You might be surprised to find out that writing and designing have their fair share of similarities. In this post, Eugen Eşanu explains how the act of writing is extremely beneficial to designers and shares some tips for exercising your writing skills.
Recently, I wrote a story about how important it is to develop good communication skills—whether you are a designer, manager, or a CEO. But I didn’t explain what actually led me to become a better communicator myself and that is — writing.
“Writing helps you think and learn, enhances your chances of success, contributes to your personal development, and strengthens your relationships with other people” — Axelrod&Cooper
Writing helped me to become a better designer, leader, and thinker. As a designer, my job is to take a mess of ideas and issues and transform them into a product or solution. Writing helped me learn how to clean the clutter and make products that delight people.
Believe it or not, there are many similarities between writing and design. For example, 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.
So, here is how consistent writing can make you a better designer.
1. Writing will influence the way you think
Writing is like going to the gym for your brain. The act of writing encourages you to be organized and logical in your thinking. When you write a sentence, paragraph, story, or even an essay, you train your brain to think concisely and consistently.
For example, once you notice that you repeated your thoughts in a paragraph, you change it and remove it. This exercise helps you think in different ways and also notice redundancies.
Your writing doesn’t have to be about design. Writing about any topic will enable you to reflect on those actions and/or experiences. Writing about an event that happened will inspire you to think about what happened and why it was memorable. This way, you are more in touch with yourself.
2. Writing will help you grow
Writing is a way of tracking our own progress. Teresa Amabile, a Harvard Business School research director, discovered that people feel more engaged and productive when they record in writing even the smallest of accomplishments. The more you are aware of your progress, the more involved you are.
“Writing helps you remember what you are studying or doing, by leading you to analyze and connect information and ideas from different sources” — Axelrod&Cooper
Writing or taking notes as you read or listen makes you a better listener — another crucial skill for designers. Writing down reflections about what you are learning from your users, team, books, or life, consolidates your thoughts and improves your intuition.
3. Writing will clear the clutter
Writing helped me communicate much better with developers. It made me think more logically and less abstract, so others could understand my needs.
Whenever I have to hand over a product design to developers, I write about two-pages worth of steps to be taken. Then, I reread it to see if it makes sense. After that, I ask a non-designer friend to give it a read and tell me whether they understand it. The goal is to write everything so clearly that even a stranger who has no context about the job can understand it. If they aren’t able to understand it, I go back and make changes.
“The mere process of writing is one of the most powerful tools we have for clarifying our own thinking. I am never as clear about any matter as when I have just finished writing about it” — James Van Allen
4. Writing will help you become even more creative
Writing keeps your creativity goings strong. I always have a small notebook with me (or the notes app on my phone) so every time I walk, read, or talk to someone, I can take quick notes on random ideas that pop into my head. Later on, I connect my ideas and create product features or find solutions for current issues. Or even article ideas like this one 😉
5. Writing will help you become a better leader
Besides helping you to argue and explain your decisions, writing will make you a better leader. Arguing a position in writing teaches you not only to support your reasoning, but also to answer objections to your argument. You will be able to explain why it is necessary to do this or that, and communicate a clear vision and guidance for your team.
There’s nothing worse than a leader who desmands something that is unclear.
Let’s say you are about to introduce a new working process for your company — design sprints. Explaining the concept requires you to inform yourself about your subject and organize the information in a way that makes it clear to readers and listeners. That’s why writing before presenting or speaking is the best way to clean your thoughts and get them across effectively.
A few side-notes…
Write with pen & paper
If you can, try to write and take notes with pen and paper because it benefits your brain. Every time you do a user interview or testing, conduct research, or have a call with a client, write everything down on a piece of paper so you can remember and understand it better.
In a study , two groups of students were asked to take notes during a lecture. One group wrote their notes on paper, the other on their laptops. They found that the students who took notes by hand performed significantly better than those who typed them out. Taking notes by hand helped these students remember and recall what they wrote down, and also improved their long-term memory.
“…there is something about typing that leads to mindless processing. And there is something about ink and paper that prompts students to go beyond merely hearing and recording new information…”
Taking notes by hand leads to quality learning, as writing is a better way to store and understand ideas over time. Writing by hand strengthens the learning process, while typing can weaken it. A similar study published in Intech found that writing by hand allows the brain to receive feedback from your motor actions, and this feedback is different than those obtained when typing on a keyboard. You’ll improve how your brain develops, benefiting your thinking and creativity.
Writing doesn’t have to be a pain
For some, writing can be a pain. The act of getting your ideas across clearly on paper is hard work. Not to mention, from an early age we were forced to write essays in school, meeting a minimum word count — it’s as if it was ingrained in us that writing is an unpleasant experience. But, if you understand that you can write about anything you want, writing becomes easier to approach.
I began writing two years ago. My first articles were about games because that’s what I enjoyed at the time, and it motivated me to keep writing. Then, I couldn’t stop. I was motivated to write much more, even if some of my articles didn’t get as much recognition as others. Every time I hit the publish button, I felt a sense of relief. It was a pleasure to get all of my ideas out and share them with others.
How can you begin writing?
To write about something, you have be inspired. To be inspired you have to read, listen, talk to others, or think first. Many creators and inventors consume inspiration from all sources before they create or write something. Whether it’s going to a museum, visiting a new city, meeting people, listening to a podcast or presentation, you have to consume first and then create.
You can’t be inspired if you don’t consume inspiration.
There is no magic moment
Writing is hard. The only way to get better at it is — to simply start writing. Open up that blank page and write words on it. About what? Anything. What you learned today at work or an experience with a client. Write about an occasion when writing helped you better understand a difficult subject. Or an occasion when your writing made others take notice. Write about your design process, challenges, mistakes, dogs, weird hobbies — write about anything. Write every day. Let it out and let others read it.
Also, there is no such thing as writer’s block. It’s a myth. It means that you are a perfectionist and can’t stand bad writing. When you say I can’t write, you actually mean “I can’t write something that is perfect”. If you write poorly enough a lot, sooner or later, your brain will give up and you will start writing great. Write 50,000 words of bad writing and then let everyone around you decide if you can write or not.
For more articles by Eugen, check out his blog post on 5 soft skills every product designer should master.