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Ellen Lupton: Designers need visual and verbal literacy

When I was at design school, I remember one of my lecturers complaining that the majority of design students were “idiot savants”, unable to describe in any coherence what they did. Truth is, many designers went through school far too busy wanting to draw to pay attention to other forms of communication.

One such person was Patrick Coyne, editor of Communication Arts, as he laments in an AIGA post;

Regrets? Like many in our profession, my interest was in communicating visually and I focused my education on using materials to create imagery. If I knew 35 years ago how important writing would be to my career, I might have paid more attention in my high school English classes. Back then I just didn’t see English or writing as that important. I’m reminded of that irony every time I sit down in front of the keyboard.

Hopefully that will change – not (just!) by forcing design students to redo English, but by creating a more natural link between visual and verbal communication. This is what Ellen Lupton describes in her article Writing 101: Visual Or Verbal?”. The fact that there is an illustrated version of Strunk’s The Elements of Style is genius.

Hopefully by allowing future designers to be fluent communicators in a number of media, we’ll see those buzzwords like “design leadership” actually start to mean something. As Lupton concludes:

In the digital age, people are writing more, not less. The alphabet isn’t dead; it just has a lot more company.