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 of course a talent that excels in writing. The key 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 very visible to everyone involved with a brand – and fundamental to shape people’s perceptions and feelings about its manifestations – and one invisible to the majority of people, hidden in the managerial and creative processes within the enterprise.
At level of mass visibility, one might account 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, and it is a systematic platform funneling propositions into precise “big ideas”, designed to be scalable into media campaigns and retail merchandise.
With regards to 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 content viewpoint. Nevertheless, since the rise of interactivity, connectivity and simplicity in interfacing digital technology, interaction design evolved into UX, where behaviors, semiotics and the dynamics of clicks and views are key. Here, a dedicated set of specifications is required to capture the fundamental modality of navigation and experience immaterially embodying the brand positioning. These specifications, as a holistic digital platform, span from intranet / internet websites to social media and mobile applications.
Together, Copy Strategy (“what” the brand will say over time on classic 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 internal strategic level, a managerial platform mirrors Storytelling, capturing the essence of the brand in a Design Brief. This is the “master document” that provides the backbone to all communication and interaction strategies, and therefore a milestone of 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.
The Brand Positioning in general, and the Brand Brief in particular, are the expression of Values, Vision and Mission of the enterprise, the DNA of the business and what define the company before the company itself is conceptualized as a brand. Values, Vision and Mission are edited according to specific internal communication objectives and might rely on standardized formats, capturing the actionable but visionary power of the enterprise as a social organism within a specific industry, with the ambition to target future and present markets in order 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 clear 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 method 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.
Design Writing means re-focusing on the semantics and formats where the brand is articulated and the experience is planned and specified. However, Design Writing also means acknowledging the relevance and the key importance of the written word in a world that turned totally visual, hence recuperating important traditions and inventing innovative solutions to express concepts, and to ultimately tell that great story that every brand needs to be, in order to be great. Ultimately, Design Writing represent 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.