Writing By Design

The most obvious connection between writing and design is communication. Graphic designers communicate through visual elements, and writers communicate through the written word. Although they make use of different tools, essentially they both foreground methods that bring about an exchange of information. But can learning graphic design help us understand something about writing?

My writing process is a lot like the process I use to design graphics. In fact, I might even argue that graphic design has improved my writing process. Because writing has been such a seemingly “intuitive” endeavor for much of my life, I never really took the time to reflect in great detail on methods for honing, or practicing, the artistic craft of writing.

As crafts, both writing and design are effective only to the extent that they convey their messages clearly. Each depend on a kind of simplicity that makes their tone, story, and perspective clear. To this end, an important part of both writing and design is learning to eliminate clutter, or elements that distract from the purpose of any creative piece.

And while some may argue that so-called “clutter” constitutes a writer’s or a designer’s specific style, with both writing and design, the complexity, effectiveness, and quality of the work depends on a clearly defined goal, direction, scope, and exigence for the project. Of course style is important for both writing and design, but all the style in the world cannot make up for a reader or user’s weak experience with the text or interface.

Teachers of writing have historically prioritized specificity and concision with their pedagogy, but perhaps learning to do graphic design would make these important writing skills even more tangible for students. Writing is a craft that certainly relies on processes of revision in order to make its messages heard, but because of its visual components, perhaps design is more well-suited to foreground the specific processes of systematically and creatively adding and subtracting elements to a text in order to achieve effective communication.

For me, there’s no question that good writers make better designers. But might good designers make better writers too?

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