Churning out one design after another isn’t the only way to prove to your current clients & prospective clients that you know what you’re doing. Writing can be a boon to business. But where should you start? How much should you write? And most importantly, what’s stopping you from writing right now? There’s nothing to be afraid of.
A bevy of platforms exist for you to hit the ground running and share your writing quickly and easily. WordPress, TypePad, Tumblr, Squarespace, Wix, and other content management systems have built-in blogging tools. Medium is another option. Lea Alcantara, partner and lead designer at Bright Umbrella, suggests independent systems such as Statamic and Craft CMS for blogging. “Both of them are made for people who focus on branding, design, and user experience. Instead of designing for the platform, the platform conforms to your design. This avoids cookie-cutter designs for your site—which, as a designer, you prioritize, right?”
If it all seems daunting and you don’t know where to start, then begin anywhere. Matthew Manos, founder and managing director of verynice and author of How to Give Half of Your Work Away for Free and Toward a Preemptive Social Enterprise, sees writing as valuable, no matter where you choose to share your words. “By taking the time to write our ideas and motivations down in the form of various books, toolkits, articles, tweets, etc., my team and I have been able to clarify our own purpose while also motivating others along the way to figure out their own.” Yes, tweets count too, and Manos says that “the forced brevity” can help any designer with their communication skills. “I’d challenge them to explain each of their projects in the form of a tweet.”
You can push your words out there through tweets, a.k.a. microblogging, and you can also write short- or long-form articles online, a.k.a. blogging. Manos sees blogging as a relevant practice, but to him the blog environment is not relevant. “I say this because the place in which online readers spend their time is becoming much harder to control in regard to how/when/where your content is being read. Also, there are a lot more people fighting for the same users now than ever before. Put simply, if you go and launch a new blog today, you essentially are in competition with Facebook because the amount of time people have on the Internet is limited! As a result, I’d say that a good blog is responsive to multiple reading environments, is platform-agnostic, has a strong understanding of its users, and is (obviously) well-written!” In short, promotion matters. You’ve got to push your writing out there. Your stories, ideas, and concepts can be great, but if they are not reaching people, as Bright Umbrella’s Alcantara says, then “all that is moot.”
Eric Karjaluoto, smashLAB creative director, has been writing and publishing through his own blog over the years. Prior to erickarjaluoto.com, he published at ideasonideas.com. “I write because I love the practice of it. Writing helps me think through arguments and form stronger opinions. It also gives me a way to connect with others (which is nice, because I’m an introvert).” Since he began writing, Karjaluoto says that he’s learned three lessons:
- Know your purpose. I used to just start writing, without choosing what I wanted to say. This resulted in meandering articles. In time, I learned to use outlines to focus my writing. Now, I first write a TL;DR, which keeps me on topic. Say one thing; save the rest for another time.
- Use plain language. In the past, I used a lot of big words. I’m embarrassed when I re-read those articles. I only wrote that way to seem smarter than I was. Doing so was a mistake. Writing isn’t about the writer’s ego. It’s about conveying information. Be clear and succinct.
- Tell your own stories. When I try to write like someone else, it falls flat. (I’d love to tell stories like Malcolm Gladwell does, but I’m not him.) That said, I have stories to tell, and my own unique way of telling them. Readers often reach out, noting that they found these articles useful. There’s only one of you; use this to your advantage.
Not only does Karjaluoto write because it’s enjoyable, but writing has proven to be beneficial for his day-to-day studio work because it’s “a persuasive means of communication,” he says. “For example, if I write a good design brief, the client tends to be more receptive to the visual solution I later present.” When asked about publishing, and actually getting your writing out there, Karjaluoto has some words of encouragement and caution. “It isn’t important for designers to publish. (For many, it’s a distraction.) That said, all designers should write, and practice writing. Doing so will help you explain your reasoning—and get buy-in on projects.”
Writing can improve the way you work with and communicate with existing clients. But what about landing new clients? “Blogging can be a path to establishing yourself as an expert in your field,” says Emily Lewis, partner and lead developer at Bright Umbrella. Her blog led to her first book deal, and then her first speaking engagement. Her colleague Lea Alcantara, says that blogging led to her first paid speaking event in New York—even though she lived in Alberta, Canada at the time. “Blogging has the potential not only to establish yourself as an expert, but to erase borders,” says Alcantara.
BOLTGROUP’s How Do You Transform a Brand? Start Here.
