpost’ this thread using sub-headings. It improves ‘scanability’ and helps readers find exactly what they want to know.
Clue: I’m doing this right now.
You can also group list-based info into bullet points or numbered lists. If you’re writing web copy, consider using relevant images to support the points your copy is making.
Make it easier for the reader to navigate your copy, and easily grasp the point you’re trying to make.
3) Keep things minimal – don’t pad your copy out with irrelevant info.
It can be tempting when you’re writing copy to rely on stats, examples, endless lists of features, or even metaphors to make your point. While different types of copy do need different elements to succeed, you don’t need to use them all every time you create something.
If a reader doesn’t understand your point the first time you make it, then they’re probably not going to understand it after you’ve thrown a ton of data at them.
Instead of padding out your copy with reams of exposition, pare it down to its bare essentials.
What is the one thing you want the reader to know or understand by the time they’ve finished reading?
Cut away anything that doesn’t support that goal. The Swiss style features a lot of thinking around ‘less is more’. Remove the fluff and give your message some breathing room.
4) Focus on its function rather than its form.
‘Form follows function’ is perhaps one of the greatest maxims associated with modernism and the Swiss Style. In a nutshell, it just means that what the thing is for is the most important consideration. That dictates how it looks or what form it takes.
It links back to point #3. Think of the modernist houses of Le Corbusier, or the minimal Penguin book covers. There’s no ornamentation, or decoration for the sake of decoration. Just what absolutely needs to be there.
So cut away anything that doesn’t serve your goal or add value.
Really work out what it is that your copy is for. What function will it perform? Will it gain you email subscribers? Is it a white paper? A blog post? Social media copy? An about page?
Determine the goal of the copy, and what the reader will gain from it (the function). Once you know these, you can decide on and create the best type of copy that will help you achieve the goal (the form).
5) Use honesty and integrity at all times.
The Swiss designers were absolutely convinced that their work needed to be completely clear, as well as simple. There was no room for misinterpretation or misunderstanding. The design should be unobtrusive, only there to express a meaning.
Your copy is the same. It should always be honest, for obvious reasons. But if you stick to making things clear and direct, you’ll also maintain your integrity. The reader will always know that you mean what you say.
In a digital world, where readers can’t interpret your body language or your facial expression, that counts for a lot!
It all essentially boils down to one thing.
Be totally focused about the purpose of your copy. Keep that in mind at all times, and pare it down until the only thing the reader will take away from the copy is the point you’re trying to communicate. Use an appropriate format, and make it user-friendly through a use of white space and navigation!
And be true to yourself!