Is Writing the Most Valuable Design Skill?

“Design is about people, not technology. In order to design great products, you need to understand not just what you’re making, but why you’re making it. You do that by empathizing with your customers to feel their pain, and designers are effective only after doing so.

Like designers, great writers understand their audience. They do their research, because the plot and character development has to be believable, complete, and without gaps. They develop empathy for the main characters, fiction or non-fiction; understanding not just who they are, but how they became the way they are,” writes Yazzin Akkawi in a 2017 piece for Medium, Forget coding. The best designers are writers.

I would argue the same. After all, what's great design without effective and concise communication?

Lots of websites tend to be quite verbose when pitching an idea. But they forget how distracted the rest of us are and so I like to use a combination of carefully chosen words, photography and design that makes for an effective user experience.

And while I taught myself HTML way back in 1996, I'm an artist so coding is the last thing I want to keep up with.

Akkawi goes on to say that:

“It doesn’t matter what tech stack or programming language Snapchat is using, if I can’t get to my camera view in under 3 seconds to capture a fleeting moment, it becomes much less useful and valuable to me.

It’s really important to maintain that context every step of the way and hold true to it throughout the product development lifecycle. Great designers understand how to articulate and summarize context of use. They know how to share that story with other stakeholders so that product teams can have clear alignment. Sharing intimate details of the customer’s story allows the entire company to empathize with and rally around the customer’s pain points.

Whether it’s in the form of personas, storyboards, journey maps or even a plain old written narrative, great designers start with clear, compelling narratives about the context of the customer’s problem they’re solving for. Like storytelling, every design project has one or more protagonists, a setting, a plot, a conflict and a resolution. Both writers and designers arrive to the resolution in similar ways.

Granted, learning to code can help designers make technical decisions that impact usefulness. For example, Instagram, in it’s infancy, couldn’t afford to allow for both landscape and portrait mode, so the designers decided to make every posted photo a perfect square. It was a smart design decision because it meant you didn’t have to choose which way to take your photos. The designers could not have made that decision without a working understanding of code, so there’s a serious case to be made for designers who can code.

But at the end of the day, if you lose sight of the end-user, none of that matters. What companies need now and in the near future are designers that are writers and storytellers. Good writing skills enable designers to tell a strong narrative of the customer in a holistic, memorable way. The result is thoughtful design; creating products that people love and can’t live without.”

I couldn't agree more. At the end of the day, I don't want to get bogged down in messy coding. I want to focus on how the design functions for the user.