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059: Writing for Designers with Scott Kubie

User Defenders podcast
UX Writing
059: Writing for Designers with Scott Kubie

Writing for Designers with Scott Kubie on User Defenders

Scott Kubie shows us how writing is designing with words. He reminds us that someone has to be the writer, and it’s our job to know who that person is. He calls on us to take up the task of writing when nobody else can, and warns of what leaving it till the end will do. He also shares some neat tricks to spur momentum and overcome those intimidating blank pages.

Scott Kubie is the Lead Content Strategist at Brain Traffic, and the author of Writing for Designers from A Book Apart. He can be found online at, and in person at various grungy rock clubs around the Twin Cities. Since 2010, Scott has delivered over sixty public talks and workshops on writing, content strategy, and user experience design to audiences of designers, developers, artists, makers, and more. His academic career was marked by several superlatives for “Best Hair”.

  • Why Do We Forget About Writing? (6:30)
  • What’s Wrong with Lorem Ipsum? (9:36)
  • Present the Problem Before the Visuals (12:57)
  • Are Designers Expected to Be Writers? (15:55)
  • The Rough-In Process (20:08)
  • Getting Approval Through Stakeholder Participation (24:11)
  • Putting It All Together (30:12)
  • IKEA Instructions with Words (37:43)
  • Edit Yourself Later (41:49)
  • How to Level Up (47:10)

Scott Kubie’s Website
Scott Kubie’s Twitter
Scott Kubie’s Blog
Writing for Designers [ARTICLE]

Writing for Designers

Day One


Show transcript

Jason Ogle: Welcome to User Defenders, Scott. I am super-excited to have you on the show today.

Scott Kubie: Happy to be here, Jason. Thanks for having me.

Jason Ogle: I loved your fun fact. Do you still get comments on your hair?

Scott Kubie: I do. I was you know, I was just remarking to a friend last night so this I’m going deeply personal right out the gate that’s okay.

Jason Ogle: Please!

Scott Kubie: So, when I’m at my heaviest and have a big beard, which is you know, that’s a weight that I can be at. That’s a look I can have. People will tell me that I look like Zach Galifianakis which, you know, I just take us compliment. He’s a funny man. And when it’s like, it’s summer, and the sun’s been out and I’m fit and I’m shaved. And the hair is back. I get Bradley Cooper, which I think is mostly again for the hair.

So, there’s a lot to it. But I’m always I’m always experimenting with it. I have a beard and then I go to a conference and I’ve shaved it off in between and I forget that I gave the conference a bearded photo of me so that no one recognizes me. And I started get bummed because; like none of my, you know, old conference friends are coming up and saying hi. It’s like wait, they don’t recognize me. So, it’s people like people like to comment, so I just you know, it gives them pleasure. So, I just roll with it if people like to talk about my hair, it’s fine by me.

Jason Ogle: That’s great hey, Bradley Cooper, that’s not a bad one. That’s, that’s nice. He’s pretty easy on the eyes if we’re being honest. So, this is awesome. I’m so excited to have you on the show, Scott. I’ve never really specifically had an entire episode dedicated to writing and the importance of it, especially as a designer and UX writing is sort of one of the newer buzzwords in our field. I want to talk about this you know, and just even in the opening lines of your book, you say something really interesting you say crap the writing, but you use another word…this is a family show. So, I’m….

Scott Kubie: You know, I kept waiting to get notes on that and I never did. So, I just let it go.

Jason Ogle: Go with it, man use your voice that’s what I loved you totally brought your voice into this too. It was really fun, fun to read.

Scott Kubie: Well, I mean, that’s where the conversation often starts. And I think being traffic, right, do content strategy work too, you know, you can, there are complexities on complexities around the problem. But very often the root problem for folks that are struggling with content is it’s, you know, we have a lot of writing that needs to get done, and it’s not done and the people that need to do it don’t maybe feel up to the task, or they have their own work.

And so, it’s not on the top of their stack. And it just, it all spirals out from there. And there’s a lot there’s, I mean, there’s numerous, I mean, whole disciplines, you know, content strategy included UX writing included the you know, are addressing the various symptoms of that, but it’s a big problem in organizations.

Jason Ogle: Yes, it really is. And I can’t wait to learn more about kind of how to sort of become a better writer and sort of like how a writer kind of fits into the design process. So, I am definitely excited to dive into that. But you said something interesting you said we forgot about the writing. You know, and you just touched on it, but as you so eloquently communicate in your book, you know, designs depend on words. And if that’s true, and it is why do we tend to forget about the writing so often?

