How to write about your work
Most designers choose a creative career because they’re good at and like creating imagery. Problem is to promote our work we must write.
Yep, creatives can and do use imagery but to communicate the research, the thinking, the impact of a project, we need words. Channels like websites, case studies and even award entries demand a narrative. Like it or not, designers need to be writers.
But how to do it well?
How best can we write about our work?
First rule of writing: understand the skill level of your market
It’s a fair assumption to say, generally, our readers are existing, or potential clients.
It’s also a fair to assume most clients are not versed in how to assess design. The only fallback is subjective. So, we need to explain what they are looking at.
When writing about your work include:
- What I was briefed (what your client thought they wanted)
- What I did (what you did and your role is not always obvious)
- Who we did it for (the market)
- The ‘why’ behind the project
- The outcome (the return on investment, the change of behaviour, the clicks, the sales).
- How happy the client was with the result (the testimonial).
Second rule of writing: make it easy to read
After many years entrenched in the criteria-driven Australasian Reporting Awards, I became very skilled at the ‘helicopter view’. The ability to communicate a long story quickly. Simplify the complex.
Clients haven’t any more time to read than we do. Like us, they scan information looking for the interesting bits. Don’t give them heaps of words to wade through… be succinct. Make every word fight for its existence. Then, give the words a hierarchy — prioritise some information over others.
When writing about your work make your copy quicker to read by using:
- Headlines / subheadings to add to the story, not just as sign posts alerting the reader to more text coming
- Subheads to break the narrative into bite-sized chunks of information
- Bullets and lists rather than longer sentences with heaps of punctuation.
- Pull quotes to summarise sections and/or add opinion.
Third rule of writing: understand your reader’s needs
This section uses facts from What clients think, a UK report based on 525 face-to-face interviews with clients commissioned by agency owners.
80% of clients believe their design supplier should be more creative.
I know. I’d counter-argue most designers think their creativity is often hindered by clients. There’s obviously a communication gap.
When writing about your work, stress the level of creativity used. Never assume the client understands where the brief stopped, and the creativity started.
77% of clients complained their design supplier lacked commercial understanding
Designers with a commercial understanding present a better business rationale and context to their work. It helps clients because they can use the rationale to argue for the concepts more convincingly at a more senior level.
When writing about your work, don’t just write about what can be seen, write about what can’t be seen – the design decisions you made that moved your concept from an idea to a commercial reality. How design delivered a return on investment.
For example: if you have inside knowledge of business; used commercial data in the design solution or interviewed the sales team and analysed their data, let it be known.
Clients want a relationship of trust with their design supplier.
Above all else, clients said they wanted to work with design suppliers with whom they felt an affinity. Someone they trusted and who they felt understood their challenge. They read to find out more about the people behind the name on the door. And mostly, they read on LinkedIn — infact 93% of clients claim to be on LinkedIn and use the platform.
When they read, they’re reading between the lines, asking themselves: do they instil confidence; can I work with them; are they experts in their field and have they done similar work to mind?
When writing about your work, write with a reader in mind and write with personality. Write as a person telling another an interesting fact, a takeaway. Make it as relevant as you would if you were talking to another at a networking event or at the pub. Avoid jargon, and long winded industry explanations. Tell a story.
- Don’t just document facts, write with intent.
- Take a chance, stand out from the crowd, write with personality so the writing is an extension of yourself and your work.
- Can’t write: no drama, find someone who can.
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These articles talk more about working in the creative industry:
- Results from the What clients want? survey
- What clients say they want from designers
- What clients say they want to hear in a pitch
About Carol Mackay
After 30+ years running a graphic design firm, Carol pivoted from client-focused projects to consult to the design industry.
Carol’s special power has always been an ability to use design to translate difficult to understand or complex messages. She believes design brings clarity to complex issues. From clarity comes understanding, and understanding leads to knowledge.
As a designer she used those skills with clients like The Magistrates, County and Supreme Courts; Ombudsman schemes and Emergency Service agencies. At DBC she uses the same skills to help designers de-mystify the complexities of managing a small business.
Outside of DBC Carol mentors graduates and is an active volunteer at Never Not Creative, a community of creatives pushing for change in the creative industry.