2 min read

Designer as Writer

A while ago I blogged about how whether we should write like a designer or a coder. However, how about actually being a designer who writes?

I was reminded about this in a recent interview with Jeremy Keith:

Nowadays, most people have given up on blogging and just tweet stuff, so now is the perfect time to be establishing yourself as someone who can write. When I think about all the people I admire as designers, they tend to be really good front-end developers (and I don’t think that’s a coincidence) but also great writers. When we’re hiring at Clearleft, I always look to see if someone has a blog. If someone writes about design – or whatever they’re interested in – that’s always a few bonus marks in my book.

He references a 37 Signals post from a few years ago in relation to this, which is itself pretty quotable:

If you are trying to decide between a few people to fill a position, always hire the better writer. It doesn’t matter if that person is a designer, programmer, marketer, salesperson, or whatever, the writing skills will pay off. Effective, concise writing and editing leads to effective, concise code, design, emails, instant messages, and more.

That’s because being a good writer is about more than words. Good writers know how to communicate. They make things easy to understand. They can put themselves in someone else’s shoes. They know what to omit. They think clearly. And those are the qualities you need.

And a quick google shows that there in fact has been a lot of ink spilt (or pixels covered) in regards to design and writing. They tend to fall into one of three categories:

  1. Writing/blogging for promotion (see lots of design blog sites). Eric Karjaluoto’s post is one of the more deeply considered ones. 
  2. Writing as content strategy (e.g Derek Powazek on A List Apart )
  3. Writing as design criticism (leading names in this field include Steven Heller and John Thackara, though I think that this probably deserves its own post at some point).

What’s interesting about these are that they also serve different functions (respectively informing/selling, directing, and critiquing). Hopefully as writing becomes more accepted in design—though as Keith also notes in the interview, we do have an unfortunate trend of people giving up blogging to tweet or tumblog—we can also move on to the types of writing that we use.