Scott Kubie: Yes, you know, I think if I’m being perfectly honest, I think sometimes forgetting is maybe a kind way to put it right I think there’s it’s often and uncomfortable truth that we are somewhat intentionally deceiving ourselves into not acknowledging right every time you put down a bit of fake text, right if you’re putting in some warm up some or some content goes here, or copying and pasting song lyrics as I’ve done in the past, or drawing in squiggles, you know, it’s like you know, any anyone knows okay, I would I could have done here was write something and instead what I did was draw squiggles or Put in fake text.

And but you know, nothing immediately happens alarms don’t go off. When you do that right the content police don’t come bursting down your door when you use fake text and warm up some and they’re even appropriate moments to do that in one’s own writing process but as organizations I think I’m honestly not sure the root cause but there’s sort of this mass delusion that takes place where everyone is looking at this fake taxed. And through unspoken agreement kind of just pretends that it’s real text, right?

We sort of like yes, I have an idea of what could go here. And really, I just wanted to look at the design anyway. And so that becomes, as I said, this shared delusion and it’s something that very much snowballs, right. Well, if we didn’t write this text, because; we want to wait until the writer can get their hands on it, I mean, no reason to write this text and well, you know what, I think the writer could probably do a better job with this bit of copy here.

So, I’m going to leave that as I’m gonna leave that one blank. And it just it adds up and adds up and adds up. And the real problem there as many designers have probably experienced, you know, one or two TBA one or two to comes in, you’re in a mockup of like, I just, I’m struggling, I can’t quite find the words here, I need to get some help with it. That’s not going to sink your project, but the choosing the words writing the words, that’s a design decision that has implications for the rest of the design. And so, the more of those s that stack up exponentially the less the less done the design gets, and the harder it becomes to write those words. So, long way around.

But I think the answer the question is people are deluding themselves because it says, to a certain extent, it’s a scary thing. It’s really scary to just look directly and acknowledge how much work there is still yet to do.

Jason Ogle: And you started touching on Lorem Ipsum and that is definitely a go to for these Designers in kind of filling in like this is imagine this is where texts would go and their designs now what’s wrong with warm up some what are the problems the inherent problems you’ve seen with it?

Scott Kubie: So, I tend to kind of fall in the middle on the warm up some debate. So, the one thing I’ve started to push back a bit on is the idea that it’s toxic right that it’s immediately poisonous and no one should ever use it right. No, never use a warm up some warm up some is killing your designs etc. As an individual writer and designer, I find it useful. I like to see the shape of a thing before I write it right?

So, if you, you know, if I am writing something in the style of may be kind of a persuasive letter, right? You know, that sort of like, letter from Jeff Bezos, when you open up Amazon and they do the memo style thing. Well, a letter has a certain silhouette. That’s going to have a certain number of paragraphs it’s going to have an intro and a conclusion in a PS. And in my own writing and design, I think, like sketching that out with Lauren Epsom helps me get a better feel for it.

So, I think that’s perfectly fine. We’re Lorem Ipsum and becomes a problem and the big problem with it is as I alluded to earlier, when it becomes part of our design process, so part of a personal designer’s workflow if it helps you get the writing work done, use it use squiggles, whatever helps you get the writing done, do it. But if you take it to a design review, you take it to a critique God forbid it goes up for quote unquote approval you know, with fake text in it. I mean, what do we approving right. That’s what always becomes kind of funny to me.

Jason Ogle: That’s a good point; because the design could change depending on how what the final text and often it will change depending on what the final text is right?

Scott Kubie: Very much so and it can change and also the thing about Laura, Epson if someone other placeholders are there, they’re not reality. And so, anyone on that conversation, anyone in that review is substituting their own imagination for it. So, people, you know, the people in the room looking at Lorem Ipsum are not aligned on what goes there, because it’s nonsense. That’s it’s purposefully nonsense. And so, pretending that we have agreed that this is the design is just its patently untrue, there’s no way that you can have that agreement, because you were looking at something that’s going to change.

Jason Ogle: That’s an interesting point. And I feel like when we do and I’ve done this many time, and I’ve been in meetings where the client has actually been thrown off by Lorem Ipsum where they’ve actually been super distracted by it. But then you just think like, what do we really you just said it, what are we getting approval on? Is it just the visual aesthetic? Is it just the visual elements? If so, maybe that’s okay, maybe that’s you know, maybe that’s all right to you. In that case, but I think that you know, as UX is evolved so much, even like with sprint processes and stuff like that, like it’s, more about like the problem being solved and I feel like maybe this is sort of like another one of those evolutions as designers that we all need to kind of figure out a better process to present really more or less along the lines of the visual aspects. I know unless you’re doing a work for like Ogilvy– David Ogilvy or something like that, but like, you know, in this medium, it’s I think we need to really present more of the problem being solved, then you know, and then the visual elements are kind of the runner up to the thing.

