How Writing About UX Design Can Make You a Better UX Designer

Don’t let that inner voice that says “I’m not a writer” stop you from writing. If you don’t share your ideas, how will anyone know you have them?

by Sheena Lyonnais

posted on 06-05-2018

As a designer, you might be used to putting pen to paper to sketch out ideas, but never underestimate the power of using it for the written word as well.

Before you go saying, “But I’m not a writer,” or anything like that, listen up. Writing is a powerful tool that can help you better understand your users and come up with design solutions with clarity. It fosters critical thinking and can have a big impact on your entire design process. This isn’t about writing the next Great American Novel, but about understanding and improving your UX design chops.

Though any writing is better than no writing, consider a good old-fashioned notebook. Writing information out by hand has been proven to have greater staying power than typing things out on a computer. One study found that students who took notes by hand performed significantly better on tests than students who took notes on laptops.

Notebooks are my preference, but if you’re naturally more electronically inclined then all the power to you. Type notes on your phone, in a Word document, or in some other forum. The most important part is that you write. Here’s why.

Writing helps you understand people and problems

The next time you’re researching your users or trying to come up with a solution for a design problem, try writing about the person or the problem. It’s easier than it sounds.

Step one: Select a song that motivates/inspires you, or set a timer for a designated amount of time.

Step two: Start writing.

Write freely and without interruption. Pay no regard to the construction of the sentences, the spelling, grammar, or flow. Bounce from one thought to another, detailing the ideas as they arrive. Don’t judge your writing. Challenge yourself to simply write as though it is a meditation or an exercise. Be curious about what will come to mind.

Stop when the song ends or the timer goes off.

This is called freewriting. You will be amazed by your mind’s ability to deconstruct obstacles and better understand complex problems simply by writing them down. By writing about your users, for example, you can begin to see them as human and understand what their lives might look like from a wider scope — not just what they look like when they’re using your product. You can begin to relate to them and develop deeper empathy.

By writing out a problem, you’re learning to articulate what the pain points are, and naturally you might find yourself expressing frustration, mapping out solutions, coming up with ideas, or even recalling information you had forgotten about.

If you’re not sure where to start, try one of the following writing prompts:

Read what you’ve written and jot down what your next steps are. Maybe that’s something like: talk to a developer about this feature, research this concept further, begin mockups for this angle, or explore this concept I hadn’t considered before.

Whatever it is, turn the writing into an action point or a lesson you can carry with you into future projects.

Writing helps you articulate ideas and solutions

As you start to write things out, you will begin to better articulate concepts. You will have a clearer understanding of what the problem is and be able to make a better case for a particular solution.

“Writing forces you to think in a very simple way. It forces you to design things (and code) in a simpler way,” said Sara Soueidan, a front end UI/UX developer we spoke with last month as part of our Women in UX series.

“When you’re writing about something, you’re forcing yourself to actually know how it works. I think it was Einstein who said that if you can’t explain it to a six-year-old then you don’t really understand it yourself, so you need to be able to explain something in order to be able to say, ‘Okay yes, I do know this thing,’ Sara said.

For Sara, this often means doing a lot of research. She ends up writing blog posts and publishing articles about her discoveries, and if you’re new to writing, these exercises are still beneficial for yourself. They help you to improve your communication skills both on paper and when speaking to others, while also refining your ideas. A well-thought-out idea often leads to a better articulated idea, helping you to make better business case for your ideas and design solutions going forward.

Writing shows others what you’re passionate about and good at

“That’s one of the benefits of writing: you get better at writing and at communicating with people. Good work always gets shared. It never goes unnoticed,” Sara said.

Sharing your journey and learnings with others, whether through publishing on a personal blog, social media, or a platform such as Medium, shows people that you’re part of the conversation. It lets peers and potential employers know that you’re thinking critically about these topics.

For Sara, writing about her UX journey and her mistakes along the way was fundamental for the development of her career and building her reputation in thinking critically about UX design. A few years ago, Sara decided to turn some of her notes into a blog post and — much to her surprise — it gathered 20,000 views in a matter of weeks. She repeated the process and the rest is history.

“I kept learning new things, and I kept documenting those things and sharing them. My writing got me my first speaking gig. After my first speaking gig, I got another gig, and then another gig, and then I started speaking more and running workshops and getting clients, and I’ve been loving and doing it since,” she said.

Success like Sara’s isn’t guaranteed, of course, but her story goes to show that if you make people aware of what you know and the experiences you’ve had as a UX designer, then you can establish a sense of expertise about it. Not only that, but sharing your experiences with the community is always welcome.

Make writing part of your design process

Introduce writing slowly by making it a part of your design process.

Try this: At the end of each workday, write a short summary about your day. This could include a paragraph on the projects you worked on, the mistakes you made, and the lessons you learned. Ask yourself what you would do differently today, and what you’re looking forward to tomorrow. Write down anything memorable, such as a quote you read or something a colleague said to you. Maybe write down something you’re proud of, or a new discovery you made. Take dot jots if it’s easier at first.

Writing won’t just show others what your ideas are, it will make them clear to you as well. Much is revealed when we put pen to paper.

If you don’t believe me, give it a shot right now. Is writing a part of your design process? How does it help? Share your thoughts with us on writing in the comments below.

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