DESIGNERS. In a free, hour-long AIGA DesignCast on June 2, Andrea Marks presented “Writing Tips for Visual Thinkers.” The tips were culled from her book entitled “Writing for Visual Thinkers,” which was based on a course she developed at Oregon State University to help designers feel more comfortable writing. Entitled “Contemporary Issues in Design,” the university course was based on the premise that students would write more if they were encouraged to write about a topic they are all already passionate about.
Although visual thinkers tend to be more comfortable processing information visually, no one is solely a visual thinker or verbal thinker, Marks emphasized in the DesignCast. When you incorporate verbal thinking into your approach to a task, you’re likely to strengthen both your verbal and visual skills. She pointed out the both Thomas Edison and Leonardo DaVinci both kept notebooks filled with both sketches and written notes.
Marks observed that while designers work with text and type all the time, many lack confidence when it comes to expressing their thoughts in writing. To help students get over this fear, Marks found ways designers could use writing not only to present their work, but also to generate ideas at the beginning of a project. She mentioned four of these during the DesignCast.
Mind Maps and Concept Maps are visual diagrams of words that relate to a central concept.
Freewriting is a technique that can help bring hidden ideas into the visible world. After the focus of the “freewrite” has been defined, you give yourself a time limit (from 3 to 5 minutes), then start writing whatever pops into your mind. The key is to relax, keep your pen on the paper, and not worry about grammar, punctuation, or spelling. If an intriguing idea results from your first round of freewriting, circle it and make that the focus of your next freewrite period. After 30 or 40 minutes, this process can result in a wealth of ideas.
Brainwriting is like a written form of brainstorming, and can attract ideas from people who feel may not feel comfortable expressing themselves orally. It starts with a structured form, on which each member of the group is given five minutes to jot down three ideas related to a certain question. When the form is passed to the next person in the group, he or she can either add three more ideas or elaborate on some of the ideas already written down.
Here are a few of the other tips Andrea Marks presented:
Carry sketchbook with you at all times. Jot down images and ideas wherever you go. Enjoy the tactile, physical nature of writing in a sketchbook. It can be inspiring, and a pleasant diversion from daily digital life.
Read well-crafted writing and ask yourself why it’s good. Branch out and read writing in a variety of forms, such as short stories, poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. The best writers are prodigious readers,
Strive to find the essence of what you want to say, just as you work to distill a variety of ideas into a company logo. Be prepared to write several drafts, just as you create several iterations of a design. Have a skilled writer proofread or edit your work. Or ask someone to read your writing aloud.
Use sticky notes to write an outline. It’s more fun, and you can move your thoughts and ideas around to find the best flow.
Marks points out that there are many ways you must present yourself through words, including resumes, cover letters, blog entries, grant proposals and design briefs. If you spend some time each day honing your writing skills, you’ll gain the confidence and ability to handle all of these requirements and add your voice to shaping the future of design.
In the introduction to the book “Writing for Visual Thinkers,” Ellen Lupton writes: “I can’t think of a single, well-known designer who doesn’t write well…They have all published books or essays about their own work, as well about bigger issues in the world of design.”
“Writing for Visual Thinkers, 2nd Edition” is published by Peachpit. The 144-page book includes a companion CD with an e-book containing hundreds of links to articles, books, websites, blogs, wikis, video, and audio podcasts by writers and designers. It also includes exercises that that push you to explore writing strategies that can enrich your design work. You can preview pages and a sample chapter of the book on the Peachpit website.