“Why should a designer write?” When talking to designers about the importance of content and sharing ideas, this is a common question that comes up.
Many designers create a personal website to showcase their portfolio, add their contact information, and that’s about it. There can often be limited written works, with the focus mainly on design outcomes and graphic elements. Not all designers are writers, so why should the spend time writing? Isn’t showing the final product enough?
"By only showing the outcome, the hard work and difficult decisions made become invisible."
This is the moment I rub my hands together and let them finish their excuses, so I can talk to them about writing.
Writing is important to design - perfect for documenting the processes, showing your work to your wider team, or even to the entire world. Whilst it’s great to show Dribbble shots and large spread Behance showcases, doing so often leaves out most of the hard work and difficult decisions made to reach that final design. The hard work remains invisible to the world.
So yes, designers should write! Here are a few reasons why:
Sharing your process can help the community
I have heard a lot of designers say that they don’t want to talk about their work because maybe others will steal their ideas. This is when I’ll ask something like:
“Well, do you mean to say that everything you do, create and design comes only from your imagination? Were you not inspired from other projects and articles from other designers?”
Writing about your ideas and process can therefore be a beneficial tool not only for yourself, but also for others. A tool to help other designers who might be looking for inspiration, or for someone to teach them about your design or prototyping process.
Here are a couple great examples of design case studies that have been helpful for the community:
Zara Case Study
This is a really popular project by William Ng, who redesigns the Zara app. William shows the various steps in his design process used to come up with his solution, including:
- Job stories
- Affinity maps
- Low-fi to hi-fi sketches
- User testing
Anyone new to design can take ideas from his process, and understand the work involved to get to this awesome prototype:
View the case study here:
Amazon Design Case Study
Here is another example on how Agnes Kim wanted to try something new by redesigning the Amazon iOS app. The article is a great resource based on her research on the user, her experience with Amazon and how far she moved with her creativity.
It involves detailed task flows (showing before and after solutions), low-fidelity prototypes, and even a final prototype created with Marvel:
From low-fidelity to a hi-fidelity protoype
The interactive prototype, along with all previous context makes the design much more interesting to visitors. People can try the prototype, knowing the design decisions behind the various screens and elements.
Being able to see the app prototype, along with the design process written out really invites interest and often leads to more meaningful feedback and critique on work. We can see this here:
Writing can help you build an audience
When it comes to finding work, it can sometimes be difficult to come across new exciting opportunities. However, it’s much easier if you can get people to come to you, or at least make it easier for people to get an insight into what you do and how you work. Writing is a great way to do this, as it can help you build an online presence and become part of a community in the process.
Here are some examples, of now very well known writers in the design industry. However, there was a time when they were just starting out too, so it’s amazing to see how far writing has contributed to their rise:
Julie Zhou: Write to learn how to write
Julie Zhuo ( Product design VP Facebook) had a resolution for 2013: to write, or as she said:
“Write to learn how to write, and write to understand. Write to remember, to preserve the scrap of a voice in a particular age.”
And here is the article where she reflects on that specific year of writing. Today Julie's articles are followed by 100s of thousands of people, and she now even has a unique weekly essay, answering questions from members of the community.
Tobias Van Schneider: Write to think
Tobias Van Schneider is another great example of designers who write. In fact, he had the very same question I ask at the start of this article:
“Tobias, why do you write? Aren’t you a Designer?”
In his article, “Should you write as a designer”, Tobias explains how he first started out writing having never considered himself much of a writer. He goes onto say how beneficial writing has been to him, enabling him to think and communicate more clearly.
Paul Jarvis: Write to teach
Paul Jarvis is another great example. Paul is an entrepreneur based on Vancouver Island and, after a few years of web design, he found that a lot of other freelancers were struggling on the clients’ part.
So he launched a project called “Creative Class”, where he teaches freelancers about business, marketing and sales — things he had to learn himself as a designer.
Moving forward, Paul then created webinars and launched two podcasts. Paul uses his newsletter (that is transforming in an article on his website) to communicate ideas with a community of freelancers, designers, small business owners and also to promote his projects. I learned from Paul how to strategize my blog, to post once a week on my personal site, and also to write for other websites.
What can you, as a designer, can learn from the writing processes of these great designers?
Hopefully, you can learn that a portfolio website can be used not only to showcase your work but to communicate your ideas and thoughts. You can even use it as a platform to start a podcast series or a video blog to teach others how to design. Or you can just write to communicate with the community about any new updates on your projects, just to get started writing regularly.
Writing can kickstart a business
What if you could use your site to launch a business or even just a side project that can later become a business? Well, isn’t that something of dreams? There are thousands of businesses that started simply as writing on a blog. They created a community using their content, and people started noticing them. So when it came to launching a product, they had a market that already wanted it — or alternatively, when somebody needs design work, they know just where to go.
Marketoonist: From blog to business
As an example, let’s consider the story of Marketoonist. Whilst this may not count as a design project, the concept can be similar.
Tom Fishburne started designing cartoons when he was only a student at Harvard Business. Then he had various marketing roles at brands such as Nestle, Method, HotelTonight and General Mills. This experience inspired Tom to parody the world of marketing in a weekly cartoon. His drawings were so funny and realistic that publishers like the Wall Street Journal, Fast Company or Forbes started to feature his work. Hundreds of thousands of business readers then started to see his work every week.
That was the moment Tom realized that his cartoons were a great way to create and maintain a strong visual content strategy. From this small start, Tom launched Marketoonist to help brands like GE, Kronos and Google reach their audience through cartoons.
Now Tom is using his website to communicate a weekly cartoon about interesting topics in the marketing world.
What can you learn from Tom's story?
Well, if he wouldn’t have started drawing these cartoons and publish them on a website, nobody would have heard about Tom. But he used the blog to communicate his ideas and thoughts with a community. And this made him what he is now. If you don’t start nothing can happen.
Conclusion: Get started with writing
You don’t have to create a website from scratch to start writing. You can use platforms like Linkedin, Medium or even Facebook notes to start a blog. For example, Gery Meleg, Lead UX designer at Bannersnack uses Medium to showcase his work. Even when he guest posts for DesignModo, he also republishes the same article to reach a new audience on his Medium account. He doesn’t have a personal website, but he is using this social platform to make his presence on the web — it’s also a great way to start a writing “career”.
Don’t get me wrong though, I don’t believe that every designer should write or have a blog.
Maybe some may do a better job using a podcast, like Tobias Van Schneider is doing, or maybe there are designers who prefer video as a content medium. Sometimes it doesn't matter the type of content you use, as much as the purpose of why you are doing and what content you put out there. Overall though, you have to actually want to write to do it successfully, and even just a small monthly writing habit can be a good start.
"Quality is always better than quantity, even if we talk about content."
Quality is always better than quantity, even if we talk about content.