Scott Kubie: Absolutely!

Jason Ogle: Is that good when you look at it.

Scott Kubie: Yes, the way I often think about it is that Lorem Ipsum is a tool. It’s a design tool and tools are neutral, but some tools are much more dangerous than others right? So, I did a lot of stage craft in high school and a little bit in college for the theater for productions and the freshmen, you know, coming in who were new and a little greener, we could certainly let them use. We could let them use a drill, right? That’s not the most dangerous of tools. Maybe with a few hours under their belt, we’d let them use the chop saw. But even I was not allowed as a student individually to go in and use the table saw we had to do that with the, with the teacher’s assistance, you know, and I was just kind of handing him things because table saws are dangerous as heck.

So, you know, but they’re also incredibly powerful in the right hands, and it’s a very useful tool. So, I think Lauren Epson was one of those very dangerous tools. And as you said, could you have Lorem Ipsum in and have a meeting where you review and approve or at least give the go ahead on some visual elements you can and that requires an incredibly disciplined process and requires an increase in incredibly competent facilitator, which is a whole lot area of design skill that is I think often undervalued alongside writing is facilitation.

So, if you can make it incredibly clear to everyone on the meeting that what we’re doing today is, you know, approving the general aesthetic approach to this area, because; it’s going to be too difficult to go back and redo it. You know, again, I’d be very cautious about that. But I think that’s doable in the right organization with the right people, but you have to be really explicit about it. And again, you have to make incredibly clear what is it we’re actually agreeing on right now today in this room.

Jason Ogle: Yes, so as a designer, in the earlier days of the web, using you know, we all use waterfall process at that time, that was just kind of how we did things. So, it’s like, the bid comes in. We do a couple of we do some mockups, right and again, probably using Lorem Ipsum and presented to the client. Oh, great. I like the way that looks. Okay. See in a year as we build this thing, I mean, that’s how it works I see you next year. But you know, so certainly, and I’m glad things have evolved a lot to where, you know, we have a lot more of an agile design process, typically in the field.

But you know, we’d have an easy out back then if we’re running behind on a deliverable. What was that? Well, the client hasn’t provided the copy right. This field, and its rules evolved so much, it feels like designers are almost expected to code and developers are expected to design. Our designers also expected to be writers now. In other words, whose job is it anyway.

Scott Kubie: Yes, so answering that. I love that question, Jason, because answering that question, I think is one of the first important things that organizations and teams need to do to get the writing done. And one of the things that I strongly recommend in writing for designers is that the role of writer be made explicit for any given assignment and that that’s another idea. I shape out in the book. But again, you take something like a whole website overhaul, right so you’re redesigning the client’s website, you’re totally re-launching it you’ve had this date in mind for four months or even a year.

There’s tons dozens and dozens of pages of content, any, you know, that’s something that can be reasonably easily scoped out through a content inventory or content matrix document. The interactive flows, you know, all the things should have been, well inventoried and project managed. And anything that needs writing should have a writer assigned. Now, whom the writer should be depends on the organization depends on the resources depends on the skill set, etc.

So, step one is; just assigning a writer deciding who the writer is. Is it the designer? Is it a writer? that’s resource to multiple teams? Is it this beautiful Fantasyland or there’s a dedicated UX writer you know, for every design team? That’d be really nice. But you need to know it. So that’s step one. But then, just by signing the writer, the funny thing is you don’t actually know anything yet. So, step two is; you have to articulate what it means to be the writer on the assignment. And something that I am advocating for in organizations and especially for individual designers to think about a little bit is that being the writer does not necessarily have to mean I and I alone as the writer in responsible for typing out of nothing, brand new text to grammatical perfection, for this design, right. Writing to me just has to mean owning the text in the design.

Often in an organization being the writer especially, if you have an established design system if the organization of the product has been propped up for many years. Sometimes the writing work doesn’t involve any new words at all. It’s finding relevant text in a copy down its borrowing patterns and language about signings or resets or you know, product descriptions or whatever have you from other projects. And it’s just sorts of like a role of shepherding or stewarding the tex.t Now, could involve writing and one way to think about it, too. And a popular thing with UX writers, increasingly is sort of doing photocopy right?

