Writing is design. But designers aren’t taught to write.


People enter a design course expecting to design, but never write. But without words designers are missing an important tool in their kit. Words are a big part of design, just as they’re a big part of life.

Writing can be daunting. It’s subjective and messy. Meanwhile, visual creatives can be perfectionists, if not a little prone to obsessive-compulsive disorder. For a designer trained to spot even spacing between letters and balance margins, getting into the disorder of wordsmithing is like playing charades in Latin. It’s why a lot of people don’t like writing.

But the key in great writing is simplicity, much like a lot of design. Although it might not be taught at design school, it’s a skill that anyone can benefit from and anyone can improve on.

Show your work

Writing and design go hand in hand. When we send work to clients or submit work to be marked as students we have to ‘show’ our process and ideas. Writing makes thinking solid. If you ever need to ‘sell’ an idea, you need words. 

Some creatives are more confident in presenting their thinking rather than writing it, but we don’t always get a chance to present face-to-face (i.e. the year 2020 so far). Often your proposal will be PDF’d and emailed to other people. We still need words of some type to guide people. Designers that can write about their process bring more trust and transparency to a process that can be totally unclear to people who aren’t involved in it.

Consistency, consistency, consistency

Language and tone make visuals work harder and together they evoke an idea more effectively. 

As creatives, it’s our job to fit these puzzle pieces together. Each piece represents the intangible bits of a brand; their values and essential meaning. If you own a fancy up-market restaurant then, hey, call us because we’re always hungry. But you’d likely have sophisticated and minimal branding that conveyed the aesthetic of the in-dining experience. And you wouldn’t betray that modern look with playful, excitable language. Your tone of voice would be cultivated, refined and informative.

Once more with feeling

Words that are well designed have an emotional charge. Design with considered language has a feeling. Think of how a handwritten note speaks differently to a typed message, even if they’re saying the same thing. The way something looks can lift the sentiment of the words. And vice-versa. The way something reads can elevate the visuals — if you’ve ever compared a web page filled with lorem ipsum to its final copy you’d know. 

When designers lose sight of the words, we lose sight of the design too.

Brands need both

Compelling brands like Nike, Airbnb and the usual suspects are never ‘just’ design or ‘just’ copywriting. They’re both. If one side doesn’t pull its weight, the other side gets let down. Designers that at least pay attention to words can create brands that feel cohesive, more trustworthy and clear.

And if you’re managing or creating a brand you can stress-test your visual identity with words. When you see a mock-up of your brand really think about how the visual and verbal work together. Do the words harmonise with the visual style? Or do they clash? Could your competitor’s voice slot in without a noticeable difference? Paying attention to only one half of this equation lets down the sum of what your brand can be, so make sure your designers at least understand the value of words.

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