Writing about design is one of those daunting things that I see very few designers do. Whether experienced and deeply skilled or fresh out of the gate, so few of us write about design. We have enough on our plate right? We have consulting gigs, full time jobs, startups, meet-ups, conferences, side projects, and art projects going on. Where would we find the time to write?
It scares the shit out of me to write about design. That may not be a great reason to write about design, but it sure as hell is one reason among many. So, I did what any designer would do, I brainstormed ideas on sticky-notes until I got past the easy ones, then wrote down some more. I ended up with 31 reasons. They fell into some clear groups.
Culture & Community
Any community or culture has it’s high points and low points; the things we’re exceptionally proud of and those things which we want to change. Writing is a great way to shine the light on exemplars of the community and to challenge those aspects which don’t deserve the position they have.
This could be writing about trends in design (remember that whole flat vs. skeuomorphism thing), unearthing injustices or bias within the community (why architects need feminism), or simply providing a recap of a conference (IxDA 2013 was totes awesome).
Write about the culture and community you work in. Talk about the issues that you face as a person within the design community. Challenge your culture to push itself beyond shallow levels of work.
Understand & Improve
“You need to be able to express your ideas. So find a way to get your thoughts out there so you have experience articulating and defending a point of view, because that’s what design ultimately is; a point of view.”
Writing, like design, is a medium for communicating a vision or point of view. Writing about our work improves how we understand our design decisions. It improves our arguments for a certain solution over another and shares our decisions with others. It adds a clarity of purpose and forces us to enumerate the intentions of our work.
It provides a space for reflection and a reflective awareness of our work as we think about writing about it. Reflecting is an opening for improvement and understanding. Why did this process work? What about this design doesn’t meet our companies values? How could we improve the manner in which we share our work?
Write about your work. Examine the process you used to get from A to Z. Clarify your reasons for deciding on one design over another. Philosophize over the principles that go into your work.
Discourse & Criticism
There’s nothing like a good bit of design criticism and discourse to rouse the blood. Whether deconstructing the merits of an exceptional piece of work, or critiquing a poorly designed flow, this kind of stuff gets the conversation (or rants) flowing.
“Like is not a design word and has nothing to do with any business goal. It’s just a reported mental attitude with no necessary connection to behavior.”
Be wary of wandering into the I could have done better critique zone though. It’s douchey, most likely simple minded, or outright ignoring many product negotiations that shaped the final design. It’s one thing to have a critique, it’s another to tear down other designers because you didn’t like the outcome.
Meaning & Making
Design: The rendering of intent.
Design Process: The intention behind how we render intent.
By writing we can explore stories and concepts that we may not yet have the tools to design for. It is a way of rendering intent through a narrative prototype that shows what a problem is, how it may be solved, or why it is important.
We can explore ideas we may only have modest napkin sketches about. Define their use cases or open up new questions to explore. Writing is in many ways, as free a space to imagine and create as a whiteboard.
Design is as much about telling stories as it is about making artifacts.
Business & Work
No one has written more succinctly about the business of design as Mike Monteiro has. His book, Design is a Job, is, obviously, all about what makes up the business and work life of a designer.
So much of design is time not spent prototyping, designing, or making. It is time spent negotiating and communicating. Our job as designers is to facilitate the difficult conversations; to make sure those conversations happen.
Writing about the business of design gives a window into what it is like to work with you. Writing case studies showcases how a particular project came to be and what your process is. Writing about the challenges of working within certain development practices gives insight into how you work with developers. Share the way you work with others.
Don’t be a black box designer.
Write, Share, Teach
Writing is a means to bring others into the craft. It shows new designers a transparency that should be a standard practice within our field.
Writing gives back to the craft, to the future members of it, and to your clients and stakeholders.
Even if writing scares the shit out of you, it probably will for a while, it’s a responsibility to yourself, to the craft, and to the community to do so.