About writing practice
Bence uses writing to investigate graphic design from unconventional angles, such as economic and cultural production, critical theory and media analysis.

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Why you should write as a graphic designer

Words and writing seem opposed to the image-focused work of designers. The clichéd notion of designers working better with images, visual material and thinking in an ocular, “right-brained” way is almost an identity to creatives. If the output is visual, surely the best way to approach it is also visual, right? Besides, as we often hear, the world is becoming more image-literate than ever, with the amount of images we’re being exposed to online on a daily basis providing sufficient evidence to this. Writing however can provide benefits to design practices that outweigh the uncomfortable nature of engaging with it as an image-driven person. While its implementation to one’s process greatly depends on one’s idiosyncrasies, neurology and other factors, here, I outline some ways it can be employed and the insights it can bring.

Writing as a process

Words have a few situational advantages over images. Firstly, they can signify incredibly nuanced ideas and concepts; secondly, they can go beyond aesthetics; and thirdly, they carry the “thinking through making” philosophy to address less tangible but critical aspects. All of these are useful for supporting a design process that starts with an underlying strategy, aim or concept, as opposed to a purely feeling- or aesthetically-driven approaches. Being able to materialise concepts is particularly useful for identity design for example. Images may have a hard time expressing concepts, and they often refer to a signifier for a concept, such a heart for love, or padlock for security. Words can bring meanings closer, concepts like trust, safety or reliability are more accurately signified through these very words than images representing them, making it easier to communicate to collaborators and audiences. It's worth noting, the accuracy of textual signifiers is incredibly situational, and nouns in particular are prone to interpretation more, and can be better conveyed by images.

A textual approach to design also bypasses the increasingly aesthetically-focused way the Instagram-generation of makers are socialised in, and are developing their practices. This issue of aesthetics-as-design is directly linked to the velocity of information is received and their decontextualisation through this, as well as the constrains of digital social platforms. There are now thousands of aesthetically-driven design accounts that replicate the – as they appear – “contextless" images already shared, resulting in actual contextless images, lacking meaning or intention. Just think the Acidgraphix, black-background, texture-rich, Bryan Rivera and David Rudnick duplicators. Using writing forces the process to be reframed, giving priority to aspects such as brand strategy, audience, concept, context, and so on, before a visual expression.

The idea of “thinking through making” – that the outcome develops as a result of iterative research, making, testing and feedback – extends to writing too. Concepts and outcomes can be fine tuned, crystallising foundational, intangible facets to the design work before starting to produce work. Here, the less tangible, “abstract” aspects are brought into focus, revealing any unstable foundations to subsequent output.

Writing as an outcome

Writing as an outcome contextualises design. To write about design, is to write about the connections it has to other areas of culture. Aspects and relations appear that go further than the design-object at hand, by the virtue of the discipline being embedded into a larger set of cultural expressions. To generalise, since graphic design is about giving shape to something other than itself, this contextualisation gives space for the exploration of the terrain it is located in: political economy, media, communication, epistemology, semiotics to name a few. Writing about and interrogating these then feed back into practical applications.

Writing, as a complementary exercise to design practice, then facilitates a working method addressing intangible aspects of design work, allowing to go beneath aesthetic expressions. Its uses as an outcome give context to it, placing design in the terrain of larger cultural spaces, feeding back and enriching practical work.

© 2021 Bence Iványi