There's no shortage of published opinions about the relationship between designing and writing. To summarize, good designers write.
I find it stressful to read a headline like that, since I can count the number of articles I've published on one hand. But the truth is, even though I'm not a prolific publisher, I write all the time. It's a vital part of my creative process. And it makes me a better designer by forcing me to clearly articulate my ideas and intentions before I design.
Brains are complicated.
Have you ever tried to explain an amazing dream? It probably didn’t make much sense. You backtrack, pivot, and quickly layer detail over detail while you search for the best way to express the things that you could see so clearly in your mind.
“... actually it was in a mall, but it was in space. A space mall. But, not like in the future, it was the present. A present where malls in space aren’t special. They’re as boring as they are now. I was shopping for Umbros, because of a big presentation that was coming up…”
You realize quickly that your dream is impossible to talk about without all of your memories as context. Sometimes ideas are like that, too. Writing them down can help you put clarity around what might be convoluted to start.
Writing to sort the weird.
Writing helps you think. It forces you to come at your ideas from a different direction, break them down, and discover their key attributes. When you can write creatively about an idea, you’ve gotten beyond the surface and have begun to understand its true substance.
Successfully expressing an idea in writing is an excellent first step toward figuring out how to convey it with design. Writing out your idea doesn’t mean that it’s perfect, or even that it’s good. But it does mean that it’s coherent enough to serve as a solid conceptual foundation.
If you’re trying to write about an idea and you can’t reach clarity–the idea just won’t take–then it’s probably not a very good idea. Like describing a convoluted dream to a friend.
Designing with purpose.
Writing before working visually can help you focus your effort. Having a substantive idea and knowing how to explain it gives the design process a roadmap. While it's possible to push pixels around long enough for a concept to take shape, that aimless approach is time consuming, and offers no guarantee of a satisfying result. It’s more productive to chase a clear vision than to wander around until you stumble onto something that looks nice.
At Fastspot, we bring writing into a website redesign process with documents we call Concept Briefs. Simply put, they are written expressions of our design ideas, paired with sketches to give a client a clear picture of what we want to explore.
Providing an explanation for a concept allows a designer to deliver a more rich, meaningful design. Conversely, designing before articulating an idea results in superficial work. It might look polished, but it doesn’t have conceptual substance.
All designers should write, whether it's to educate, critique, communicate, or create. Writing forces you to better understand your thoughts, weeds out the one-dimensional ideas, and gives your overall creative process purpose and direction.