For designers writing is one of the most important skills. Why?

Design is about people. In order to do great design, you need to understand not just what you’re making, but why you’re making it. Great designers and great writers have something in common; they understand their audience, they both communicate.

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Updated on
June 21, 2023
writing important skill for designers

Both designers and writers do their research, because the plot and character development has to be believable, complete, and without gaps.

In this article find out why a designer should hone their writing skills as much as your design skills (plus get some concrete writing tips).

The parallels between writing and designing are strongest when it comes to building context. Both require sensitivity to every plausible situation.

Whether it’s in the form of personas, brand writing, storyboards, journey maps or even a plain old written narrative, great designers start with clear, compelling narratives about the context of the customer’s problem they’re solving for. Like storytelling, every design project has one or more protagonists, a setting, a plot, a conflict and a resolution. Both UX writers and designers or design teams arrive to the resolution in similar ways. Designers are communicators, and writing is communication.

“Writing means sharing. It’s part of the human condition to want to share things - thoughts, ideas, opinions.” - Paulo Coelho

What’s writing got to do with design?

Good design needs good copy. And vice versa. Both can work together, in tandem, to lift the project outcome. Copy and Design share a close relationship. Good copy needs inspiring design and vice versa. And that’s why there’s a perfect case for designers to write website copy.

Your design is incomplete without the right content to support it.

99.9% of the time, good, effective writing is essential to accomplishing a design's end goal, strategy, and execution process.

I’ve often heard that the ability to write well is always a strong tool to possess, whatever stream of career you’re in. It speaks to the varied skills you possess; your proficiency in that language, your communication skills, and your ability to translate ideas into tangible words.

Writing has always been an interest of mine and I found myself communicating most clearly through written words. It wasn’t until my education in a design college that I understood the strength a designer possess who can both, design and write for it.

Writing is designing with words.

The value of design-supported writing

The content first design is a technique that utilizes the content to define the design elements.

Writing might seem like a daunting, mundane, and painful task, especially if it isn’t your core area of expertise. The most common hurdles are -

  • Getting the vocabulary right
  • Wondering if your grammar is airtight
  • Using words or phrases in the right context

Granted, these are hurdles that are tough to overcome, over a short period of time. The key to this, as is the case for accomplishing any goal, is consistent practice.

Writing is not as daunting of a task as it seems. Always start with putting down your first thoughts, and nascent ideas as is; don’t worry about the grammar, punctuation, or vocabulary. As long as you write down the mass of ideas in your head, consider it one big objective, successfully completed!

The next step, which is editing, refining, and applying framework logic comes with practice, with aid, and with practice.

Let’s get to the value adds -

Good writing helps create user-friendly and organized good content.

When it comes to graphic design, more often than not, visuals in their isolation are not enough to clearly communicate the idea of the product/service. Good writing ensures that the messaging is clear, organized, and user-friendly.

Take the case of hero sections of websites belonging to highly technical companies. Most visuals used are abstractions since it's challenging to condense complex information into a coherent visual that can stand strong on its own. Without good copy, the visual would make no sense, confuse the user and lead to higher bounce rates. Good writing ensures that basic communication of information is laid down and effectively registered by the user.

Copywriting example on a website page.

Take the example of Launch and Grow. Using just the abstract visual in isolation however captivating or well designed, does absolutely nothing to convey relevant information or add value to the messaging of the brand in any way. The addition of cohesive copy, in this case, makes for an overall section that checks all the right boxes.

Writing enables stellar structure, organization, and planning during the design process.

When approached with a brief or a problem statement, we as designers tend to immerse ourselves in the brainstorming phase. There’s a strong current of ideas, some get penned down, some don’t. Some ideas are simple, and some are complex. Some nascent, some advanced. Containing all of these thoughts in your head keeps you from doing anything actionable with them. This is where writing comes in. Pen down your process before stepping into the execution phase as it helps to visualize an overarching view of the plan. Write down your approach, your milestones, and your tasks under each of them. The very minute your thoughts are laid out in front of you in a tangible manner, your mind automatically de-clutters, allowing you to work on each task in a systemized manner.

