5 Ways Writing Helps Your Design Career

by Tom Kenny (@tkenny)

Writing sets you apart from other designers. It is one of the most versatile skills you can possess, yet it is also one of the most underrated and therefore underused. Just the simple fact that it’s underused by most designers means you can use it to get ahead.

The New York Times published an article about how writing can improve your general well-being but I want you to see how much of a positive impact it can have on your design career too.

“But I’m not a writer, I’m a designer!”, you say. Writing is a skill anyone can learn and develop anytime, and if you want to take your design career to the next level, you’ll need to incorporate writing into every project you do. Here are just some powerful ways how writing can do more for you.

1. Write Portfolio Case Studies that Impress

It’s not enough to have a portfolio of screenshots, stating your role and a link to the live site. Write a case study.

Go into the why, the how and the results. Explain why you made the key design decisions that helped the project become a success. Show how you helped define the problem and then how you solved it. Proudly display the results of your work, whether that be in terms of helping growing the business or simply delighting the client. Finally, acquire testimonials to back up your study so anyone reading it gains trust in you as a designer.

Think about your portfolio from a client’s point of view. What do they want? There’s an element of risk from their end when hiring staff regardless if they’re part-time or full-time. They need to be able to trust you. You won’t have the opportunity to build much trust with them if you don’t have case studies.

Study the best case studies out there. Rally Interactive have some of the best case studies I’ve ever seen. Check out the work they did for The National Parks App by National Geographic. Stunning work, stunning presentation.

2. Turn Your Good Ideas into Great Ideas

For this very article I had a few ideas that I managed to grow into something much better because I sat down and wrote them out. This is a written piece so obviously I had to write my ideas down but the same applies to design ideas too.

Good Writing is Good Thinking

Writing your ideas down and developing them by writing forces you to think through them with more focus as you’ve only got yourself and words. There aren’t any distractions from things like the visual design. When you do come to the design work, you’ll hit the ground running and you’ll be able to develop your ideas even further.

Write to Clarify Thought

Ideas are nothing if they only exist in your head. Write your ideas down as soon as they land on the doorstep of your mind, or they’ll fly off to far away places where you may never see them again. Personally, I use Evernote to record every potential good thought I have and I try to expand on it as much as possible in that moment, while the idea is still fresh.

My very rough notes for potential articles

My very rough notes for potential articles

Above is a screenshot of one of my Evernote notes to show you how I write down ideas. Everything is very quick and short with some of it only making sense to me but this is the first stage in clarifying my thoughts. And yes, I am thinking of writing an article about how shower design relates to web design. Travelling the world for six months will do that to you!

3. Establish Yourself as an Authority for More Opportunities

Whether you’ve been designing for 1 year or 10 years, writing helps to establish yourself as an authority. In fact, even if you’ve only just started designing, writing what you learn as you learn it yourself is a great way to show your dedication and love for what you do.

I started blogging here on Inspect Element way back in 2009 which was very early on in my design journey but I didn’t anticipate the positive effect it would eventually have on my career. I simply started it so I could share what I learn with others and remember what I learnt as I had a terrible memory at the time!

Now, over 7,000 designers have subscribed to the Inspect Element newsletter, which has only been running for the last six months.

I know for a fact that my blog has helped me land multiple jobs, full-time and client work. Potential employers and clients are impressed by it and you gain trust with them even before you meet them.

Writing to be seen as an authority can also take you down other paths such as creating products like books or courses, giving you another source of income alongside your full-time job or freelance career. You may even get noticed for other opportunities such as speaking at conferences. Oh, and if you’re going to add speaking to your skills, writing is a great skill to develop for the required preparation.

Combine this with your great portfolio case studies to maximise your chance of landing more jobs.

4. Copywriting for Your Clients to Make More Money

How many web designers do you know who also can write copy for their clients? Probably not many. There aren’t many out there so you’re immediately putting yourself ahead of others if you learn the skill of copywriting.

Great web design is nothing without great content. Great content can help sell your client’s service or product, leading to more sales.

Hopefully as part of the design process for any project you work on, you’ll have conducted adequate research. A good designer knows the needs of the project inside out, so you’re in the ideal position of creating at least some of their content. Plus, you’ll never have to wait for content from a client if you’re the one creating it.

By offering copywriting as part of your package, you can always take on projects that only involve copywriting too, increasing your opportunity of acquiring more work if web design projects are thin on the ground.

Learn from the best copywriters out there. Start at swiped.co with the excellent annotations and comments on some of the best examples of copywriting on the internet.

