I have long held the opinion that writing was part of design. I simply did not practice it. Writing was not given much priority while I attended art school. Writing continued to be of secondary concern during the early years of my career. Evidence of this can be seen on this blog. I started taking my writing more seriously after my wife, who has her master’s degree in English, started editing my posts. It progressed further while working at Adaptive Path, where it was clear that how we communicated our work could be as important to our job as the work itself. Currently, the attention given to language in the work at Seabright solidifies a dedication to the writing process in my practice.
I am not suggesting that the design community considers writing unimportant. However, I have often experienced it treated as something else. I consider the short list of well-written design blogs to be proof of that. Yes, they exist, but they are the minority. As long as writing is treated as something else by designers, there will be a disconnect between the aesthetics of the visual and the textual. I am suggesting that there needs to be a shift towards considering writing as a required skill of designers. Writing is design. There is no separation.
Designers devote endless hours to make their solutions more elegant. They understand the importance of detail. Clarity and simplicity are cherished. The same is often not said about their craftsmanship of words. Dieter Ram published the 10 principles of design which have served as a guide to some and a set of commandments for others. While I have no right to act as an example to follow, I can propose ways to look at writing so that it is integrated into how one thinks about design. Below are 10 principles of good writing, derived from Dieter Ram’s list intended to illustrate how writing and design are often one in the same.
- 1. Good writing is reader-focused
- The style of writing, the content provided and its format of delivery should be executed for the benefit of its readers. Writing that is published to fit a schedule, prop up traffic or unproductively rant wastes readers’ time.
- 2. Good writing is trustworthy
- Readers need to trust that what they read is honest, genuine and fair. Writing that lacks any of those attributes erodes credibility and lead readers towards poor decisions.
- 3. Good writing makes its subject useful
- Writing will have a limited impact if the reader does not understand how the subject relates to them or how they can move forward. Informing is prerequisite, empowering is ideal.
- 4. Good writing is unobtrusive
- Writing does not need to be verbose to be smart. If a concept can be accurately communicated with simple words, use them.
- 5. Good writing is focused
- A good piece of writing clearly articulates the subject it is covering. The end. Tangents dilute and create confusion.
- 6. Good writing provides novel information and perspectives
- Writing should have something new and useful to say. Piling on a subject with nothing new to share helps no one. Better to direct readers to a well-written piece than duplicate it.
- 7. Good writing is aesthetically pleasing
- The rhythm and composition of words can and should be aesthetic. The meaning of words should carry as much beauty as their visual representation. Well executed typography without well executed writing is missing the point.
- 8. Good writing is well-crafted
- Typos and grammatical errors are unacceptable. Writers should strive for a technically flawless reading experience.
- 9. Good writing is as little writing as possible
- Every word written should count. Any paragraph, sentence or word that lacks significance wastes the writer’s and the readers’ time.
- 10. Good writing is long-lasting
- Our subject matter and language may be impacted by current trends, but our ideas should not have a short expiration date.
Communicating ideas has been and continues to be a primary goal of design. Considerable effort is spent by designers to convey complex emotions, processes and concepts through visual abstractions. These endeavors have merit and provide results. However, sometimes a simple, well-written sentence may prove more effective.