Roger C. Parker
Roger C. Parker

Why Designers Should Be Writers
By: Roger C. Parker

Classic branding and marketing favors specialization. According to the conventional wisdom, the narrower you define your area of expertise, the higher the perceived value of your expertise.

But, in practice, conventional wisdom creates serious limitations. In actuality, designers who are able to write enjoy a major advantage over their competition. Being able to write as well as design offers graphic designers numerous practical and profitable dividends.

Writing and trust
The ability to write permits you to create a presence that promotes your ‘obvious expert’ status and creates familiarity and trust that translates into more sales opportunities and less buyer resistance for your design business.

As a designer, your biggest ‘competition’ is not the designer across the street–or across the Internet. Rather, your biggest competitors are anonymity and your prospect’s fear of making a mistake. Writing eliminates both obstacles by giving you a way to demonstrate your expertise before you talk to, or meet, a prospective client. Writing attracts new prospects, pre-sold on your expertise. You’re not a stranger, you’re a trusted advisor.

Books are the most powerful form of ‘writing as promotion’. There’s magic to your name on a published book. A book becomes your most effective business card, attracting attention from like-minded prospects around the world. A well-written book does more than communicate facts, it communicates a style that projects your personality to prospects before your opening words.

I became aware of the power of a book to project an author’s ‘likeability’ through exposure to Jan V. White’s classic Editing by Design. Editing by Design was a ‘high personality’ book that not only communicated a design philosophy, but did it in a way that made it mandatory that I meet Jan face-to-face.

Roy Paul Nelson’s books Publication Design and Advertising Design reinforced the power of a book to encourage a face-to-face relationship, as do books by designers such as Doyald Young, Alex White, and Jim Krause.

Do books do more than create clients? Well, check out the size of the audience the next time Edward Tufte, author of Envisioning Information and The Visual Display of Quantitative Information comes to town! His day-long seminars fill huge hotel ballrooms, several days in a row.

Consider the task of choosing a designer from a prospect’s point of view. They can hire a familiar face who has established their expertise and style by writing a book, or the prospect can hire a stranger who may have an impressive portfolio, but, ‘Who are they, really?’

Articles and speaking
The next best thing to a book is an article, or series of articles, that communicate your style and position you as an expert. If you have a type problem, and are a reader of publications like How or Print, why not go right to the best and hire Allan Haley, whom you also remember from his articles in U&lc.

One of the nicest things about writing books and articles is that they inevitably lead to speaking opportunities. And, when you’re in front of a room, displaying examples of your work, your desirability as a designer shoots through the roof! After your talk, prospects will come to you with business card in hand, asking how they can contact you to discuss upcoming their projects. This is a far different scenario than the typical struggle for new business.

The power extends beyond the walls of the room where you are presenting. The mere fact that you are a speaker at MacWorld, a How Design Conference, or any of dozens of other events positions you to prospects–even though they may never attend one of the events, themselves.

Preparing better marketing materials
The ability to write pays off in the ability to prepare better marketing materials for yourself. Designers like Canada’s Maria G. Nozza’s website is an example of effective writing in action. Her downloadable PublicationWise newsletter and her DesignWise blog, available at, showcase her expertise in a way that proves her competence better than any amount of conventional marketing could ever do.

Once you become comfortable as a writer, you’ll find it easier and easier to maintain an up-to-date website, promoted through short, frequent e-mail tips. Between the quality of your newsletters and the frequency of your e-mails, your career trajectory will take flight.

Additional income sources
Consistent monthly cash flow can transform your attitudes as much as your business. When you begin the month without needing to worry about meeting the rent and health insurance payments, your stress level will drop. This enables you to create better designs in less time.

Although books and articles, by themselves, will rarely provide consistent monthly cash flow, enterprising designers can easily come up with other ways to turn them into cash. John McWade, for example, plus Before & After,, a subscription publication available on line and in print.

Other opportunities include creating back-end profits through special reports, tutorials, audio recordings, and Camtasia training videos delivered as downloadable e-books, CD-ROMs, DVDs, or website streaming content.

The goal, of course, is not to succumb to the ‘publishing’ model, but, rather, use ancillary profits from publishing to provide a cushion freeing you from the need to spend every hour on billable client projects.

Writing, better design, and more money
As your writing skills improve, you’ll inevitably become a better, more profitable designer. Although design should remain your primary task, your ability to provide ‘design-plus’ services can increase your earning power while helping you deliver better projects.

Designing from a writer’s perspective, or writing from a designer’s perspective, breaks down the walls that often arise between writing and design. At minimum, your comfort with words helps you offer a ‘total solution’ to those clients who will appreciate the convenience and unified perspective of “one-stop shopping.”

More important, as a designer/writer, your designs will improve to the extent that you feel comfortable tweaking copy at the last minute so it will better fit available space. Slight edits can often convert three line headlines into two line headlines. Likewise, minor word substitutions or transpositions can often eliminate distracting widows and orphans.

In short, the ability to write will result in a better partnership between design and message.

Where do you start?
The starting point is to recognize that there are numerous transferable skills between design and writing. Design is often based on communicating hierarchy and sequence; so is writing. Successful designs are based on simplicity and a lack of clutter; so is writing. Design is also based on taking changes, thinking outside of the box; so is writing.

Design is also based on craftsmanship, an unwillingness to accept ‘good’ in order to get the job done, when you know that by taking a little more time and fine-tuning the details, you can make the project considerably better. Attention to detail, and an unwillingness to compromise standards, is also a writer’s trait.

By analyzing the skills and abilities that contribute to your design success, and transferring them to writing, you’ll be able to do a better job of promoting yourself and creating endless new profit opportunities.

Roger C. Parker is the author of Design to Sell and the Content Catalyst and Planning Catalyst. Subscribe to his free Design to Sell newsletter at

This has been a part of my New Year’s Resolution: Learn to Write series. The index can be found at the Learn to Write: Recap.

Three pages were created from the series: A Designer’s Resolve, A Designer’s Resolve: Resources and A Designer’s Resolve: Complete book list.

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