While wireframing for a website design, it’s always helped me to write down the intent of each section. Clarity is established upfront, allowing my mind to dedicate the entirety of its focus to crafting a design that justifies the intent. In the case of a project I recently worked on; Entropik, what helped me move ahead in design quickly and without many hiccups was the fact that i first spent appropriate time jotting down the intent of each section next to my rough sketches of said section.

wireframe of a website - with copy

Writing helps express creative ideas and communicate effectively with management and investors

Writing forces us to see what really matters: the strength and coherence of an argument and how that argument is supported or substantiated by evidence.

As creative professionals, it's important for us to be able to sell our design ideas successfully, to potential investors/clients who intend to know about our process and how our product/service will benefit the end user.

Writing also helps internally. When communicating with your team members, management, or other department heads in your company, writing is an essential tool that helps you get your point across and helps keep all stakeholders on the same page as you are.

When presenting complex visual routes that have a larger concept tied to them, it’s important to write down the idea behind each element. Write down what your color palette was inspired by, why you chose a particular typography, the thought behind adding patterns or textures in a specific way, etc. Writing these down not only helps the client understand your idea more clearly, but it also helps you see your idea objectively, and clearly and work out kinks.

More often that not, it is time consuming to get on calls with clients at every step of your design process to explain verbally what your idea and the translation of it is. There were times I encountered when I had to send a visual design for approval but the timeline wouldn’t allow for a full-fledged call with the client. I countered this issue by attaching small write-ups next to some elements that I would otherwise explain. When writing them down, I noticed that, that was only when i was able to “see” my design objectively. It was then that I was able to gauge whether what I had originally thought of in my head made sense on paper. It was all due to writing. So write, write, write, and write again. The more you do it, the more it’s power shines through, and the more value it will add to your work.

An example of a current website re-design project I’m working on, where I leveraged notes to add in references and make the visuals clearer for the client.

UX Writing and Design are made for each other

Writing and Design have more in common than you think.

A UX writer create texts on digital interfaces, such as mobile apps and websites. Also known as 'copy', this text helps users navigate the digital interface. You can think of UX writing as a subset of UX design that focuses on the written bits with plenty of overlap with UX design. A UX writer is essentially product designer who are part of the product design team and help create the websites. The UX writing and good content design role is one whose effect cuts across departments and design teams in any company.

Writing process or when writing an article, it's up to the author to choose what ideas need to be excluded and need to be retained. Similarly, when designing a product, it's up to the designer to choose what features ought to be retained and what needs to be left out.

When writing for design, it's imperative to make your messaging clear. Even if the visual is abstract or meant to aid simply in user attention retention, it's up to the web copy to clearly and effectively communicate the idea of the product/service in web content strategy, content marketing or even on social media.

Why designers and great writers have more in common than you think?

A good designer never fails to empathize with the user. By this, I mean understanding who your user is, their needs, likes, dislikes, habits, problems, etc. Great writers naturally tend to develop empathy for their main characters, fiction or not, understanding not just who they are, but how they came to be the way they are.

Just like how designers are expected to empathize with users and their problems, a great ux writer always understands their audience.

An author, as part of the writing process spends months on research for good content design because the plot and characters that revolve around it have to be believable, complete, and without gaps. Similarly, a process-oriented designer spends significant time on research because the end result has to help solve the problem in the most efficient way.

The parallels between writing and design are strongest when it comes to building context and good content strategy. To become a better content designer or ux writer, both roles require sensitivity to the problem (for writers, the conflict) and a sense of awareness of every plausible situation. Like writing, the design process in itself, considers varying levels of complexity in the context of use.

Visual content isn’t the only thing that can make or break infographics. While many folks focus on the overall design, all too often they forget one crucial element: the copy.

One of my first Website design projects was for a D2C e-commerce brand, Welga’s in which the entire copy had to written from scratch. I was also the content designer on this project. Since this was my first web design project, great writing and graphic design was required to get the content strategy right and for great user experience. To add structure to my process and approach, I leaned on writing. I started mapping out the Tone of Voice, the messaging, what each section could so. Since the project had room for creative writing, I had the best time coming up with creative puns and witty lines to elevate the lack of content. Writing my ideas first for the content strategy and then figuring out the visuals was a process that I first applied for Welga and a practise I continue to do so.

a section from welga website - great example of good copywriting by designers

The answers to the following questions will help you further understand your audience and design the best possible solution. Make sure to write down the answers to these questions to ensure crystal clear clarity and intentional ideation.

