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Damnit, Jim, I’m a Writer, Not a Graphic Designer! (Or, Who Gives a CRAP?)

It’s easy to get by in most college writing without thinking about visual design or graphics. About the most visual design college writing asks for is that you emulate the MLA or APA document format, pretty bare bones visual designs in themselves. Create your text of letters and numbers, and plug it in.

The web, though, is a different place. To be a web writer, you have to expand your definition of “text” beyond merely copy (the alphanumeric symbols on the page you might have previously thought exclusively constituted all writing) to include visual design as well as the use of font, images, layout, video, and other media. Using these new forms of writing also raises new issues about copyright and fair use.

A good starting point is to learn some basic design principles. To think about visual design of your pages, you need a design vocabulary: a set of terms you can use to talk about what you like and don’t like in a web page.

While there are many different sets of terms you could learn, contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity (CRAP) is a good place to start. Read Mike Rundle’s How C.R.A.P is Your Site Design? and Travis McAshan’s Is Your Website Design “CRAP?” Go read them now. Seriously. It’s going to be hard to make progress with visual design without understanding CRAP.