When you’re an expert in your field, you have to stay current, always learning, and always sharing your knowledge. Writing and publishing is a great way to share that knowledge, something that founders of BOLTGROUP, a Charlotte-based brand, product, and experience design studio, have been doing for years. Jamey Boiter, principal of brand strategy, design and experience, has written for Fast Company, and his colleague Monty Montague, principal of product design and innovation, has written for IDSA. When BOLTGROUP redesigned their website two years ago, they included a blogging platform to share articles. Content strategy and promotion are instrumental to the success of their Brand Insights and Product Insights. The work seeds the ground according to Boiter, and it’s even resulted in new business because of something someone read there.
Ideate, embody, articulate—the key ingredients to product innovation success. Learn more in the insights section of boltgroup.com! #BOLTblogs #BOLTproduct . . . https://boltgroup.com/ideate-embody-articulate #productinnovation #customillustration #contentwriting #strategy #designlife #charlotte #charlottesgotalot #nc #clt #cltnc #ideate #embody #articulate
BOLTGROUP promotes their Brand Insights and Product Insights through social media, posting artwork on Instagram, with links to the articles and hashtags to augment the post. And they also maintain an email list, pushing out a digest twice a month to subscribers—promotion that pays off. Bree Basham, vice president of creative at BOLTGROUP, says that some older clients have come back to them because of an Insights email they received. “Emails are a reminder that we’re still here.” Creating one new post after another also has the added benefit of showing Google that they’re still here, constantly updating their site. This positively impacts search engine optimization (SEO), according to Basham, which in turn, helps them get found via Google searches. In fact, if you want to learn more about SEO, they have an Insight about that.
Content strategy, marketing, promotion, and SEO are definitely important when it comes to getting your writing out there, especially if you house it at your personal, studio, or company website. But if those technical matters are outside of your wheelhouse—or outside of your interest—then don’t fret. Write anywhere, about anything. Write about what you know, what you enjoy, and what keeps you invested. Or write about something that’s a lot of fun, which is what RIT assistant professor of design Mitch Goldstein did when he was Angry Paul Rand on Twitter. He created—or inhabited—a personality that, to this day, many designers still talk about. Angry Paul Rand is gone, but Goldstein is still on Twitter. “While I do think there are many, many caveats to using Twitter as a place for real discourse, it does provide a framework for me to distill my ideas down into clearly written chunks that help me understand what I am thinking about.” In terms of long-form writing, Goldstein recently launched The First Five Years at 99u, a monthly column about transitioning from design school into the design profession.
Fellow academic Amy Papaelias, associate professor of graphic design at SUNY New Paltz, is also a prolific writer and co-founder of Alphabettes.org. ”Writing has always been important to me. I was writing/designing/producing my own zine in high school way before I knew that an actual profession existed where people get paid to design publications. Writing about design allows me to process the process, to articulate the reason something looks or performs the way it does. It’s flexing the part of my brain that is always asking why.” Alphabettes.org, which Papaelias started with Indra Kupferschmid, has done extremely well and is still going strong. New voices are always welcome, she says, and you can submit online. “We’re always thrilled when someone reaches out with an article idea. Writing and publishing as a collective is a lot of work, but the goal has always been to maintain a space that is supportive and welcoming to new contributors.” When you’re ready to write, keep the words of Amy Papaelias in mind, “Everyone has something interesting to say.”
As soon as you have something to say, you’ve just got to get started. But so many publishing platforms exist that it might be intimidating. For some advice, consider what Bright Umbrella’s Emily Lewis shared in Choosing a CMS? Don’t Skip These Conversations! If you’re considering WordPress as a blogging CMS, read Emily’s We Don’t Build WordPress Sites before committing to it. And remember, you don’t necessarily have to build it all yourself—launching your own blog, laying out the CMS—you can submit and pitch to existing blogs, including but not limited to trade publications, professional organizations, and other online media.
You have something to say, but can’t get started? Afraid of writing? Pshaw! Did that fear originate in school, when you were told by a teacher that You can’t write or You write dreadfully? You didn’t earn the grades you wanted on your essays, research papers, poems, or haikus? Put those memories behind you. Just dive in. But don’t expect perfection, which can also lead to fear, preventing you from starting or finishing. Face it, you might not get your written work 100% right, nor 100% the way you want it. Truth is: you probably won’t get it right—that’s what rewrites are for.
IDEATE, EMBODY, ARTICULATE feature image courtesy of BOLTGROUP.