18 November 2010

Because they chose design, some students had hoped that they could leave the writing bit behind. And it is because of this perception that I spend a portion of my day talking to them about the value of writing. Specifically, how to write critically. And I try to demonstrate how this skill correlates to their make/build practice. I do this by drawing a stool: if one part is missing, the whole thing topples.

Here's how I break it down:

IDEA: You should start with an idea. You may have to research to refine this but once you have a question you are responding to or an idea you're going to develop, you have the ability to stay focused and build a paper that people can understand and engage in. The rest of the paper should support this idea.

RESEARCH: An idea gets supported and developed through research. While you may think your ideas are brilliant, someone else has likely considered it on some level. Using their ideas can help bolster your argument but it should be used as a support rather than the primary focus. Be sure to cite it!

CRITICAL THOUGHT: To avoid regurgitating other people's ideas (and plagiarism), take some time to reflect and consider how you might add your commentary to the subject. What is your posture on the topic? What would you do/say differently? Many designers have built stools but when adding their personal reflection to the content, a new stool gets developed.

STORY: Give us a picture or example that helps us relate to the idea in a tangible way. A metaphor or analogy can help but this is by no means the exclusive way to present a story. In some cases, you can add a sketch or diagram to help support your words. In design, this helps a user imagine how they might use your product. In writing, it helps me understand how I might fit into the topic you're discussing.

On top of all this, proper grammar, spelling and sentence structure will only help your cause. These elements could be compared to the nails or joints that help hold the stool together. If you don't use them, you end with individual parts that don't make sense because they don't join together.

I also remind them that design, like writing, only gets better with various iterations and critiques. Inviting others to look at your work is a good way to improve it.

I'd add writing skills to my ongoing list of designer tools:
1. Camera
2. Self-awareness
3. Drawing skills/tools

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