Why Writing Helps You Become a Better Designer

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by on August 2, 2014

Milton Glaser - "To Design is to Communicate Clearly by Whatever Means you can control or master."

Why Writing Helps You Become a Better Designer

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Not too long ago I took a challenge to wake up earlier and write in the mornings. I would wake up at 5:30, 5:45, or 6 and write for an hour as one of the first things I did. Some of it was unusable, but much of it was distilled into blog articles. I took the initiative to start crafting pieces around what I sensed would be in-demand for industry professionals (or my tribe,) and found that writing early and posting was a great way to leverage that fresh ‘morning-mind’ and was driving traffic to my site when paired with outreach on social media.

Writing clarifies how I feel about different strategies and forces me to take a stance

This isn’t the only benefit of writing, I’ve also found that it helps clarify my thoughts around design, articulate what I feel like is working with particular methods and tactics, what is not working, and why. This in turn has created a sharper, keener sense and thus has help me modify my methods while actually doing design work.

Writing prods me to reach out and connect with my community and network

The process of writing and wanting to push out relevant content drove me to explore more around the community of designers and beyond, and exposed me to case studies, and articles I otherwise probably wouldn’t have seen. In some cases I would process this information, figure out where I stood on certain issues or controversies and write more knowledgably on those subjects. This in turn lead me to think more critically regarding the jobs on my table right now. By being exposed to more trends, case studies, and articles I can ascertain what if anything is worth utilizing in my work, and implement it where appropriate.

If design is solving a problem, part of our careers as designers is staying well connected, reaching out, and here comes a dreaded word… networking. I’ve taken the time to get as connected as I possibly could, especially when I needed something from the community; a job for instance. Yet, after I’ve gotten what I needed, the vigorous over-and-above networking that I had been doing fell by the wayside. No more AIGA events, no more WordPress Meetup, my networking sprint had left me burnt out.

Writing drives you to want to connect with others.

First of all, you read their work looking for inspiration, then you ask them to read yours and at least somewhat looking for approval you find yourself curious about all those people again and what interests them. So the real core benefit to writing is it, especially if you are sharing with your community is to get feedback and to feel how different things resonate with your audience. This is the age where we can share with quite a few people at once and depending on our audience size, be able to gauge whether it was a hit or a miss. Either way this interaction stimulates me to want to connect with my community; reaching out to other designers and people to see if they’ll help me promote a post, or getting new ideas at a meetup and sharing them.

Writing further sculpts my personal brand and pushes me to apply design thinking to strategy and beyond

One theme in this whole conversation that I see is very helpful is summed up in the quote (modified slightly and pictured above) by Milton Glaser. “To design is to communicate clearly by whatever means you can control or master.” When crafting a magazine article, a blog post, a facebook post, or a tweet you effectively are designing a piece of communication that is going out into the world. That little piece of content and others like it that you post effectively are designing a persona for the rest of the world to see.

For companies and people conscious of their personal brand they know that each piece of content they share is important to continue the ongoing relationship to their customers and their livelihood. Design applied to the broader aspects of life is encouraging, it invites us to be more intentional about other aspects of our life and communication that we sometimes consider as incidental or haphazard. This sentiment and paradigm invites us to hand-craft experiences and apply design thinking to situations such as goal-setting, a relationship, or a party. We’re not just designing invitations, but agenda’s and business plans. We’re opening up the rest of our work to design as well.

This crossover works from visual design to code as well

My personal favorite application to this is in code. I am generally spending my days as a front-end developer with a 30% split into non-code visual design (maybe and extra 20% extra-curricular non-code visual design.) I honestly think the future of web design is tied to more visual designers working in code as a primary method of crafting a visual and interactive experience. I’ve had people reach out to me recently (because I’m very boisterous about my opinions on Twitter and elsewhere,) and say that front-end development and working with code isn’t really design. I have to say I most whole-heartedly disagree. I didn’t feel like being contentious about this when someone said this to me, perhaps because it really depends on the context.

Working with code is a most empowering experience and even visual designers would do well to delve a bit into the dark art of HTML wielding, CSS slinging, and PHP popping (?) Not sure to where to go with that one. But yes, code can be a visual art in a lot of ways, particularly with the responsive elements and interactive Javascript pieces and UI. I also invite more strict Front-end Developers to exercise their visual design chops more often if they don’t currently. Just as writing sharpens the designer methods, these different crossovers push us out of comfort zone, familiarize us with related work to ours and help us be more well-rounded. If you aren’t in either of these disciplines, consider the related field to yours and try doing that work to clarify your own.

Start small if you haven’t, you may be already pregnant with ideas

If your schedule looks like mine, and doesn’t allow for too much more on the to-do list, consider making it a personal goal to share something that’s positively affected you once or twice a week in an article on your blog. Or start a blog if you haven’t already. Chances are you have 2-3 topics that have been bursting at your brains’ seams for quite awhile anyways and getting them out into the world will be relieving if not down-right illuminating.


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