So, just taking the designer is going to take their best shot at writing something, knowing that there’s another step in the process where they will review that text with an editor who can refine It or maybe there’s a UX writer who sort of collaborates with designers on previously written photo copy to refine it. But however, a team shakes it out, I think, to your question, the important thing is that someone needs to be the writer. And I think it’s a designer’s job to know who that person is to be aware of it to advocate for that, hey, I’m the designer on this. This thing needs words, who’s the writer? is it me? is there someone else? Is that the client? do I have that person’s phone number? And can I start inviting them to meetings so that we can start collaborating right now.

Jason Ogle: That’s really great input. And I was thinking about sort of the deliverable of the you know, that kind of the design review, perhaps it with the client or the stakeholders and such and I’m wondering like, about how we can kind of do this where it’s the warm ups and going to kind of throw them off. But we got to deliver this dang thing, right. Like, we got to show them something. Like, I think you talked about a concept in your book called The Rough-In. I think that was brilliant. Can you? Can you touch on that a little bit?

Scott Kubie: Yes. So, the idea there is to take all of your inputs and inputs being potentially protocopy that you’ve written, so kind of low files, not polished text, put that, you know, directly into the document. If you have quotes or customer testimonials, maybe you have a few options for what the headline should be. But just sort of gathering what you have and kind of almost collage style like sort of layering that on to your design canvas. And the idea being is that we it’s intentionally going to look a little rough, right. We don’t want this to look like a polished maker.

Jason Ogle: Sure, because; I could buy it off to right.

Scott Kubie: Exactly, that’s going to throw the client off as well. And it invites a little bit of collaboration. I’m low it personally I am low that to do group writing during a call, I’ve had to step into that role before to solve a problem of like, you know what, fine let me share my screen let me open up Word and let me just start typing things as you talk. I don’t find that especially efficient. But I do you know, sort of almost in like the you know, maybe like a vision test sort of way you put a few options on the canvas. And instead of showing like multiple, fully polished complete mockups, right here’s a version A of the design, here’s version B of the design, here’s version C of the design, the design is the design, but you could put version A, B and C for the headline right on the canvas, you know, and just kind of have that all messy and layered on.

So, the roof and is one idea. I think as an individual designer, the best way to do that and when I worked as a UX writer supporting the team of UX designers, I just begged them, I beg them, please write something right? Literally anything, you know, I don’t care how bad it is. But if you make an attempt to just describe even in like in a detached sort of voice, right? Like this button will make the user log out of the service, right? Just tell me what’s happening with the language as opposed to leaving it implied with the design elements, that’s a much more efficient collaboration.

Jason Ogle: I like that a lot.

Scott Kubie: I like the Rough-In for getting there. Another concept of started talking about recently is pink protocopy. So, I’ve yet to work on a brand where pink is one of the like actual design colors. It’s very intense. And so that’s as an alternative to Lorem Ipsum something that I often do is I just I put in draft text, but I make it obnoxious, neon pink. And then I put at the top of the document in big, bright pink letters, draft copy, and maybe some notes about that. But still having words that get us closer to a done design, as opposed to putting in beautifully type set black nonsense, which is the Lorem Ipsum.

Jason Ogle: That’s so good. And I was thinking about, you touched on this just a minute ago about kind of leaving it open for collaboration, because even if it is, you know, like you mentioned to, which is super important advice, like, make the role explicit for each given project, because; it could change and it very well will. But I like how you kind of talk in the book about collaboration of writing and, you know, because there’s a lot of research involved right to like you’re not, you can’t just write, like you said, just out of thin air of something you know nothing about. So, I think that what I’m getting at is you talk about, you know, the approval process and probably Jumping a little ahead here, but I feel like it’s a good time to mention this about the whole “swoop and poop”. You know, like and I loved how you address that because it’s, you know, the client or stakeholder or whatever is less likely to crap on your work if they’re a part of it.

Scott Kubie: Absolutely, and it is so inexpensive to involve stakeholders and others in the organization. In the writing process, you don’t need any special skills for it. It’s not a costly sort of workshop. You know, folks don’t have to have be signed into any special applications to do it. It’s mostly driven by conversations. And as I said, showing people some options, so you know, there are, you can you can do that as simply as just like an interview an interview is a fantastic way to do it. I think especially if you are using some form of visual note taking visual recording of the conversation.

