Write like you design

I have long held the opinion that writing is crucial to design. Unfortunately I did not practice it. Writing was not given much priority while I attended art school and continued to be of little concern early in my career. I took my writing seriously once my wife began editing my blog posts. The first few sessions were rough. I was failing at the most fundamental level—I wasn’t getting a point across. Ironically, design is all about getting a point across.

I am not suggesting that the design community considers writing unimportant. It is just treated as something else. The aesthetics of the visual and textual will continue to be disconnected until that changes. Writing is design. There is no separation.

Designers devote endless hours to make their solutions more elegant. They understand the importance of detail. They cherish clarity and simplicity. The same isn’t often said about their craftsmanship of words. Dieter Ram published the ten principles of design which guide many in the practice. Below is a derivation of Ram’s principles to illustrate how writing and design are often one in the same.

  1. Good writing is reader-focused
    Your writing’s content, style and format should benefit your readers. Publishing content to fit a schedule, prop up traffic or just rant wastes readers’ time.
  2. Good writing is trustworthy
    Readers have to know they read is honest, genuine and fair. Writing that lacks any of those qualities erodes credibility and trust.
  3. Good writing makes its subject useful
    Writing has limited impact if readers can’t relate to the subject. If they can’t relate, they can’t “use” it. Informing is prerequisite, empowering is ideal.
  4. Good writing is unobtrusive
    Writing does not need to be verbose to be smart. Communicate with the most accurate, simple words.
  5. Good writing is focused
    A good piece of writing concentrates on the subject. Tangents dilute and create confusion.
  6. Good writing provides novel information and perspectives
    Writing should have something 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
    Content should be enjoyable to read. 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 succinct
    Every word written should count. Any paragraph, sentence or word lacking significance wastes the writer’s and the readers’ time.
  10. Good writing is long-lasting
    Trends may affect subject matter and language. Ideas shouldn’t have an expiration date.

Communicating ideas has been and continues to be a primary goal of design. Designers spend considerable effort to convey complex emotions, processes and concepts through visual abstractions. These endeavors have merit and provide results. Yet a simple, well-written sentence is often more effective.