*the following questions use the example of a product. The questions apply to services too.

Emotional Context -

  • How does the user feel when they are using your product - not just during but before and after? Are they initially open minded but then slowly confused? Are they constantly engaged? At what point does engagement/retention take a dip?
  • What’s their mental state surrounding the product/intention behind using the product; are they using it to alleviate boredom, is it something they use as a time filler, is it something used during a medical emergency, is it fulfilling a specific need/want of theirs?

Environmental Context -

  • Where exactly is the user when they’re using the product?
  • What situation are they in?
  • Who is around them?
  • What are they doing with their hands?
  • Are they stationary or in transit?
  • Who else/what else is fighting for their attention?
  • Are there time constraints?
  • Are the using the product while driving or in the office or while at home?

Social Context -

  • How will they be perceived by others when using your product?
  • Will it make them feel cool or proud or shy or embarrassed?
  • Do they require external help when using your product?
  • Do they need your product to help them with a problem that's otherwise too embarrassing to share with others?
  • Do they feel the need to share the knowledge of this product with others?
  • Does the product impact their social image in any way?

The answers to these questions will help inform important decisions around what the primary function of your product should be, how it should look, how it will be used, etc. For example, it doesn’t matter what OS my phone is running on. If there is a hardware issue with the sim card tray, it becomes a lot less less useful and valuable to me.

Hence, its important to maintain context every step of the way and do justice to it, throughout the product development lifecycle. Similarly, a good writer never loses the core strand of the plot and stays true to it throughout the writing process. Designers who write, understand how to articulate and summarise the context of use. They share the story through writing with other stakeholders so that all teams within a company can have clear alignment.

As far as I am concerned, design aims to solve problems and art is for self-expression. Writing, since it has both two functions, I see it as a combination of design and art - Patty Sheng

Designers and Content Designers - How are they similar?

designers and writer - what is it they have in common?

Both make use of language. The difference is each uses a different language with which to communicate. Getting better at one involves becoming a better communicator, which can then be applied to the other. Designers write, because writing helps them think better, which in turn helps them become better designers.

When you write an article, you have to choose what ideas to leave or remove. In design, you have to choose what features to keep, add, remove, or redesign. In writing, you have to make your ideas clear so that anyone can understand them. In design, your UI has to be self-explanatory.

The worlds of designers and UX writers often collide, without each of them realising it. When I was starting out as a design intern, my mentor came across some pieces of poetry I’d written in my college days. He noticed an innate structured thought to them and asked me to a do a mock design project to showcase the writing. The outcome was a digital zine and turned out to be the most fun I had working on a self-project. I believe that we are not professionally defined solely by the career we choose. We are all capable of intermingling many disciplines to positively influence our current work.

Should Designers Write?

It is told that designers should know how to code, but I would say, designers should know how to write. Well they know how to write already, but many don’t know how to write well- one of the reason is they think their writing is not as good as their design.

But consistent writing makes you a better designer.

Designers are communicators, and writing is communication. Typically, though, design and writing are considered separate jobs. It’s much easier to say, “I’m a designer, not a writer” and continue copying + pasting Lorem Ipsum. But Lorem Ipsum does not sell your idea or a client’s product. Placeholder copy does not inspire or create an emotional response. Compelling copywriting along with good design can take your work so much further.

Good UX often relies on effective visual communication and written communication (UX writing) as well. You cannot be expected to churn out a perfect microcopy in the first go, so write, test, refine, and keep iterating until it’s ready to ship.

Design + Writing = Power.

How consistent writing can make you a better designer & develop better designs?

  1. Writing will influence the way you think
  2. Writing will help you grow
  3. Writing will clear the clutter
  4. Writing will help you become even more creative
  5. Writing will help you become a better leader

And I would say if its not making sense on a paper in written format, it probably won’t make sense as a visual graphic either.

Writing improves how and what you’re saying, through the art of editing, restraint and honest self critiques. What is the most value information to the readers? Whats necessary to say? What isn’t? Can you now imagine how great your website design is going to be if you follow this framework?

