Writing Is The Unicorn Skill – Uh-Huh We Knew It All Along

  • Note from Laura:  We’ve always known; writing is a master skill and much needed.  The ability to communicate, story tell, sell, divulge and engage are the ingredients of public relations, marketing, advertising and sales – not to mention management.                                                                                                              
  • When I saw this 3 MINUTE READ – from Co.Design – I knew I had to share.  We have THE UNICORN SKILL – add that to your resume and be so proud!

Forget Coding: Writing Is Design’s “Unicorn Skill”

In a new report, John Maeda explains why writing is a must-have skill for designers.

Forget Coding: Writing Is Design’s “Unicorn Skill”

These days many designers can code–an increasingly important skill for landing a job. But few are just as fluent in their own language as they are in Javascript. That presents a serious problem in terms of design. Users still depend on copy to interact with apps and other products. If designers don’t know how to write well, the final product–be it a physical or digital one–can suffer as a result.

In his “2017 Design in Tech Report,” John Maeda writes that “code is not the only unicorn skill.” According to Maeda, who is the head of computational design and inclusion at Automattic and former VP of design at VC firm Kleiner Perkins, words can be just as powerful as the graphics in which designers normally traffic. “A lot of times designers don’t know that words are important,” he said while presenting the report at SXSW this weekend. “I know a few designers like that–do you know these designers out there? You do know them, right?”

 Design is changing fast, and design schools risk producing students without fundamental skills needed in the industry today. Writing is one of them. After all, content is still king.

By pointing to writing as the next most important skill for designers, the report suggests a corrective to an overreliance on the interface–to the extent that writing itself has been left behind as a design skill. “A core skill of the interaction designer is imagining users (characters), motivations, actions, reactions, obstacles, successes, and a complete set of ‘what if’ scenarios,” writes designer Susan Stuart, in a blog post highlighted in the report. “These are the skills of a writer — all kinds of writers, but particularly fiction, screenwriting, and technical writing.”

Learning how to write isn’t just an important skill for the future: It’s applicable right now. Trends in digital design emphasize clean lines and few words–giving language itself more weight. “Art direction and copywriting are as fundamental to the user experience as the UI,” as Paul Woods, COO of the digital design firm Edenspiekermann,wrote here on Co.Design. “Sure, you can have a beautiful UI/frame, but once you have that (we all know a great UI is an invisible UI), all the viewer cares about is what’s inside: the artwork, the story.”


It’s not just that designers should treat their copywriters better, as Maeda mentioned at his Design in Tech SXSW talk. As chatbots and conversational interfaces become more popular, writing becomes the vehicle for experience design–so much so that writers are being integrated into those design teams. Companies are already starting to use AI to customize language for users on a mass scale. This writing-based design could transform the very nature of UX.

“We talk about the power of words—both content and style—all the time,” writes R/GA brand designer Jennifer Vano in blog post featured in the “Design in Tech” report. “When it comes to friendships, romance, work dynamics, and, dare we even mention it—though nothing is more telling, more relevant—politics, words have the power to change our opinions, incite action, divide or unify us, move us. Words can shape reality.”

As a well-known voice in the design world, Maeda’s report will help cast light on the issue–but design schools also have a role to play, as well. The report details how design education is falling short in other areas, as well. For instance, the top three skills needed by designers in practice–data, business, and leadership skills–are not available to them in most basic coursework.

Who Are You? What Your Fact Sheet Says About You – or Not!

2014At the end of every calendar year I do two things;  #1 is I change the footer on all my client websites, and my own, to reflect the new year.  #2 is I take a look at all the media materials we utilize to send our client messages to not only update but improve on them.

Both of these tasks assure I am letting the customer and the media know that we are on top of things and pay attention to details.

This year I will update this information at least four times, and maybe more. As we are almost half way through this year, let’s take a look at what we need to stay on top of and it all starts with our organization’s fact sheet.

Task #1 speaks for itself, but task #2 got a little trickier this year.

Everyone wants visual messages.  Tell the story through images or charts – where possible link to video with audio.  Engage.  Enchant and Inspire!  Got it – now let’s look at what it takes to do it.

Usually I Google a phrase that might give me inspiration on what smart marketers do.  I like this because marketers in Thailand might do a better visual job and sometimes creativity might show up in Kansas or Sweden – however it comes I am always grateful for Google!

I tried searching for corporate fact sheets, oh my they looked lifeless in too many cases.  So I thought ah-ha I will search for countries and how they present their fact, another disappointing find.  Then I searched for hotels and found inspiration.

So in the spirit of sharing and hoping you too might be inspired here is my visual offering of “best” and “needs help” fact sheets:

Best example from the restaurant category – Bob Evans
fact sheet bob evans

Cheesecake Factory can do much better. Same industry, same opportunity for telling a story visually.
fact sheet ex of boring restaurant one

And here is a rather dreary presentation of facts from FPL and Duke:

fact sheet fpl

fact sheet good Alcoa

A worthy example of a very well done corporate fact sheet from Alcoa.   If the goal is to capture attention, then all of us know which ones engage us and which ones could use some review and updating.

So take a few minutes and do a table top review of your materials – print them all out, everything your media contacts or a consumer might see about your corporate message – put them all on a big table and step back.

Is it time for updates?  I have never done this that one piece did not stand out as overlooked and in need of updating words, images, contact names, dates … you’ll see what I mean.