Last week one of the design students from Project M (where I’d served as an advisor over the summer) asked me how to become a better writer. That was super encouraging to hear because I think writing is an essential part of the design process. And it’s something I’ve felt missing in design education for a long time.
Here’s why: when someone asks you why you used green, or why you included that crumpled-paper background, or why there’s a bird in the logo, you’re gonna need to know. What’s more, you’re going to need to be able to articulate it in a way that makes them care. I’ve been in graphic design classes in which I’ve asked students presenting their work why they did what they did. And 90% of them have said something like: “because it’s like, I don’t know. It’s like I thought that color looked super good right there. And I like birds.”
Now, I don’t care how gorgeous the thing you made was, if that’s your answer, I’m not gonna hire you. It’s not enough to make pretty things. You’ve got to be able to talk about them, to present them, to parse their meaning. And the truth of it is that if you can’t articulate what the thing you’re making means, you’re gonna have a helluva time making it mean something to someone else. Which is a problem, because that’s the job.
Writing will make you a better designer. I know: it sucks and it’s super hard. But it will make you a better designer. Hell, it’ll make you a better thinker. Here’s an example: when we’re working on a design project at Language in Common we don’t make a bunch of different sketches before we come to the right one. We don’t sit down at the sketch pad or the computer and try to draw in the dark. That’s a waste of time. Instead, we talk it out. We discuss what kind of vibe we’re trying to create. We use different words to describe the same concept and then more different words to describe to each other what the piece might look like and why. And what happens is that in the articulating and re-articulating of what a particular concept might look like, its execution becomes more and more clear in everybody’s heads. So that by the time we actually get to drawing or building the thing it’s already pretty much done. All we have to do is put it into illustrator or photoshop or indesign or whatever tools it requires to make. Because we don’t go through a ton of iterations, we’ve become super fast when it comes to visual design. And we can talk about it with ease.
Try it. See what happens. Lemme know if it works for you.