Most of the designers don’t see writing design as a skill that is required for them. Writing will help you become a better designer and a better thinker.

Writing forces us to see what really matters: the strength and coherence of an argument and how that argument is supported or substantiated by evidence. If you are building products and want to share your vision, win over internal stakeholders, and help communicate more effectively, write more.

Design is not just how something looks, but it how it functions in a variety of probable scenarios. Writing enables us to explore these scenarios over time, and for different people.

How did writing help a designer?

Writing enable us to organize and plan during the design process. Writing 106 articles in a year has helped Tiffany Eaton grow as a designer

  • Writing has allowed Tiffany to collect her thoughts
  • Writing has allowed her to come face to face with failure
  • Writing has taught her how to organize and tell a story
  • Writing has taught her consistency
  • Writing has taught her courage
  • Writing has taught me gratitude

Writing your ideas down and developing them by writing forces you to think through them with more focus as you’ve only got yourself and words.

Writing has also helped this designer to develop a voice, something she have been struggling with for years.

Let’s consider the story of Marketoonist. Whilst this may not count as a design project, the concept can be similar. Website messaging is the most important part of website project and if a designer know how copy works on a website, there is nothing like it.

Tom Fishburne started designing cartoons when he was only a student at Harvard Business.
Tom Fishburne started designing cartoons when he was only a student at Harvard Business.

How can a designer start writing good content?

Tips to the designers on their way to write copy.

You cannot be expected to churn out a perfect microcopy in the first go, so write, test, refine, and keep iterating until it’s ready to ship.

For designers, UX writing is an important skill to develop, write a blog post to start with. To improve, start writing every day, write good content, read diverse topics, talk to copywriters, get feedback from colleagues, and start small by creating copy for a page or part of a website and observing the impact on design and thought process. Some of your writing will get picked in search results.

  • Start today. Don’t procrastinate. Begin your writing journey by setting daily writing goals and stick to them. For the first few days, write down everything that comes to your mind, even if it's not related to website copy. Doing this will help you to develop a habit of writing regularly which is crucial for becoming a great copywriter.
  • Read a lot. Diverse topics, different writers, and different formats. Learn from the masters and develop your own unique style. The more you read, the more you'll improve your writing skills and your ability to connect with readers.
  • Talk to a copywriter. Seek out a mentor or a seasoned professional and learn from their experiences. Ask them how they approach a particular copy, how they structure it, and how they engage readers. Get feedback from them on your writing and use it to improve your skills.
  • Write and get feedback from your colleagues and friends. Share your writing with them and ask for constructive criticism. But don't let their criticism get the better of you. Instead, use it to improve your writing and keep refining your craft. Remember, writing is a journey, not a destination.
  • Start small, write good content. Pick a page or a part of the website and create a copy for it. Then, design it and check the impact. Observe how your thought process is changing as you write and design. Keep experimenting and learning from your mistakes. Soon, you'll be able to create compelling copy that resonates with your target audience.

As you write more copy, you’ll get more comfortable with the process. And you’ll find that your copywriting skills improve, both in terms of the quality of the content and the speed at which you can create it. The more you review your writing, the sooner it will become second nature.

You can almost always make your writing better if you step away for a moment then come back and read it again.

A Reading Guide For Designers Who Want To Write

Summary

Today and in the future, companies will need designers who can write and tell stories. A great designer starts with a compelling story about the context of the customer's problem that they're solving, whether it be in the form of personas, storyboards or journey maps. What companies need now and in the near future are designers that are UX writers and storytellers, making them a true force to reckon with.

Just like illustration, Good writing skills enable designers to tell a strong narrative of the customer in a holistic, memorable way. The result is thoughtful design, creative products that people love and can’t live without.

The connection between writing and design is communication. Learning to communicate in one language will help you learn to communicate in another. Today and in the future, companies will need designers who can write and tell stories. Good writing skills allow designers to tell a coherent and comprehensive story about a client in a memorable way.

All in all, branding through writing is a powerful strategy in the world of business, branding which is no just logo design. Words are not just tools for conveying information but also instruments for building a brand's identity, content marketing, user experience design and establishing a connection with its audience.

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