Zen and the art of website maintenance

I’ve been reading a book about graphic design whose author takes inspiration from his experience of Japanese culture. His creative approach centres on a deep understanding of space and simplicity, reduction rather than complication. Whether it’s the spacing between text and image, or the choice of colour, or the importance of focusing on a single idea, there are countless examples to be found in the paintings, gardens and fabrics of Japan.

Optimizing the language of websites – which is what we do here at English Wanted – takes a similar approach. Where there is a choice between different ways of sending a message, it’s frequently the simpler one that is the most effective.

English is blessed with a huge vocabulary drawn from multiple languages. We can use words derived from Latin: ‘The significance of education is universal’; or we can say something pretty much the same in Anglo-Saxon: ‘School means everything’. They’re not identical, true, and they may have different uses depending on your audience.

For instance, in a brochure or website for a motor-oil company we might find ‘Lubrication is a vital component, ensuring smooth mechanical transmission and hence greater fuel efficiency’. But in the same company’s marketing, we might find ‘Our grease keeps your business moving’. Same idea, fewer words.

This is not to deny that complexity doesn’t exist. It’s more that there is a time and a place for both kinds of expression. Knowing which to choose demands an understanding of message, context and audience. And this art, of writing and editing for the web, is just as important as getting the graphic design right.