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by Steve Zelle
Design blogs are a dime-a-dozen, but despite the “popularity contest”
nature of some of the bigger ones, the value of the written word has
never been higher in helping designers learn, grow and discover.’
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What is the point of writing for a blog? Is it to gain as many visitors and followers as possible? Or is it to develop positive habits and relevant knowledge, and to progress as a designer, as a communicator and as a business person? The two approaches rarely coexist, and unfortunately, the popularity angle often wins out. Spend any time on Twitter or Digg and you’ll discover that these sites are littered with list posts of recycled and borrowed Top Tens, each boasting “the most amazing design examples ever.” There is a reason these posts are popular: they’re quick and easy, both to create and consume. It seems that, as a community, we are feeding off pretty pictures with very few words, creating a daily "show" of work with very little "tell" to accompany it. In the process, we are all missing a great opportunity.
As designers, we are constantly looking for new tools and methods to incorporate into our creative process, as well as different ways of thinking to open our minds. However, writing is the design tool which many have in front of them but neglect to see. Similar to mood boards and mind mapping, the act of writing offers a unique way to approach and solve a problem. So why are so few of us actively writing?
The answer may very well be a lack of time, but writing is an investment in your own education and it’s a way of expanding your knowledge and awareness in a way that looking at an endless parade of pretty pictures will not. The act of writing is one of personal development. Here are a few reasons (in list form, naturally) why it’s worth making some time to write:
Collect Your Thoughts
Writing allows you to distill ideas, expose preconceptions, provide clarity and develop priorities. It is a great method to overcome creative block.
Make a Decision
Writing is a way to develop focus, direction, and to define and reaffirm goals. It also creates a permanent record of your personal growth.
Not just the "follower" kind of relationship, but the type you can call on and ask for help. Thoughtful interaction on my blogs has resulted in relationships with designers, writers, marketers, publishers, developers, illustrators, and editors.
Open Your Mind
Feedback on your writing exposes you to alternative opinions and viewpoints, and encourages you to be a better listener. This is a great testing ground for client interactions.
Learn to Argue
Writing encourages the formation of logical arguments by developing structure and context. Of course, I recommend you also keep the previous point in mind!
It’s Good for the Industry
We all have something to contribute. Thoughtful articles are a way of helping our peers and providing a behind-the-scenes glimpse to those considering design as a profession. While most clients won't be visiting design blogs, the ones who do will be presented with insight into our expertise and knowledge.
If you can develop a habit of writing, it keeps you focused and interested in learning. It encourages you to constantly explore the subjects that interest you.
Finally, writing allows you to explore ideas that wouldn't normally see the light of day if you waited for the right client to come along.
Of course the value of the above points rely solely on the individual and their willingness to participate in their own long-term development, not simply an initial burst of enthusiasm. Like any tool, it takes time to develop your skills, and to determine how it best compliments your existing creative toolbox.
Just One Comment a Week
I know that not everyone has the time or the willingness to blog, so I propose we all take some time away from the list posts every week and leave (at least) one thoughtful comment on a design blog. Not some sorry "nice post" comment either, but one that adds value to the conversation and results in a better read for the next person that comes along. It is a great way to contribute to the design community and, if you are new to writing, is also a wonderful way to get your toes wet. There are so many good articles that are being buried by popularity; show them some love. In doing so, you will have engaged in a positive habit of investing in your own growth.
Steve Zelle is a logo designer and brand consultant in Ottawa. He operates as idApostle and is the founder of Processed Identity.
June 28, 2010 10:55 AM
I would agree, I think its the fear criticism perhaps. I am a "lurker" on many sites, not too confident in the public value of my comments/opinion. Your post has inspired me to be jump into the conversation and make thoughtful posts , starting with this one! I appreciate how you have broken it down making it simple to digest. This also made me think of the question why is it that those with awful comments, of little or no value have more confidence (and pride) in their nasty posts? We need to shift that - I am confident the valuable thoughts would far outweigh the invaluable ones - we just need to get hands on keyboards and then hit "submit".
June 28, 2010 12:38 PM
Steve, I wholeheartedly agree with you —designers should take the time to write as a form of personal and professional development.
I think time and motivation can be two of the biggest catalysts influencing the act of writing.