So, if I’m explicitly talking to a stakeholder to get their input toward writing something, I like to reflect back what I’m capturing of what they’re saying, as they’re saying it. I think that’s a nice technique to use in any circumstance. But I think especially in writing because they can sort of see I said some words out loud. I now see on the screen reflected back to me that you captured those words and that I think plants a little seed, so that when the stakeholder later is looking at the design, it feels familiar, even if maybe it’s not actually their words.

Jason Ogle: Right!

Scott Kubie: You may have changed it, you may have used that as an input. But they were part of the process, and they you know, you feel they can feel a little bit of that evolution, and that can be a really powerful thing.

Jason Ogle: That’s great! And when you make it better, they can kind of feel like, “I’m pretty good at this.”

Scott Kubie: Yes, well, you know, and the funny thing too, is like I fell victim to this I think a lot of designers all victim to this of you know, we are the geniuses we are the smart people who know how design works and how UX writing works. And all of this I got when I am on top of my game, and I’m running a project really well and I don’t have my defenses up and can just really engage with business leaders and stakeholders and you know, other members of the design team and the organization.

There are plenty of fantastic writers and designers and marketers and people with creative ideas. All over organizations, they’re working in customer service, they’re working in sales, they’re working in marketing, some of the best quote unquote writing that I’ve done on projects you know, the hook line the big idea did not come from me It came from someone else. And I think if you, you know, that’s it back that to me ties back to the idea of the right role, not being the person who is the foremost expert on words and has to type everything out new from their brain. But just as the steward of the copy on a project, they’re the person who’s going to get the writing done. That’s what the writer’s role is. And there are plenty of good books, anthologies, things out in the world that the person who wrote the book did very little original writing, right. They curated interviews, they researched things, they talked to lots of people, and we think of those people as writers. So, I don’t see any reason that can’t be the case on design projects.

Jason Ogle: I love that and it’s, again that whole inclusive idea here, but we can make better work when we involve more people. Because you know, more heads are better than one and you know, I’m more perspectives especially and, and I was thinking too, about evolving the client and bug who knows their product and business better than them right.

Scott Kubie: And evolving the client into this the spirit of this show, I think everything I just said, I would say again, and replace stakeholders with users, right? I mean the same idea, you can be collaborating with users. There are teams that use pair writing processes with members of the product community, you can do those same kinds of interviews with people and get lots of I just I talked about this idea of inputs a lot. But that’s very important to my own writing process. And it’s something that I would encourage designers to think more about, it to me gathering inputs is the big, is the where the bulk of the work should be, and is much more productive than sitting and staring at a blank page right?

So, if you’re sitting and staring at a blank page, and you don’t have anything to say, we’ll go talk to someone and then write down what they say. And now you got a whole page of stuff to work from. And if that’s no good, go talk to someone else. And I’ve got two pages of stuff to work from. And if those interviews aren’t good, go look at the competitors sites and borrow a bunch of things from them as not to plagiarize but as inputs right like how can I read Mix this you hear a melody on the radio, and you come home, you know, there was played on piano and a jingle. And you play it through guitar and you crank up your distortion pedal and no one will ever hear the difference. You know where it came from. And now you’ve got your own song. So, gathering those inputs, I think, especially from users can be an incredibly valuable part of that process.

Jason Ogle: So, great. I’m wondering, Scott, in writing this book. Are you hoping that more designers will become better writers or that more companies will see the value of hiring a UX writer directly onto the team?

Scott Kubie: Now, I think either would be fantastic. I think as a matter of practicality, based on my experience, getting people already in a design role more comfortable with writing. And honestly getting people in business and marketing roles more comfortable with writing is a lot more practical. I hope that in the you know, like a decade from now. That, you know, as you said, UX writing is kind of seems like a term that’s very trendy now. I think for good reason. People are recognizing the need for it. It’s a community that’s starting to come together.

So, I hope that more and more people are focusing on that out of the gate and are able to build up years of experience so that then we can have led and then senior and then Junior UX writers. Right now, though, I think that there’s probably you know, if I had, if I’m a startup, and I need to hire folks to just get my product built and built well, as soon as possible. I’m probably interested in designers that have a writing competency, more so than folks exclusively with a writing and communications background. Because; I think some of the intricacies of design, maybe take a little bit more time to get one’s head wrapped around, right good communications, good communication. You can have decades of experience of that and still be completely lost and swimming. And an interactive design project.

