Why Write?

One of my goals this year is to write, share, and engage more with the design community.

I’ve never been very good at writing. I do okay at the technical skill of writing, I can tell stories well when there’s a good story to tell, and my vocabulary is (what’s the word…) good, I guess. Where I fall short is simply the act of sitting down and writing. I’ve started a few blogs, only to let them go quietly into the Wayback Machine. I rarely Tweet, though ask my close friends and they’ll tell you I tend to have a lot on my mind. Is it fear of the rejection of strangers? Or fear that I have nothing good to say? Or laziness? Probably a bit of all.

So, that said, I’m going to try to do it for real this time.


To write, I must have something to write

This might seem somewhat circular, but here me out. In order to write, specifically to write about anything people will care about, a writer must first do something worth writing about. This can mean a few things. To “do” might be simply be thinking critically about a piece of creative work or an industry trend. It might be a side project or a new idea to prototype.

The creative mind must always be at play. I was recently at the Awwwards Digital Thinkers Conference, where Jessica Walsh, designer and partner at Sagmeister & Walsh gave a wonderful talk about “creative play.” She talked about some of her side projects like 40 Days of Dating and 12 Kinds of Kindness, and the importance of play and exploration to fulfill a designer’s creative currency. So true. As professionals, we are expected to output a lot of creativity-on-demand. While creativity isn’t finite, it can run out. We get blocked and lose our mojo. Finding time to “play” and explore concepts on our own terms helps keep balance.

What better way to encourage yourself to explore new ideas than to need something to write about?

Articulate, defend and document

Core to the design process is discussing work. In order to properly critique, or defend design work, a designer must know how to articulate their ideas. The notion that “design” should speak for itself is false. Design shouldn’t speak at all. In context, design should just do it’s job. If the design of an object abstracts the objects meaning it has overstepped. The design is opinionated and has become the product.

This being the case, the designer or designers must be able to articulate that which the design itself can’t express, both amongst a design team, and to stakeholders with no understanding of the nature of design. Furthermore, designers are often expected to thoroughly communicate and document design specifications to manufacturers, developers, etc.

Sharing is vetting

There are things that should be confidential, specifically the business information that our clients share and entrust to us. When it comes to methodology and practice, however, I believe in openness in the spirit of moving the practice of design forward. We as designers shouldn’t be afraid to share our thoughts and opinions, and foster a spirit of dialog about our craft.

Sharing our ideas through writing makes them stronger. It requires us to articulate and refine them, and challenges our existing biases. Which is kind of scary. Good. To internalize our notions of the way the world should work, without challenge, leads us down a lonely path where we reject healthy critique and collaboration.


Now, I’m certainly not the first to write on this topic. And while it might seem like I’m making the case that all designers should write (and I do think that), my intent here is more so to set a context for what I’m trying to do with this space and my own journey as a designer. Honestly, I’m not sure what I’ll write about here. In school, I explored a lot of mediums, from video to hand processes and programming. Maybe I’m trying to get a little bit of that back. Or maybe I feel myself distancing from design as a discipline through the every-day practice of it, and am looking for the trail. We’ll see.

Like what you read? Give Steve Norell a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.