Using writing to get inspired in UX project planning

I recently started a new sketchbook. So far, I’ve filled it with some vague sketches and doodles of concepts I was trying to explain to others or to understand myself—but overwhelmingly, my sketchbook is filled with words.

Over the past few weeks, on our team, our main tools of choice have been pens, paper and word processors over sketches and design software.

Writing in UX design is a powerful tool for discovery and learning in the inspiration phase of a project, and well beyond it. We’re using writing as a key tool to both get started and get inspired — to plan for our project and to frame our design problem. Here are some of the ways we’re doing so.

Writing for goal-setting

We’ve been doing a lot of research the past few weeks, looking at our product market, different design tools, our user base, and relevant literature, for example.

Along with conversations with our stakeholders, we’ve compiled a lot of information over the past few weeks. Through writing, we distil that data into a tangible, actionable project tool: goals. The process of writing is key to our understanding of our research — it helps us aggregate what we know into our project plan.

Writing for user research

Planning user research takes a lot of writing. Perhaps most importantly, planning user research requires setting goals. We’re going to be conducting user interviews, as well as doing some sketching and show-and-tell activities. Before we can plan out how these activities will run, we have to set goals for them — and those goals can make or break the value of the data we get from the process.

Writing goals for user interviews and activities helps us to better frame our project. To write goals, we need to spend some time critically reflecting on what it is we want to get out of the research and why the mode of research we’ve chosen is the best one to get that information. This iterative writing exercise helps us focus our research so that our activities can precisely target the information we need.

Writing for communication

Discussing and editing goals for our user interviews.

The process of writing out goals also helps us communicate better as a team. Using the goals identified both for our project and our user research, we collaborate on phrasing to ensure not only the quality of our goals, but also agreement on our goals. In the process of iterating upon our goals and our project plan, we come closer to a shared understanding of our project and our design challenge.

Writing for critical reflection

Writing blog posts helps us to reflect on our design process and our research so far. It gives us some headspace to take a step back and question: do our chosen research methods really align with our goals? Is there a gap in our research that we need to fill?

Further, when we write blog posts, we have to do some more research—looking around for sources on topics similar to our post to get more background information. This helps us to expand our perspectives on the issues we’re writing about.

I suspect my sketchbook will soon be covered in sketches and scribbles from interviews — but we’re still a long way from screens. Starting with words, we’re carefully iterating upon the articulation of our design problem. Going forward into the user research phase in the next few weeks, we’re just about ready to jump in, equipped with a strong sense of the questions we want answered and the goals we want to achieve.

Some sources of inspiration for this post: