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Writing about design when you don’t know what to write

uxdesign.cc – User Experience Design — Medium | Craig Phillips

5 article types & a few tips to get started

Writing is becoming more and more of a thing designers do. For some of us, that’s good. We like writing, and it makes up for our other social and professional deficiencies. 😅

For others, it might just not be their thing.

I bet this second group is in the majority. And maybe that’s why you’re reading this.

Here are five types of articles relevant for designers. If you’re trying to get into writing and feeling stuck, this may help you pin down an approach. Pick one and start sharing your wisdom with us.

1. Opinion Pieces

Here’s a stance—the best designers are those that balance fierce opinions with confident humility. The old strong opinions loosely held maxim. The thing about opinions is you need them to design, and writing about them is an excellent way to jump into writing.

What

Your thoughts, blood, and guts laid out on the notepad of life. Kidding, but really, these are insightful articles with a message. Maybe the message isn’t super practical, or maybe it is. It should make a clear point, preferably in not-too-many words. The key thing is it’s your opinion.

Why

Writing about our opinions on design helps us to develop and articulate how we approach problems, and clarify what’s important to us. They help us find a voice, establish our own design principles, and help readers to figure out their own opinions.

Plus there is such a low barrier to entry. A brain will do. Go write.

How

The possibilities are endless, but best to start by observing everything and making meaning out of it all. The place you live, the people you interact with, the books you read, the movies you watch, the struggles you have, any success you achieve.

The best opinion pieces speak from the heart and connect everyday things to our lives as designers (or, as people).

2. Process & Best Practice

Now we’re getting to more practical design writing.

What

Process pieces help designers work better, whether that’s in formulating their design process, learning how they can fix small or big problems, and balance being ‘heads down’ and contributing to their company as a whole.

Why

It’s helpful, and will make you a trusted resource for people struggling. Work is hard. People are weird. Dynamics at work can be good, or terrible, usually a bit of both. Figuring out the processes to work better will always be a valuable contribution.

How

Be overly observant in you workplace. Writing about processes and improving the day-to-day work life of designers requires empathy with those around you. Talk to people, both those with ideas for how things should be, and those who are frustrated with the current state. Gather your thoughts, write, publish, repeat.

3. Deep Dives & How To’s

These articles are by far the most practical type, since they dig into the craft of design and the tools we all use. Writing them shows we know our stuff, and we have command of the craft.

What

We’ve always had tools, and we need to learn those tools to do our work. These pieces give us guidance and instruction to create things. Some simple, some complex. All very useful.

Why

Two things. First, it shows we can deliver. Delivering is good. Second, it shows we can explain and teach others how to deliver. Those are two essential characteristics of any designer who hopes to earn a living doing design, and grow into a design leader.

Ideas

Experiment with your tools, watch other designer videos and read their articles. Be a creator, and document your steps. Once you know your tool, you’ll be able to share it.

But tools are changing fast. Your piece might be outdated in a few months. Keep this in mind as you write, and decide whether you want to focus on specific features, or on the concepts behind the features.

4. Unsolicited Redesigns & Teardowns

Good for an empty portfolio, for fun, to learn, and for making enemies. Could even land you a job.

What

These pieces are the ones where designers take someone else’s product, analyze it, and in some cases redesign certain elements (or the whole damn thing). “How I’d Redesign Gmail in an Hour”, or “Why LinkedIn needs more Dark Patterns”. Feel free to steal those.

Why

These pieces speak volumes (good and bad) to how you approach problems, and come up with solutions. They’re often shared a lot, so it can be a way to get some eyes on you as well. Careful though, they can work for or against you.

How

Don’t be presumptuous, or inflate how great you think your redesign is. Design never happens in a vacuum, and designers always need to compromise. A lone designer, with little to no research, no team dynamics, a working coffee machine, and full control over the heat of their room. That’s not the real world.

Be honest and humble, above all else. Give props where they’re due. Your article should flatter them, not piss them off. Be clear on why you’re writing it, and frame the approach accordingly.

5. Product critique

Critique is a funny thing. People are not known for known for giving helpful feedback on design. But it’s something that designers need to be good at. In my opinion, good digital product design critique is lacking.

What

Similar to the teardowns above, but more conceptual. A critique is not necessarily redesigning anything, or touching an interface, though it can be. It should get to the heart of a product’s value proposition, or how it was executed.

Why

Like teardowns and opinion pieces, it shows you have a mind. And, if done well, that you have the powers of critical thinking and analysis. These are all important qualities for designers, so showing you have them is a good thing.

How

Designers tend to lean towards one of two critique styles — tearing apart others’ work (ie the MO of the internet) or giving pure praise (Dribbble). Try to approach critique with more nuance.

Like you’re critiquing the work of a friend you care about, and also want to succeed. Candid feedback is what he/she needs, but every product has good and bad, so make sure to be balanced.

*BONUS: Humor & Satire

I couldn’t leave without my favorite flavor of article. Not a type, exactly, but a style I wish more designers wrote in.

What

Humor and satire is self explanatory. They are the pieces that make you laugh, giggle, or snicker. Maybe even chuckle or snort. Emphasis here on you, the writer. Your readers may or may not laugh, but as long as you do, keep going.

Why

A sense of humor is healthy. Laughter is good for the soul. If we can’t laugh at ourselves, then we’re taking things too seriously. Our professions included. It is possible to be serious about good design, and still laugh at all of our collective quirks.

How

I think it’s ideal to have some truth behind the jokes, if possible. When I wrote my 2018 UX predictions, it was a bit random, but I also wanted to highlight issues within our industry. When I wrote about alternatives to the hamburger menu, I wanted to make fun of this ubiquitous icon everyone uses. (Links below)

Writing with humor is freeing, and it allows you to shed any anxieties you have about putting your words out in the world. Or at least trade them for a different kind of anxiety (a fun kind). If you’re trying to get started in writing, it’s a great gateway drug.

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the piece. I wrote this as a resource to help aspiring design writers to put their pens to paper in a different way.

Let me know what you think in the comments below, and stay in touch by following me here.

ps. All the doodle animations are my own, made in a few minutes using Animatic. Go check it out!

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Writing about design when you don’t know what to write was originally published in UX Collective on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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