When you consider the pervasiveness of 'listicle' blog posts, you could say this form of writing is perhaps fueled by a genuine lack of time and motivation among both reader and author.
I tend to think the Web is structured (and has evolved) in such a way to perpetuate this type reading/writing behaviour —for all of us.
Online, the tendency is to skim articles rather than read start to finish; it's also very easy to copy/paste and re-purpose content from one site to another —quite another task to articulate original thoughts.
Great post. Thanks.
June 28, 2010 03:14 PM
Well written and right to the point. It's the value of the informations that makes a site. Popularity for fluff fades and the good hard facts and tips for better design and being a better designer in business will win out. Certainly your sites are an example of what to do and filled with great original material.
Keep up the good work!
June 28, 2010 07:56 PM
By it's nature, the web can me massively engaging for some, but the masses remain generally silent, content to "absorb" rather than share. There is so much to learn from each other - hopefully this post inspires the quiet ones to engage.
Popularity is not the yardstick by which value and quality is measured!
June 29, 2010 10:34 AM
Thanks for being the first one to comment — never nice to see that blank comment field below a post.
True, I would imagine a lot of us hold back on commenting for fear of having nothing to add although I think it is rarely true. Everyone has an opinion and so there is usually something you can add. If you feel its all been said, you may want to try to further the conversation by asking a question related to the post.
Great to hear it got you to commit to hitting "submit".
I also skim articles online and through RSS feeds, and use Instapaper or Read It Later to save posts to read when I have spare time at night or first thing in the morning. (the iPad is a fantastic tool for this). There is so much information tossed at me each day that I find I need a method to sift through it.
Commenting on posts certainly isn't at the top of anyone’s priority list—but way down after more pressing tasks like deadlines and family. It does come down to motivation. To encourage conversation, I will sometimes approach people directly, asking them to get involved. If there is someone that I believe has something to add, I ask. In turn, they call upon me to comment on their posts where appropriate. Having more than one opinion can create a debate and foster more input from other readers.
Thanks very much for the comment, and I am glad I discovered your site through it. (http://www.darryljonckheere.com/blog/) I will be sure to come back when I have some time and comment. :)
Thanks for the compliment—of course, some of that content you refer to is your own!
Do you think the popularity contest nature of these sites and our consumption of them will change over time? Will fluff fade?
June 30, 2010 11:26 AM
Steve, I think you've hit the nail right on the head. Our blog (http://www.hexanine.com/zeroside/) has been a place for me to think through what I believe about design and where it's going, and a place to challenge others with those thoughts.
My respect for a designer drops a notch (at least) when he or she tells me "I don't know how to write," or "I don't read." Writing is a crucial way to dig deep, communicate with clients, organize thoughts, and to frame the problems we need to solve. You made these points more eloquently above.
I keep coming back to this truism from Edward Tufte: Clear writing mirrors clear thinking.
And thanks for the great post, Steve.
July 02, 2010 01:18 PM
Russel and Tim,
Thanks for taking the time to comment, and for providing more to the conversation.
For those interested, you can find more information about Edward Tufte here: http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/index and in particular, some of his amazing books here: http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/books_vdqi
July 05, 2010 11:35 PM
this article is very well written indeed. Your point on "Learning to Argue" is very well put. I would also say that it opens our understanding to get our views in written word, that we might also grasp our inductive and deductive reasoning. Within critical thinking, also promoted through writing, one can stimulate the comprehension of syllogistic views that can be applied to one's design process. When viewing this philosophically we can further our thought process and move from a generalized idea to a more narrow, detailed and single thought.
Applying critical thinking skills to writing will help improve mind-mapping and/or brainstorming as well. I would also encourage a thoroughly written piece per each design project as I believe it enables designers to go back and view their process per project and recall major points of interest to the designer or client. Rather than moving along making mental notes, it is beneficial to have something in writing to look back upon for further study and research in why decisions were made in designing for a certain client or for ourselves.
You have undoubtedly listed myriad thoughts of why and how writing helps us over simply looking at "pictures" and I commend you for a thought provoking literary angle you've expounded. I would also encourage that while there are many points on why writing helps the visual design process, it also helps us to have self and internal revelation of our capacity as designers to communicate ideas literary as well as visually.