Writing for Graphic Designers: A Designer’s Guide

Typically, the writing isn’t done properly by product managers as they are trying to solve everything with “pure design.” They often believe that a really good design doesn’t need an explanation or that using words means failure.

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Although most people don’t realize that, writing is an essential part of the design. Actually, words are the most powerful design elements as they can convey deeply complex meaning in a small space. Also, words are easy to manipulate and transmit. Being able to use words in design in the right way makes a difference because they are deeply integrated throughout the user’s experience. Designs depend on writing as words can take them one step further. Proper writing can explain the approach or philosophy that underlies the design you’ve created. Certain wording can reinforce how you want users to view your work.

To support your design work, you will need to learn three different categories of writing described below.

  1. Interface copy is the text made of single words or short phrases that are deeply integrated within the interface. It can involve navigation labels, error messages, text on buttons, or some labels for form fields written in various fonts
  2. Product copy is the text that is integral to the function of the site, app, or product but not necessarily a part of the interface. It is focused on helping or supporting users and can be a description of updates or the body of an onboarding email. 
  3. Marketing copy is focused on persuading users. Therefore, it is longer-form writing that has primarily a sales or promotional function.

To make writing easier in the design context, view it in terms of workflow. It means you should have a big-picture idea of techniques and tools to use at different writing phases that include preparation, composition, and editing. Plan every step and learn every tool that you need to get your writing done. This way you won’t miss anything. To plan the workflow out, you can create a structured worksheet for yourself or just sketch it out. The most important thing is to know exactly how you will complete your writing before you start working on it.

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For designers, writing means that they should forget what they were taught at college. For instance, at university students learn to hit word counts, stick to credit for using certain words, and cram sources into essays. On the contrary, such academic standards don’t work for designers as they don’t need to use intellectual style and should follow the principle ‘the shorter, the better’. Instead of sounding smart, designers need to make their writing accessible.

Comprehension goes hand-in-hand with concision so designers should aim for brevity and use the least number of words possible to get a message across. 

What’s more, the content shouldn’t look like a sales page. Instead, the language must be carefully built around the proposition. While describing the benefits, writing shouldn’t sound pushy. Also, designers should avoid too many exclamation points not to make the text look disingenuous. 

Writing can be hard because it’s personal and should carry a little echo of you. Besides, designers should care a lot about the voice, tone, and structure of their writing. But the good news is that it is more like design than you might think. It requires doing the same activities like designing, such as defining the problem, identifying constraints, and exploring solutions. Learning some of the essential skills of effective writing helps to create content that inspires and acknowledges users.  

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In addition, writing can help designers build their audience. Those professionals who help people get insight into what they do and how they work can get customers easily. Writing has contributed to the success of such famous designers as Tobias Van Schneider, Paul Jarvis, and Julie Zhou. You can get inspired by their example and try to make monthly writing a habit. Remember that building an online presence and becoming a part of a community is possible mainly through writing.

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