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Design Writing, a design process made of words only

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Design Writing, a design process made of words only

Design Writing is a design management process based on a clear set of formats, a multidisciplinary view, and a talent that excels in writing. It is neither professional writing nor technical writing. The fundamental purpose is to translate and articulate the brand positioning into storytelling assets in actionable text formats. However, this is a process where the management / consulting side of the equation is as important as the inventiveness and serendipity of creative writing.

One might say there are two levels of Design Writing manifestations, one visible to everyone involved with a brand – and fundamental to shaping people’s perceptions and feelings about its images – and one invisible to most people, hidden in the managerial and creative processes within the enterprise.

Visibile Design Writing

At the level of mass visibility, one might account for all the “classic” above the line, below the line, and public relations assets, historically designed to persuade through propositions as varied from political propaganda to everyday commodities. This cluster of written manifestations belongs to a great tradition of mass media communication that goes back to the Masters of Advertising, from Leo Burnett to Jerry Della Femina. The Copy Strategy is the strategic planning platform document that governs and regulates this domain over a longer time. It is a systematic platform funneling propositions into precise “big ideas,” designed to be scalable into media campaigns and retail merchandise.

Regarding the Copy Strategy, this is a versatile planning document, capturing the essence of brand positioning while offering the necessary reference framework for creative development on traditional media, new media, and social media from the content viewpoint. Nevertheless, interaction design evolved into UX since the rise of interactivity, connectivity, and simplicity in interfacing digital technology, where behaviors, semiotics, and the dynamics of clicks and views are critical. Here, a dedicated set of specifications is required to capture the fundamental modality of navigation and experience immaterially embodying the brand positioning. As a holistic digital platform, these specifications span from intranet/internet websites to social media and mobile applications.
Design Writing

Together, Copy Strategy (“what” the brand will say overtime on traditional media) and UX Specifications (“how” the brand will behave on social media) determine the Storytelling platform of the enterprise, from big ideas to tone of voice in the execution. However, one step beyond, at an internal strategic level, a managerial platform mirrors Storytelling, capturing the brand’s essence in a Design Brief. This “master document” provides the backbone to all communication and interaction strategies and, therefore, a milestone in Design Writing. The “writing” should therefore not be interpreted as just “copy,” be it traditional or digital, as much as the “design” of the entire system behind and at the forefront of the experience and the idea that the brand will leave in people’s minds, over time. The Design Brief is “design writing” in that it consolidates the key fundaments of the “constitution” of the brand, just like the constitution of a country. It is activated and communicated at managerial and organizational levels with formats like the Brand Manifesto, inspired by fine arts and social movements, or by the Innovation Charter, determining the limiting conditions of innovation policies over time.

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Invisible Design Writing

Brand Positioning in general, and the Brand Brief in particular, are the expression of the enterprise’s Values, Vision, and Mission of the enterprise, the DNA of the business, and what defines the company before the company itself is conceptualized as a brand. Values, Vision, and Mission are edited according to specific internal communication objectives. They might rely on standardized formats, capturing the actionable but visionary power of the enterprise as a social organism within a particular industry, with the ambition to target future and present markets to contribute to building a better world over the longer and mid-term futures. They might be based on entrepreneurial intuition, in the sociological case of the maverick “genius” entrepreneur working on charisma (“Think Different,” think Steve Jobs) or on foresight scenarios and analytical tools anticipating the future evolution of the context and the world, or on current market insights. Here, two observations might be considered:

  • Although any futures researcher will claim that foresight is necessary, in reality, what Design Writing requires –and more in general, what every business demand- is a transparent platform to build upon, hence from time to time, the consulting intervention might be in psychologically supporting the maverick entrepreneur to articulate his vision, or in co-creating future options to choose from by foresight, or in stabilizing and leveraging existing knowledge and research at insights level. The best method is the method that fits best the specific enterprise, as in consulting terms, you might prefer agnostic pragmatism over ideological fetishism for one form or another;
  • as much as they might seem distant from both “design” and “writing,” Values, Vision, Mission, futures scenarios, insights, and even the articulation of an entrepreneur’s vision are structured in procedures and formats where steps systematically based on the written word as deliverable or briefing document, hence the qualities of “structuring” and of “verbalizing” maintain a dimension that qualifies the non-visual part of this domain as Design Writing.

What Design Writing means?

Design Writing means re-focusing on the semantics and formats where the brand is articulated, and the experience is planned and specified. Beyond graphic design, and interactive elements of UX. However, Design Writing also means acknowledging the relevance and the critical importance of the written word in a world that turned visual, hence recuperating important traditions and inventing innovative solutions to express concepts and ultimately tell that great story that every brand needs to be, to be great. Effective communications depend on writing skills as much as visual communication skills.

Finally, Design Writing represents the “coming of age” of design after the digital age redefined and revolutionized the media landscape, the lifestyle references, and the hierarchies of relevance among categories and consumption, users and technology, people and brands. This is a return to the power of the written word that was long-awaited.


Interesting Reading on the importance of design writing

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