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Four Tips on Writing About Design

Some thoughts on producing high-quality design articles that actually get shared.

This is an update of an article that originally appeared in Issue 013 of UX Writing Events.

Every Monday morning I find myself reviewing possible links for the UX Writing Events newsletter. The problem? I’m unwilling to share most of the writing I find about UX writing. Same goes for content strategy and UX design.

Rather than rant about why that’s the case (that’s what Twitter is for), I thought I’d offer some tips for writing articles about design. These tips are informed by my own preferences and editorial standards, experience curating links for social accounts like World I.A. Day and meetups, and even a short stint filling in on social for Brain Traffic. Oh, and years of researching for talks, workshops, my own articles, and a book.

1. Make connections.

I’m reticent to link to any article that’s an island … especially if that island seems to be pretending to have formed all by itself.

I don’t just mean that you should attribute your quotes and cite your sources. (You absolutely should, always).

I mean that all of UX design and content strategy put together is not that big of a field, not really. It’s easy to find high quality thought leaders, articles, books (so many books), and talks to link to and make literal connections for your readers. Because it’s so easy, it seems really really strange when an article on a specific topic doesn’t link to any prior work or other sources on that topic.

2. Use authentic titles.

I reflexively resist linking to content with titles like The Ultimate Guide to… or The Complete List of…

First of all, if I can read it in five minutes or less, it’s not the ultimate guide to anything.

Second of all, it’s gross. And inaccurate. There’s nothing wrong with an article that starts with 8 Tips on… or An Introduction to…

Beginner and 101-level articles are great! I’m happy to link to them … just not when they’re not citing sources or pretending to be something they aren’t.

3. Draw from your own voice and experience.

Collecting a mish-mash of other people’s advice, not citing any sources, and then calling this advice “best practices” does not make you look like an expert.

I’m not sure what drives these parasitic, low-value Medium articles … wanting to look like an expert? To have something to stick in your portfolio? It needs to stop.

Personally, I’d rather read an anecdote, case study … or really anything derived from your personal design experience … than I would the ump-teenth rewrite of “best practices” about a given topic.

Drawing from your own experience means I don’t have to care or wonder, “Who is this guy?” Your insights are valid because they’re personal, and don’t need to depend on your reputation or resume.

4. Identify your inspiration in order to tell a story.

Give me a hook into why you’re writing what you’re writing. 

Connect your article to something from your own experience, right at the start. This helps you avoid setting an overly-large stage for your piece. If you bring up some large philosophical truth, but then only have a few tips on onboarding or something, the cohesion of your article is degraded. It’s like serving somebody a fast-food hamburger on a silver platter.

For instance: “I saw a tweet by so-and-so the other day that got me thinking about…”, or perhaps “We’ve been running a user research project at work and I…”. 

When I’m not sure what to write about, I often turn to questions that I’ve been asked during talks or workshops, which has inspired many of my favorite articles.

If you need further inspiration on what to write about, this piece by Craig Phillips gives you a few format options to choose from.

Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash