How Blogging Makes You A Better Designer

As a visual designer the central problem you attempt to solve is one of communication. In writing a blog post the central problem you attempt to solve is one of communication. See the connection? Some might see visual design and blogging as having two different skill sets. Fundamentally though, each is the same thing.

writing in a notebook

Both designing and blogging are attempts to communicate using language. In one case the language uses visual grammar and in the other the language uses the grammar of the written word. Learning to write better will help you design better and learning to design better will help you write better, because both teach you to communicate better.

graphic (adj.)

  1. Of or relating to written representation
  2. Of or relating to pictorial representation

I thought it would be interesting to take a look at writing as it connects to design. I hope to show you that becoming better at one helps you become better at the other. First I want to begin with a few thoughts about multi-tasking.

Multi-Tasking is Not What You Think it is

I’ve always thought that multi-tasking as most people think of it is an illusion. There are very few tasks you can really do at the same time. Waking and chewing gum come to mind as things you can do at the same time without either suffering.

On the other hand you really can’t text and walk down the street at the same time. Lot’s of people do, but they aren’t doing either skill as well as they could. You need to use your eyes for both and what you’re really doing is moving your attention back and forth between activities.

Here’s what happens when some people try to do both at the same time.

Multi-tasking as we think of it is really moving back and forth between multiple tasks. With tasks that don’t require concentration and focus that’s perfectly fine. For tasks that do need concentration and focus it’s another story.

I have a different view of multi-tasking which is to do one thing that serves multiple purposes. Blogging is a good example as it:

  • makes you a better writer
  • helps generate new ideas
  • is a great way to market yourself and your business
  • enhances critical thinking
  • provides informational content for search engines and social media sites
  • teaches you to communicate more effectively

The last one above is the most important where this post is concerned. If our goal as visual designers is to communicate doesn’t it make sense to do things that generally helps us become better at communicating?

Artful Blogging Fall 09 & Green Craft magazine covers

The Connection Between Blogging and Design

I’ve mentioned it a couple of times already. The connection is that both are forms of communication. They simply communicate using a different language with a different syntax and grammar.

Visually we speak with objects, visual elements that we place in space on the page or screen. We structure these objects to form patterns and textures. We create sequences of objects to give the illusion of activity and develop relationships between elements to communicate additional meaning about them.

Design principles become our visual grammar for communication with design elements.

When writing we speak with pictorial representations of sounds that become letters and combinations of letters. We structure these letters into words and create sequences of words to form sentences and sequences of sentences to form paragraphs.

Writing has its own rules of grammar for communicating with the words we use.

We might even try to map the different elements to each other, though it’s far from a perfect comparison.

Ask anyone who speaks more than one language and they’ll tell you that the more languages they learn the better they are at communication in any one of them. Ask any programmer and they’ll likely tell you the same. They’ll tell you how learning javascript helped them program better in php or similar.

Writing will help you think more logically as you attempt to present an argument and then prove it. Logic will help you make better design choices to support the message your design wants to convey.

When writing we speak of voice. We develop rhythms to our writing that communicate something more than the words themselves. And we choose certain words among several that mean mostly the same thing to communicate different nuances. When these rhythms and word choices are consistent we’ve developed a voice that communicates additional information about the speaker.

In design we have a style. We choose shapes and textures that evoke certain feelings. We create rhythm and flow visually to communicate something more than the elements themselves convey. When these visual rhythms and choices in color and shapes are consistent we’ve developed a style that communicates additional meaning about the design.

The best writers practice writing in different voices. The best designers practice designing in different styles. Both choose the appropriate voice or style for the particular project.

Royal KMM

Writing Practice

Many. perhaps most of you already run a blog. This post isn’t trying to convince you to start one, but rather to see what you do when writing a little differently. See how what you write connects to how you design. Try to be more conscious how each makes you better at the other.

Instead of posting a quick tweet, take an extra second or two to craft it. Pick that right word or two that really gets your message across. See email as an art form and use them to practice the craft of writing. Maybe, not all email as you’d never get anything done, but some.

For years I’ve been emailing back and forth each night with a friend or two. In part it’s to say connected with a friend and in part it’s to practice and develop my skills as a writer. Again that multi-tasking thing.

Experiment with your writing. Try writing for another site and use a different voice than the one you naturally use. Write in different places, some where you need to be more formal and some where you can be less formal. Look for places ways to expand your skills as a writer with the understanding that it will expand your skills as a designer as well.

Wireframe sketch

Summary

There’s a very strong connection between writing and visual designing. Both are about communication. They simply use different languages to do convey information.

While each naturally requires different skills in the particulars of the languages, syntax, and grammar used, the skills you learn in communicating with one directly translate to the other.

Learning to write more logically and learning to write with different voices will make you a better designer as it will teach you to communicate better and in a number of different ways.

Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.

18 comments

  1. This is an excellent post on the relationship between design and writing. I agree with you that each writing experience is an opportunity to practice a craft and should be done mindfully.

    • Thanks David. I try to think about most things in the context of design, writing being a big one. It doesn’t stop there though. I’ll sit here watching tv and pay extra attention to a graphic in commercial or keep track of one channels marketing and branding.

  2. When you communicate in a written or visual form, you communicate ideas. What you’re ultimately doing is shaping the ideas with words or images. Ideas are the basis of everything. And if you have a firm handle on this concept, it doesn’t matter what form of expression you use. I do believe however that those who write well have a better time at communicating ideas into any other form. This is because words are the fundamental building blocks of language, and they are universal and objective. Images on the other hand are more subjective.

    • It is all about communicating ideas. Good point about those who write well being better at communicating. Sometime I wonder if that’s due to the abstract nature of words. A word is an abstraction after all and if you communicate with the abstract it becomes easier to communicate with the concrete.

      For example visually you could show an image of a horrific car wreck. Seeing the image people might feel shock, sadness, horror, etc. It would be harder to bring out those emotions through words alone, so those who can master words will have an easier time when they also get to include images.

  3. Awesome Post..Steven

    You really defined what makes a better writer. Infact, I also started writing few days back only, avoiding any fear that might come while writing. But you are right designing & writing are the two dimensions of a coin where you’ll succeed in both if you have those confidence & boost in your innerself.

    I can say that when I started writing I started feeling that I’ve achieve something which I was missing very badly. Designing is also a part of what I’ll do very soon & which’ll bring me back to your post.

    Thanks.

    • Thanks hyderalis. I’m glad you’re writing despite any fear you might have. Never be afraid. Do your best and then do what you can to make your writing better. The one thing I can guarantee is if you don’t try you won’t get better.

      Also don’t be afraid to experiment and try something different. You might be surprised to know how many times I publish a post thinking it’s not going to do well and then it turns out to be one of my better received posts.

      That’s interesting that writing is helping you achieve something you felt missing. Do you know specifically what that is or is it more a feeling that’s gone away since you’ve started writing?

  4. Okay so when we try writing in different voice, that motivates us to try a new style??

    I’m still confused on how this is effective. I mean, I get the perfect comparisons. I just don’t get how they’re effectively used to see a notice. =/

    • Jarod, I’m not quite sure what you’re asking. It looks like your comment may have gotten cut off.

      I don’t think it’s so much about motivation as it is learning to try new things. Your voice in writing is in many ways similar to your style when designing. I think most people, myself included, tend to fall into habits. We get used to doing things a certain way and continue to do them the same way.

      If you practice writing in a different voice I think it can make it easier for you to be willing to design in a different style. Breaking habits in one and seeing how your writing improves, helps you see how doing similar with your style of design will improve your design skills.

      I hope that makes it a little clearer. If not ask again and I’ll try again.

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