Don't mind me as I geek out over what I've learned about songwriting, and how it has ultimately helped me design better Pinterest pins. It strikes me as rather fascinating — the commonalities in getting your message across effectively, whether it be through music, visual design, marketing, or all of the above.
It may (or may not) surprise you to know that I'm not a “techie” by nature — at least I didn't start out that way. I'm definitely not a marketing expert either, though I have learned a lot over the years and have come to enjoy some parts of it. And though I've grown to love DIY graphic and web design, I'm not formally trained in design, nor branding, nor how to properly convey a marketing message through it.
I'm actually a singer and songwriter by trade, and I used to HATE all things tech and self-promotion… in fact the whole reason I decided to start the Biztechprenista blog was because of how much I struggled to learn and juggle #AllTheThings by myself as an introverted creative who just wanted to be able to hole up and well, be creative!
Now that I kind of LOVE most of these things I once loathed, I like to create content that might be helpful to other creatives and solo dreamers who are still in that place of struggle — i.e. “just help me get through this part ASAP so I can get to the stuff I actually want to be doing!” Girl, have I been there!
Anyway, I graduated from Berklee College of Music in 2008 with a degree in Songwriting of all things, and years later it occurs to me how things I learned there have come to shape the way I approach things like design and even marketing now. And that includes the way I aim to design and shape the emphasis of certain words on my Pinterest pins!
Recently, I came across this post by Kimi Kinsey, where she visually explains the importance of “visual hierarchy” in pin design — particularly the TEXT you add to pin images. In essence, my take on it is that you want to aim to accent the most important words so they stand out, rather than the unimportant words.
I had already naturally been aiming to create visual hierarchy with my pins, and I realized that it's likely because of the poetry, lyric writing and songwriting classes I took in college that taught me the importance of doing this audibly in order to convey your message more effectively.
“Visual Hierarchy” in Design vs. “Audible Hierarchy” in Songwriting
Accenting the Expected Syllables in Language
In my poetry and lyric writing classes, I learned about what I'll call “the art of putting emphasis on the right syllables,” or maybe even “audible hierarchy,” to play on Kimi's visual design reference.
As Pat Pattison (master songwriter and my Berklee professor for several classes) artfully explained, when you put emphasis on the WRONG syllables, not only does it draw attention away from the point you are trying to convey, but it can actually cause confusion for the listener, as it can sound unnatural and even create dissonance and feelings of agitation.
To demonstrate this, let's start with how we emphasize certain syllables while speaking, and how accenting the wrong syllables can cause dissonance for the listener, and even distract them completely from what you're trying to say. I'll use an example in English, since that's my native language:
Here's the expected way to emphasize the syllables in this sentence:
The COW went Over the MOON.
If you say it out loud, that is likely where you'd put the accents, right? Now let's try it with the accents in the “wrong” place for comparison — make sure to say it out loud! 😉
THE cow WENT oVER THE moon.
It's kind of hard to even read it, much less speak it, right? And yet, SO many songs emphasize lyrics this way, trying to force rhymes or a certain number of syllables into a line. While it's a little easier to get away with this in song form rather than spoken form, it's amazing how taking the same song lyrics and putting greater emphasis on the right syllables can ease the listening experience in general, and make it easier to actually pay attention to the words.
Putting Emphasis on the Most Important Words in a Sentence
In songwriting, not only is it important to emphasize syllables of individual words correctly, but you also want to emphasize the most important words — and even entire phrases — in order to get your message across, and even evoke a stronger emotional connection.
For instance, an important syllable or word might stand out because it's held out longer:
I miiiiiiiiiiiiiisss youuu! Here “miss” would be held out for a few beats, with “I” being a passing note.
Another way “Miss” might be emphasized is to sing in on a higher note, and the singer might even raise or lower the volume for effect – maybe add in some raspiness to evoke longing or desperation, a breathy whisper to evoke sadness.
Now think about the same simple phrase sung like IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII miss you. Even just reading it looks weird… I mean, would you text that to someone you loved? 😉 My point here is that the emphasis is on the wrong syllable. The only thing worse is to emphasize completely irrelevant words like “the,” “and” etc. (unless maybe you're trying to use “the” like THE best thing ever… ?)
One more thing to note about song form and emphasis on words and phrases, is that typically the MOST important point of the song will be the chorus. Generally the title of a song will be found in the chorus. And if you think it, that makes sense:
The chorus is meant to stand out from the rest of the song — the be the MOST sing-alongable and memorable. They are often the ONLY parts of songs most people remember, and without their emphasis, listeners might not be able to understand what the entire song is about — at least not after 1 listen! Generally speaking, the most memorable choruses have the MOST stark contrast from the rest of the song.
And just think: most songs have THREE MINUTES to try and get a point across, though generally speaking, the sooner you get to the chorus, the better for listener retention.
With Pinterest pins (as well as most visual marketing online), you generally have SECONDS, if that, for someone to glance over your pin while scrolling through hundreds of OTHER pins, and so it's even more important to make sure you're getting your point across in the most clear and succinct way possible.
Quick Tip: I wish I could remember where I saw it, but I once read that successful billboard designs use 8 words or less, so as to create less clutter and more succinct clarity for drivers passing by. I try to keep this in mind while designing pins!
So bringing it back around to PIN design, how exactly does “song design” relate to visual design, and creating emphasis on the right words to help your marketing efforts?
How Great Songwriting Relates to Great Pin Design
From what I can see and hear, the best songs and the best pin designs are both intentional about emphasizing the right syllables AND words … or even whole phrases.
When we speak, we naturally emphasize certain syllables the way we're taught to in language. And we naturally raise our voice or lower it to get a point across.
In songwriting, syllables, words and phrases can be accented and emphasized by holding out notes longer, raising or lower the pitch, raising or lowering the volume, etc.
In visual design (i.e. pin design), words can be emphasized by increasing font size, increasing the thickness of the font, using a different color, different font altogether, etc.
How to Choose the Right Words to Emphasize on Your Pins
On Pinterest pins (or other designs that include a text overlay), we don't need to worry so much about visually accenting the correct syllables. However, accenting the right words is important!
When looking at one of your blog post titles or whatever phrase you want to display on your keep 2 things in mind:
- Which words would you (or wouldn't you) naturally emphasize when speaking them out loud? In other words, would you really want to emphasize “the”? because if you do, it should be for a reason!
- Think about which words in your title are the MOST important to the topic or message you're trying to get across. A good place to start might be your primary keyword or phrase.
Example blog post title emphasis analysis 🙂
Let's say you write a post about your experience Traveling to India.
Whatever you end up calling the title, the “traveling to India” phrase or some version of it should probably be in the spotlight, correct?
Example title: “The best places to see when traveling to India” (Sorry if that's a bad title, I'm not a travel blogger!)
In my mind, you'd definitely want to put some emphasis on “traveling to India,” and then maybe secondary emphasis on “places to see” or “best places to see.”
You WOULDN'T want to emphasize “The” or “to” or even “travelling to,” because this will only distract viewers from what your MAIN point is — make sense?
Well, I hope you've enjoyed my nerdy creative-brain musings, and if you need some more design tips for making your own pins more effective and easier to read while scrolling, check out Kimi's post about common pin design mistakes.
And if you want to do a little creative nerding out yourself, Writing Better Lyrics by Pat Pattison is a pretty fascinating read:)