Writing is the primary design skill, we should celebrate it more.

I wonder whether we think about writing enough when we think about design. I am not a dedicated student of design, but I am not aware of a great deal of commentary and guidance on the topic for those who are. (Corrective advice is very welcome regarding this assumption). 

Design conversations and efforts have a tendency to focus on what things look like and what people can do with them. So, graphics and interaction take precedent. Written elements risk being demoted to copywriting after the fact. When we celebrate great design, whatever that might mean to us, the applause is for the presentation and the functional value.

Where content is concerned, the learning profession does value writing. Scripting and storyboarding are essential writing skills, laying the foundation for what come next. No good content can be created from bad scripts. (Plenty of trash can be conjured from poor scripting however). This is one of the reasons Hollywood productions take so long. The cameras don’t roll until the pages are ready. I wonder whether our world always regards the scripting stage with that level of respect?

I suspect the value is even better hidden further upstream of our creation and production work. Writing about the purpose and desired outcomes of what is being designed is as important as script creation. In amongst the analysis, scoping and diagnosis is where real written treasure lies. This is where the language of the customer and the audience should come to life. This is where insight and empathy need to be expressed, where the tone is set. A lucid expression not only of what is to be created is required but also of what it is for and why that is important. If good scripts are required for good content, the quality of those scripts rests, in turn, on clear direction. In the desiccated language of the modern workplace, good documentation is required. 

In part, this about the discipline of written communication: sentence construction, structured argument creation of pyramids and such. Clarity is everything and economy is a great ally. In larger part this is about describing the problem to be solved and the rationale for doing so. Here, I think we should stretch our focus beyond the description of objectives to the articulation of purpose. We have a chance to help people to care about our stuff.

In my experience, high quality writing is rare and the result of considerable thought and effort. Finding great writing talent can be an equal challenge and should be at the heart of our content design and creation efforts. It can be learned, so we should have this figured out really. It can also be influenced by wide reading of the work of others. For those of us in the learning game, we might consider looking to the journalism and advertising worlds for inspiration and contributors. I know many teams are routinely doing this. 

Perhaps it is time for the establishment of an award to raise the bar and celebrate these unsung heroes. 

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