Price Anchoring with Copywriting as a Service

Multiple tiers is a great way to give clients more and sometimes they won’t realise they want more until you offer it to them. For example, you could offer your standard web design service at what would be your usual price but give them the opportunity of a second tier with copywriting added on top. You could even limit the second tier to a landing page and also offer a complete site-wide copywriting package in a third tier.

Dan Ariely, Drazen Prelec, and George Loewenstein conducted a study on price anchoring in 2006:

“The researchers would hold up a bottle of wine, or a textbook, or a cordless trackball and describe in detail how awesome it was. Then, each student had to write down the last two digits of [his or her] social security number as if it was the price of the item. If the last two digits were 11, then the bottle of wine was priced at $11. If the two numbers were 88, the cordless trackball was $88. After they wrote down the pretend price, they bid.

“Sure enough, the anchoring effect scrambled their ability to judge the value of the items. People with high social security numbers paid up to 346 percent more than those with low numbers. People with numbers from 80 to 99 paid on average $26 for the trackball, while those with 00 to 19 paid around $9.”

Even real state professionals can be swayed by price anchoring as shown in a study when estimating the price of a sample home:

We might expect experts to be immune to the anchoring effect. Real estate agents, for example, should be able to resist the anchoring effects of a property’s list price because of their presumed skill at estimating property values. Testing this theory, researchers Greg Northcraft and Margaret Neale had real estate agents inspect a house and estimate its appraisal value and its purchase price. Northcraft and Neale manipulated the house’s list price, providing high and low anchors. All of the agents’ estimates were influenced by the list price, yet they denied factoring the list price into their decisions, instead citing features of the property that would justify their estimates.

Nathan Barry tripled the revenue of his eBook using tiered packages.

  • The Book ($39) — 48%
  • The Book + Videos ($99) — 26%
  • The Complete Package ($249) — 26%

So just the book by itself sold nearly 50% of the copies. So was it worth doing the other packages? Definitely! Here’s the breakdown when we focus on revenue:

  • The Book ($39) — 16%
  • The Book + Videos ($99) — 24%
  • The Complete Package ($249) — 60%

Despite making up nearly 50% of revenue, the book only accounted for 16% of revenue. The real revenue came from the 24% of sales in The Complete Package that made up 60% of revenue!

Had he not included the extra packages (with the extra value of course) and only offered the cheapest option, he would have made three times less than he did.

Let’s look at how web designers can apply this in the real world when packaged with copywriting. The prices are completely made up for the purposes of this demonstration to give you an idea of how you can apply this to your own services.

  • Web Design – £5,000: Your standard web design service. Basically whatever you charge now.
  • Web Design + Landing/Home Page Copywriting – £7,000: Include a single page of copywriting. Make sure you choose the most important page that will have the greatest impact such as a landing page.
  • Web Design + Complete Site Wide Copywriting – £15,000: Finally, the last offer includes copywriting everything for a considerable amount more.

How do you make a standard offer look cheap? Place it next to a more expensive one.

As you can see, the most expensive offer is substantially more than the others (more than double the middle tier in this case) but it is still worth it for clients who want it, so isn’t trying to trick them or be deceptive. My aim with this is to get the client to pick the second tier at least, as it isn’t much more than the first but is much cheaper than the third. I haven’t put something like this into practice but if it follows the studies on price anchoring, it should turn out well. You’ll almost certainly do better than if you only have the web design offer over the course of the year even if some clients do choose the cheapest tier.

5. Define Your Values to Find Your Ideal Clients

You want to get your ideal clients but how can you know who your ideal clients are if you haven’t defined your values? Writing is key to discovering and developing your values which are important for working with your ideal clients and there are many more reasons for working with your ideal clients beyond the obvious.

Why You Should Define Your Values to Find Your Ideal Clients

When you work with your ideal clients, you’ll have so much more chance of enjoying your work. Too often I see designers moan or complain about clients or bosses and while that may be fair in some instances, it’s almost guaranteed they haven’t defined their values to truly discover who they would love to work with.

In finding your ideal clients you’ll experience some or all of the following benefits:

  • You’ll be more inspired
  • You’ll have more energy
  • You’ll feel more confident
  • You’ll create work you’re proud of
  • You’ll be more successful

You want all of the above right? Of course you do. How many times have you worked on projects where you’ve lost inspiration, run out of energy, not felt confident or haven’t been proud of the end result? That’s probably because you haven’t defined your values or you’ve compromised on them just to accept a project or job.

Writing is Intimidating but Rewarding

Writing isn’t the easiest skill in the world but if you truly want to take your design career to the next level, you need to get as comfortable with it as you can. The payoff is worth it.

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by Tom Kenny

I’m a freelance web designer and front-end developer with over 7 years of experience designing for the web. Follow me on Twitter here.