Writing is a Product Designer's Real Unicorn Skill


riting is a designer’s real “unicorn” skill — and one that is often overlooked by many, myself included. Over the last few years I’ve dipped my toes in and out of Medium, my newsletter, and even journalling; because I love to write. I admittedly am not the best (as know only too well) but it’s something that I have come to realise goes hand in hand with design.

As a product designer (or whichever title we’re using this week), it might not seem as if writing is all that essential; however not only does knowing how to write improve your ability to communicate (the fundamental purpose of design), but writing itself is design.

The ability to communicate through the written word is simultaneously one of the simplest, and the highest impact skills you could add to your repertoire; making you more valuable to clients and companies alike.

Below are a few of the biggest reasons I believe that learning to write will impact the quality of your work more than anything else.

Copy is UI design.

When it comes to copy-writing for user interfaces; we want to be heard and not seen. The copy should add real value, while not getting in the way of the experience — as such, the ability to understand the impact of words and how we use them is essential.

From delivering clear prompts, to guiding the consumers through an on-boarding process, the words we choose to communicate should have as much thought and intention behind them as the colours, typography, or any other element on the page.

Copy can make or break an experience.

In addition to the points above, tonality and structure is incredibly important. Writing can be used to build trust, give clear direction, or alert a consumer when something is wrong — and as a counter point, choosing the wrong format of writing can be detrimental to the goal we’re trying to achieve.

As an example; the copy we may utilise in a social app for millennials, would be vastly different to the copy chosen in a CRM for a law firm. The lack of emojis, being the biggest differentiator 😉.

Writing reveals your thoughts.

We have Dribbble, Instagram, and Behance for showcasing our visuals — but design doesn’t stop there. Even more important than showcasing the sunset gradients and drop shadows, is sharing why you chose them — aesthetic is subjective, but delivering clear reasoning and logic will put your work ahead of the pack.

In addition to being able to share your process in an enjoyable and engaging way, writing opens the door for sharing design thoughts, principles, and other knowledge that others may find useful — which in turn, will allow you to build a network and a following. Whether you’re a freelancer, in-house, or agency designer, building a strong network can be a huge asset.

But I don’t know how to write.

Writing is something that comes naturally for some; and for other is equivalent to pulling teeth. I was, for a long time, the latter — and only recently have I become more comfortable in writing. One of the things I found most beneficial, was to approach learning to write in the same way I approached learning to design;

  1. Practice a lot. Just as with design; you can study for years, but ultimately there is no replacement for creating. Try to introduce writing as a habitual-practice — whether it’s on Medium, Instagram (a great place for microblogs), or a personal journal.
  2. Analyse. When consuming other’s writing attempt to look beyond the meaning, and analyse word choice and sentence structure. Just as we analyse design, we can break down the decisions and intent in written pieces.
  3. Replicate. One of the best methods you can employ as a student — find work you admire, and replicate it. It can be exact, as in painting, or design, or less exact (as I would recommend for writing). Try to extract tonality, intent, and structure — then employ similar methods to your own work.
  4. Seek feedback. Receiving feedback (and more importantly, actioning upon said feedback) can help improve your writing more than perhaps anything else.

Writing is something I’ve always loved, but only in the last few years have I started to treat it seriously — and as a real asset in many ways. I try to write a few times a week (sometimes that makes it here, other times… not) and at least once a week to my email list.

As with all skills — practice and patience is essential.

Do you have any tips for learning to write? I’d love to hear them below, or shoot me a tweet.