As I am writing this I am using one of the many tips Chris Butler shared today at this month’s Homegrown Lunch & Learn event. I’m composing this post in Text Edit. Why? Well, we’ll get to that later. First, a little about Chris Butler, our speaker at today’s event. Chris is the Vice President of Newfangled, a design, content management, e-commerce, and hosting company. He is a prolific writer and speaker who has been published in PRINT Magazine and Smashing Magazine, to name a few. His book, The Strategic Web Designer: How to Confidently Navigate the Web Design Process, will be released this year.
As designers, we have many skills, being able to write well is an important one. One that will give you an edge in the marketplace. It will also put you in front of the people who are looking to hire. Search engines inspect words not images, so they will return your written work in their results. The more written content you have, the more your work gets in front of people. When searching the web for design services, people are seeking information on design processes and best practices, to understand what it is they are buying. You can help them learn by writing case studies, and writing about your processes. While they are on your site, gaining valuable insights, they might just stay awhile, browse through your work, and wind up contacting you.
Writing about your processes, projects, and topics related to your field, will give a potential client a glimpse of who you are and what it’s like to work with you. It’s important to share some of your self in your writing, in order to begin building relationships with your readers. Chris mentioned that when he shares more of himself in his writing, those are the pieces that generate the most response. However, you have to balance your personal writing style with writing for business. Chris says to think of your writing as an exchange and as imparting value. The reader gains important knowledge and insights, they get to know you, and they begin to relate to you. That’s how relationships are formed, and it’s those relationships that will lead to engagement with your audience. He also advises to find an authentic way to promote what it is that you are writing about.
So, are you ready to get started writing? Good, but where to start? Write what you know—your work, your approaches, your ideas. Short on ideas? What do your clients ask you about? What do people ask you about when you tell them you are a designer? Answer those questions. Use Twitter and LinkedIn to find out what people want to know about. Pose questions to your followers, or post questions on LinkedIn.
Now that you’ve got some ideas of what to write about, you need to decide what format you want to write in short-form (blog posts, twitter) or long-form (newsletters, white papers, articles). If you are just starting out with your writing, short-form is a good place to start. Chris points out that you don’t have to start with text. Use your natural engagement style to develop content. If you like to talk out your ideas, then dictate them. If you are more of a visual thinker, start by drawing or creating a story board.
To make writing a habit, practice it every day. It doesn’t matter if you are “in the mood” to write, just set aside some time, maybe 20-30 minutes, and write whatever comes to mind. It’s okay to stop mid-sentence and pick up where you left off. To aide in avoiding distraction, Chris suggests using Text Edit or another basic text editor to write. As designers, we are skilled at formatting text, and know that our copy needs to be readable. It needs to be easy to scan in order for readers to determine what the content is, and if they want to read it. We are bound to become distracted by the need to format, so, don’t give yourself the option. Do your formatting once the copy is written and proof-read.
I really enjoyed Chris’ presentation today and the Twitter chat last night. I learned a lot and am thinking about writing in a different way, one that seems less daunting, and more fun. If you missed today’s Lunch & Learn, Chris covers a lot of what he talked about today on the Newfangled blog. Be sure to check it out. Thanks to Chris for sharing his knowledge and to Laura Hamlyn and Maura McDonald for organizing the event.