Writing is Tech’s New Design Skill

As a tech person, if you consider writing a “nice to have” skill in comparison to coding or designing, think again.

For digital designers, writing is a skill some believe is more applicable to their work than ever before. Digital design trends, for example, are toward clean lines and sparse words. When less is more, writing makes the ability to put the right words together in the right way – as an instruction manual for a new product or a mission statement for the “About Us” page – integral to creating a desired user experience.

A big focus on user experience (UX) design requires digital copywriters to apply a UX filter to all their writing – particularly when it comes to defining the interactive and functional aspects of products. It takes words to connect users to the digital product. It’s the glue between the interface and the information it contains, and the brand that stands behind it.

Copy is still instrumental to helping a user understand how to interact with, say, an app. But if the designer can’t write well enough to explain it sufficiently, the final product and the user experience will suffer.

When writing is not done well, it’s a distraction. And that’s not the kind of experience anyone wants to be shooting for.

One of the manifestations of poorly written digital copy, for example, could be put in the “stating the obvious” category. Think about it: Telling people to “click here” is poor design because it forces the user to go back to the text around the link to figure out where the click will lead, and “clicking” isn’t really relevant to a touch screen environment.

Another aspect of poorly written digital content is language that reminds users of the environment they’re in. Telling them “On this screen, you can …” takes their focus away from the experience by reminding them – unnecessarily – of the medium they’re in.

Bill Gates’ pronouncement that “content is king” may have been made more than 20 years ago, but it’s never been more relevant than it is today. Designers that hone their writing skills and put content first will be well-positioned for success if they possess a foundation for digital design that can engage the user.

Designers who want to boost their writing skills should write more. And just as important is to read. Here are some starting points, both books and essays recommended by designers and design writers:

  • “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life” by Anne Lamott. Lamott is a wonderful writer and inspiring teacher who dishes out tons of practical advice in these pages.
  • “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. It’s all about storytelling, which is what makes writing and design great.
  • Any of Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s essays or memoirs. This is the New York Times’ “Modern Love” columnist who died of cancer shortly after writing a dating profile for her husband who would soon be widowed. Her writing was both original and seemingly effortless, and an inspiration for many.

Write well, think well. That’s what George Orwell preached. Designers who take those words to heart will come out ahead in the long run.

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