A weekly reflection of what I have learnt this week as a Digital Product Designer

Liz Hamburger

A female typing on a laptop, the image is taken from the side.

A female typing on a laptop, the image is taken from the side.

Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

Recently I had been asked how I go about writing my articles each week because they are “really well structured and written”. As you could imagine I was massively flattered by this and as someone who struggles with reading and spelling, I felt proud of myself for not letting these struggles get the better of me. I instantly replied to this message with how I write my weekly posts as I had so much to say and share on how I do structure my writing.

My process for writing hasn’t always been successful and it’s something I’ve iterated and will continue to do so but I feel that my formula so far has worked out quite well. The more time I’ve spent thinking about my writing process it has led me to realise that it feels incredibly similar to my design process. Perhaps because I’m a stickler for systems and methods is why I’ve mimicked my design process when it comes to writing.

Ideas are at the core of what we do as designers, without a solid idea it’s really difficult to know what direction to take but also it means a lot of work can be based on style rather than substance. Just like writing, you may have an essay worth 1,000 words, but without a solid idea, you’ll end up writing nothing.

I try to write once a week, specifically focusing on reflecting upon that week and what I’ve learnt. This process has turned into a key way of generating writing prompts and inspiration for me. Sometimes I will have two ideas in a week, other times I will have a spark of inspiration on a Monday which I have to just type out, then there are times when I have to sit down and reflect on the week to see if there was anything learnt even in the most subtle moments.

Just like in design, any idea can be built upon through talking with clients, friends, by doing research and so on. As long as you have an idea to start with that you are interested in or passionate about design or in this case writing about, then this is the most important part.

The audience. Whether we’re talking about the design process or the writing process there will always be someone this piece of writing is for. With that in mind, everyone can’t be your audience. In user experience design we focus a lot on this principle that you can’t design for everyone and if you try to, ultimately please no one. If you try to write for the world and have no focus on who you’re writing for, it will become incredibly difficult to write. By giving yourself someone to write for you’ll make your life easier but also it means your writing will be more interesting and coherent.

When I write, I write intending to teach someone something. This is where my comparison to the design process differs slightly. I leant into writing to inform as I’m trying to write for myself — but I don’t mean literally. I use myself almost like a persona. I love learning so I write my articles from a place of teaching. I’m also interested in self-help, career progression and design, and it’s these interests and topics all feed into the kind of person I’m writing for.

Once the idea you want to solve is set, in the design process, particularly digital product design you would then come up with a user flow. When working on a design project I like to go through this stage multiple times adding layers of detail as I go. For example, I will always start with a very high-level overview of the process that a user will take; There is always a start, middle and end in this users journey. Next, I will look into each of those three sections and add rough ideas such as the user may sign up to the website, they will have to add card details, they will get an email and so on. This process happens before fully fleshing out the details screen by screen.

When it comes to writing I apply this same method. All of my articles have an introduction, the main content, then a conclusion. Within each section, I would add bullet points or subheadings of the main points I want to get across and from there add more detail as to what I want to get across in those subheadings. For example, in the introduction, I will make a note to make sure I tell the readers how I was inspired to write the article, as well what the main idea or theme is that I will be writing about.

Once I am confident in the structure of my article, set out by creating a user flow I will then use this to help me create the wireframe. In design, the wireframe is the first time you start planning out screens, looking at where content will sit to each other and looking at what the content is and how it will best serve the users.

In terms of writing the wireframe is the first draft of the article. This writing wireframe doesn’t have to be neat or perfect it just needs to get the hierarchy of content there as well as the main themes and ideas that were set out in the user flow. The first draft is some times the hardest so it’s best to get this initial writing wireframe out on paper — or on-screen! With as little judgement as possible, if you’re fussing over every word used or sentence you’ll never finish.

As every good designer does in their process they iterate. The iteration phase when looking at writing would be going through the content that you’ve created and looking back and checking whether the points set out in the user flow have been met. Just like our design projects, sometimes we miss things the first time around and we iterate on wireframes. Sometimes our first layout isn’t now working for us or there might be a better solution. Keep going over your content until you are sure you’ve got all the key points and in the right order that will get your idea across.

Finally, the home stretch, add the interface. In digital product design, the interface is incredibly important. If we have an awful looking colour palette, pixelated images and a font so small people can’t read it then it doesn’t matter how good the content is, no user will stay to find out.

The interface of writing is just as important. When talking about writing in this way, I’m talking about the details of how the words are being presented. This means making sure that the writing looks nice too as well as being interesting and useful. That means having the title of the article in sentence casing, ensuring the proper use of quotes or paragraphs, adding images to your article to help illustrate your points. There are a lot of written articles on the web that have brilliant content but formatted badly and if a user can’t navigate through your writing due to the lack of paragraphs or subheadings then that would be an incredible shame.

When sharing your design work with the world, we test them with our existing or potential audience. We do this so that we can make sure we great the best product for our audience, and testing allows to check for things that we have missed or might not though we’re needed in the beginning. When we are testing our products we don’t do this to see whether the product is worth creating, unless of course we’re researching the product-market fit, but we share so we can get feedback on how to improve.

In the writing process, I follow the same tactics and you could too. There are varying levels of feedback you can get, some may give you feedback on the topic or idea, others may point out missing words and this feedback is very useful. But we don’t want to use this feedback to determine if we should or shouldn’t share our writing at all. If we believe that the topic is interesting and that it has an audience out there then it will always be worth sharing.

I tend to focus on the feedback part of the writing process a lot, and it’s the same with my design process. I don’t claim to know everything and I love to hear the ideas and perspectives of others and how I can improve what I’ve created.

Also as someone who struggles with grammar and spelling, I must have someone to sense check what I’ve written. Not that I’m embarrassed about making mistakes like this, but I’d rather ask for help and have my writing published first time round on Medium, compared to if I skipped feedback entirely and then had readers leaving comments about weird spelling errors or silly mistakes I’d made.

The similarities between writing and the design process are apparent when you start to look at them in parallel. Naturally, I’ve spoken about my design and writing process and I’m not saying it’s best but it works well for me at the moment. You may have your processes which work, and that’s great as long as your method gets you writing and sharing your great thoughts and opinions then that’s all that matters.

I’ve found that a lot of people, especially designers struggle with writing — whether it’s a Medium article or an email to their client explaining what they’ve done and why. My opinion is that especially blog posts people fear that it’s going out into a public space. People worry about sharing their thoughts and opinions and they worry about not having anything interesting enough to say or the writing quality not being good enough.

I always say that everyone can design (which some designers hate me for saying) but I also believe everyone can write. With the right structure and processes in place, anyone can do it with practice.

Remember: The first sentence is the hardest to write.

And that’s because people put too much pressure on themselves to write a brilliantly engaging group of words from the get-go. But like any successful design project by having a plan, structure, multiple interactions means that you can get your writing into a state that you’re proud of and something you’ll no longer fear!

Do you think the design process is the same as writing? Do you enjoy writing or do you get the fear of a blank page? Get in touch and let me know in the comments! Or you can find me on Twitter as @lizhamburger