I’ve been a writer for a long time. It wasn’t until I started working with developers and designers that I realized this thing I’ve always taken for granted is a skill that many people — particularly in creative fields — struggle with.
These are things I believe to be true:
- Improving your communication skills solves a lot of problems — in design, relationships or otherwise;
- Becoming a better communicator isn’t as hard as we’ve been led to believe; and,
- Having better communication skills boosts your self-esteem.
One of my pet peeves (as a non-technical person) is watching highly technical people isolate their audience by drowning them in jargon, making assumptions about levels of knowledge and understanding, or dismissing when people struggle to follow along. As Matt Hryhorsky says in his talk “Everyone Speaks Design”, sometimes we just aren’t speaking the same language. There is a way to fix that.
When I was asked to talk about Writing for Designers, I thought to focus on how to improve your communication when you’re presenting or selling your work to non-technical stakeholders.
I wanted to focus on tangible things you can do to increase your success with people who aren’t speaking the same language as you. So here’s the overview:
- Learn how to own your expertise (without being a jerk about it)
- Read the damn room (aka assess your audience)
- Break down power dynamics
- Apply UX principles to communication (which I’ll talk about in a separate post)
- Make basic structural changes to improve your writing
It’s infinitely easier to sell your work when you’re speaking the same language as the people who need to approve of, or hire you to do the thing you’re good at. This is especially true for junior-to-intermediate level professionals, who were the audience for this talk.
Before we get into it, I want to talk about the most basic tenet of communication theory. At its core, it states that it is always the job of the person communicating to make sure their message is understood — it’s never the audience or user’s fault if you haven’t made yourself clear enough.
It’s the job of the communicator to be understood, and the receiver’s job to understand it.
Extremely Yoda of you, communications theory. Let’s dive down into how we can solve this problem.