Communication — The Connection Between Graphic Design and Writing

Last week when sharing my thoughts on multipurposing I offered that you could become more productive by looking at the tasks you have to do differently and understanding how you could do one thing and have it serve multiple purposes. There’s another side to this concept.

Note: This post includes an audio version. If you don’t see the audio above, Click here to listen.

Sometimes different activities have things in common and working on them separately can contribute to something important at the core of all of them. Sometimes it’s best to do multiple things that serve a single purpose.

Design and Writing

A couple of weeks ago I came across a short post by Jordan Koschei for The Industry. The post is titled Design Writing and the Self-Aware Industry and it comments on how there are many designers who also write about design.

Jordan brings up an interesting point that this is both positive to help the community learn and potentially negative in that the industry tends to iterate off each other instead of truly innovating. It’s a great point, however it’s not the reason I’m citing the article. I mention it for these two quotes from the start of the post.

  • We designers are natural observers
  • That same trait makes one a natural author

The reason why being a designer, specifically a graphic designer makes one a natural author is because both are fundamentally the same thing. Both are at the core about communication.

Both make use of language. The difference is each uses a different language with which to communicate. Getting better at one involves becoming a better communicator, which can then be applied to the other. Designers write, because writing helps make them better designers.

Multiple Disciplines Contributing to a Single Skill

Let’s dig a little deeper into how writing helps make you a better designer. As a designer a large part of your job is to communicate to an audience. To do that you have to learn the language of design. You learn how to work with things like

  • Space
  • Color
  • Lines
  • Shapes

You learn how to combine these things to create a design that’s balanced and leads the eye through it. You learn how to create focal points and develop a hierarchy of visual elements.

When you write you learn to work with a different set of elements. You learn how to use words and how to combine words into sentences and paragraphs according to rules of grammar. You learn to work with the language to create:

  • Pace
  • Tone
  • Story
  • Perspective

What you learn from writing can be indirectly applied to design. Pace, tone, story, and perspective can all be communicated visually. Learn to control pace through the rhythm of word structures and you’ll have a greater understanding how to control pace through the rhythm of graphic elements and space.

Design and writing use different tools, but at their core both are fundamentally the same. Both are about communicating as effectively as possible. Learning and practicing one helps you understand how to do the other better.

Learn to see how the things are connected. Train yourself to see both the vertical patterns that go deeper and the horizontal patterns that cut across.

Summary

Sometimes it’s best to take out two birds with a single throw of a stone. Other times you’re better off throwing stones at two different birds in order to learn how to throw better.

It’s a good idea to become more productive by doing things that contribute to multiple projects at the same time. It’s also a good idea to do more than you have to a times, because they share something in common and doing that common thing in a different way helps you see it from a new perspective.

The connection between writing and design is communication. Learning to communicate in one language will help you learn to communicate in another.

Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.

4 comments

  1. Love the new audio function! Also because you have such a great reading voice. Anyway regarding the article. I rarely need to write the text for any of my work but sometimes face receiving content from clients that is bad in grammar, spelling and selling power, anyway, that’s another matter. When i do need to write my own stuff, I normally write first and then design and then go back over my text a second time. That seems to work for me. In fact i’ve recently have been thinking do i need to get a copywriter, as i’m not brilliant at writing.

    • Thanks Jason. I appreciate the compliments. Always nice to hear.

      I usually don’t write content for clients either, though I have at times when it’s needed. I do a lot of writing in general though. Whether it’s here or at my forum or in the various emails I send. I think whenever writing you have the ability to improve your communicate skills and those skills can then be applied to design.

      Mostly what I’d like people to take from this post is that becoming a better writer can help you become a better designer and that many times seemingly different tasks share something in common and getting better at one helps you get better at the other.

    • Being an observer gets easier the more you practice. You just look and watch what’s around you and take note of what interests you.

      I’m not sure what you’re asking about mastering languages. You only need the one, but learning more is always a good thing.

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