The arts and humanities are more intertwined in technology than ever before, and will only continue to become more essential in building truly great products and companies.
“I believe art and design are poised to transform our economy in the 21st century like science and technology did in the last century.” — John Maeda.
In this transformation, the weight of language has increased. Conversational experiences are driving e-commerce, and companies are judged on the inventiveness of their 404 pages. Users are searching for highly interactive, personalised moments, and demanding more human experiences. Creatives and artists have a significant role to play in satisfying the demand for better experiences, especially writers. Championing the design and implementation of language in products and companies is evidently the next step for technology.
This doesn’t mean companies should just hire more writers, or give them more responsibility. It’s a fundamental shift in thinking about how writers function in organisations. Like designers aren’t just there to finalize colours and choose a font — writers aren’t just around to tweak microcopy on a finalized product.
Writers transform the ordinary, everyday moments into art.
“The arts especially address the idea of aesthetic experience. An aesthetic experience is one in which your senses are operating at their peak; when you’re present in the current moment; when you’re resonating with the excitement of this thing that you’re experiencing; when you are fully alive.” — Sir Ken Robinson
Seeing writing as a craft that can positively impact the way we design and operate is essential. The problems we are out to solve with technology are complex and extend across industries, but with art, it seems a little easier.
Writers are storytellers. Embed narratives into your product, and you have engagement, retention, and most importantly you give users a sense of purpose. Writers give meaning to the ordinary. A blade of grass in a compelling story somehow feels relevant. Tone, style, and the craft of words engrained in products makes them feel more intimate — like the whole experience is made just for you, and you alone.
With the rise of voice driven interfaces and conversational commerce language has been given more weight. Designing for human and computer interaction requires a firm grasp of communication and humanity.
How do you hire writers?
Silicon Valley’s challenge is to successfully embrace and attract creative talent, including writers. Jonas Downey recently wrote about the vague specializations of design jobs in “The Unnecessary Fragmentation of Design Jobs” and how we can simplify Design with a capital D. Let’s also take this approach to the written word. Downey comments that design industry newcomers are unanimously confused with foggy job descriptions. Writers are also victim to these murky nuances. Companies know they need some form of written communication professional, whether it be a social media manager, content creator, or copywriter — but do they really know the difference? Somehow, we’re left with job titles like this.
Job descriptions for writers primarily consist of the following requirements:
Write and edit copy in company voice and tone
Extend business and product goals to written communication
Edit and provide feedback on writing and design work
Proficiency across communication platforms
Create engaging content for a variety of channels
Avid interest in writing
Excellent written communications skills
Clear style and grasp of grammar
These are pretty universal skills for writers, whether writing for social media, brochures, on boarding instructions, or a video script. Companies are generally looking for a good communicator who can extend their skills across various platforms, and spell check, of course.
However, writers are much more than grammar and tone.
Writers are already embedded in teams at the forefront of interaction design and A.I., helping human to computer conversation feel natural.
Forget spell check and focus on the art of communication at its core, it’s about understanding how people think and how to make them feel a certain way. Words can do that. Language does that.
The skills you should be looking for.
Human-centric design is enhanced when writers and designers come together to learn and co-create through the power of language and design thinking. It’s important to find writers who think like designers.
“A core skill of the interaction designer is imagining users (characters), motivations, actions, reactions, obstacles, successes, and a complete set of ‘what if’ scenarios. These are the skills of a writer — all kinds of writers, but particularly fiction, screenwriting, and technical writing.” — Susan Stuart
The skills of a writer are paralleled in interaction design. Writers create minute moments within entire worlds, every detail accounted for, and intricate backstories for each character are developed, but may never see the light of day. The creative process behind this storytelling and character development is the structure from which design skills can flourish.
Words shouldn’t be getting in the user’s way. Writers who develop ease and flow in their work are the perfect interaction designers.
Employers should ignore job specific skills and look for craft specific skills.
“It’s easier to teach business skills to a writer than it is to teach business majors how to tell stories.” — Jim Sollisch
Writers who already apply their craft effectively across a variety of media, and are open to the applications of their skillset across industries are a good start.
Products and companies evolve. So should their language. Communication should be adaptive. Writers are used to iterating. Drafting, editing, rewriting. They aren’t opposed to receiving feedback — in fact — their craft relies on it. On that note, they’re also accustomed to rejection and criticism.
Now, for the writers.
We can collectively make a profound impact on the way products and companies are designed and operated. From microcopy to culture design — I believe writers have a role in collaborating with designers to positively shape products and companies.
Writers: stop counting words and instead make your words count.
Persistently stand for the delight and surprise of users. Double check every word. Question every phrase. Use the unlikely, fifth least obvious combination of words to make something magical. Only have space for three words? Make them count.
Embrace design. What’s the typeface? Medium? Format? Learn to visualise your words, and discuss with designers how they will live on after you write them. How does the power of language disrupt or empower design, and how will you help actualise this?
Realise that you’re not the star of the show. You’re the support network. You’re glue. Glue for technology, glue for experiences, glue for functionality. The words you create bind users to experiences through understanding and delight. I like how John Saito puts it: writers champion consistency. Consistency builds powerful brands.
Being glue doesn’t make you invisible. Champion your industry. Medium exists as a technology product for writers. It’s here for your voice. Be obsessed. Develop new processes and thinking. Apply your craft in ways you wouldn’t have thought necessary. Usher in a new generation of creatives who think like designers, that want to make a dent in technology, and have the words to make it happen. And then write about it.
Let’s reposition how we see the craft of writing in building great products and companies. Not everyone can write — but I think everyone needs a writer.