Jason Ogle: And I want to add to about, you know, my question, my question kind of answered itself I was hoping to kind of get some more context out of you, which I did. And I appreciate that. I just want to say Defenders listening. Really, if you are a designer, which you are, or you are an aspiring one and you are on your way, I want to tell you, that in order to be a great designer, you really need to be a good writer, you know, you don’t want to be a great writer, but you need to be a good writer, and when you’re a good writer, you can become a great writer. I feel like that is so important.

And it’s so overlooked. Often you know, and again, it’s you know, it’s easy to kind of do the you know, not my job award, you know, I kind of went and doing this but you know it, it only adds to your tool belt, it only adds to your, you know, you’re being coveted at companies, you know, the fact that you can and you have work that shows that you’ve actually been able to do some design and writing on the on the same project. That’s kind of cool, you know.

Scott Kubie: Yes, and I don’t know if this idea is resonating with folks or not but something I’m starting to hear more people say and I think is a really nice idea is thinking about, like there’s writing, right so like there’s kind of this traditional idea that that folks have of writing letters, writing business emails, writing stories, but there’s also sort of an art of using words as a design material.

Jason Ogle: Yes!

Scott Kubie: And they’re closely related. And if you are using words is designed material, I think arguably, at most moments that you are doing that you can also describe what you’re doing is writing. But I think it’s an interesting lens, right designers, you know, there are plenty of designers out there that will be like, you know what, I feel really confident in this area, but my color theory is a little weak, and that’s something that I could brush up on and get better with, right. Or maybe my color I’ve got color theory nailed my compositions are great, but I never really got all that comfortable with type setting and you know, understanding fonts and type faces. I think words can be a similar kind of area to build a competency with and start to master a little bit more.

And if thinking about it as writing is scary because; you are like, Oh, I’m not a writer, I’m not like, that’s not me. I can sympathize with that. I hope you get over it at a certain point because you’re a writer. Yeah, um, but you know, but if thinking about words is just one of many materials like layout, composition, color, pacing, cadence, all these things that contribute to a design is helpful, then, you know, maybe that’s a useful lens and just understanding that it’s one more area of skill that you can build as a designer.

Jason Ogle: That’s so good. That’s kind of like the whole thing. We’re all designers, right. It just matters. It depends on whether we’re good or not at what we done but and that means that whether we’ve practiced enough and I feel like we’re all writers to we write emails. So, every day we rights Facebook posts or Twitter tweets you know, we do all this stuff every day we’re always writing, but I think it’s just you know, are we thinking about you know, being the intentional craft of writing I think that’s, what your book is really doing. It did that for me it really want makes me want to take my writing to the next level and to become even better at it. And so, you know, and Zelman says I won’t hire any designer doesn’t write Zelman can’t be wrong.

Scott Kubie: I echo that and thank you, Jason, that’s really nice to hear.

Jason Ogle: Absolutely!

Scott Kubie: Intention, I love that you mentioned intentional craft because that was very much my hope for the book is that if you know there’s a lot of guidance out there about what to write for the web and what to write in digital, right you can find top ten lists of you know, things like, use active voice and have short scandal headlines and make sure that paragraphs are only sixty to seventy words, you know, and some of this kind of advice around what to write for the web. But the actual like process of like mobile, like, what do I do? How do I get started writing? and then what do I do next? And then what do I do next is that’s not an area that a lot of designers especially have experience in. And being intentional about it. Just having a little conversation with yourself of how am I going to get this writing done? What will that mean? is absolutely going to lead to a better project and better outcomes.

And that’s without getting any better at the quote unquote writerly stuff, right? That’s not about going out and studying grammar and learning what participants are, and reading Strunk and white and studying style guides, that’s just about being intentional about your craft, as you say, and in my experience that leads to significantly better writing. Because ultimately, writing is just about clarifying our thinking and then putting it down in words. And so, if you’re being intentional about it, you’re going to have clear thinking and you can have better writing.

Jason Ogle: Yes, I love that. And you said that in your book, you said writing is just thinking plus typing. It’s really that simple. And it’s just a matter of the intentionality. I think that’s when it starts to kind of separate from just a casual email to like actually writing really effective experience, because that is part of the user experience. In fact, there’s probably one of the most important yet most overlooked parts of the user experience. And when I was reading your book, you also said, can you imagine a digital experience, like a website or app with no words? And it’s like, geez, that just like removes pretty much most of the experience right there. You imagine that it really opened my eyes a lot when I started thinking about that. And then it may, you know, and then my brain my brain started going like, well, you know, can you imagine IKEA instructions with words?

Scott Kubie: Right, well, you know, and the and the funny thing is to like I think things so a key instruction, and then I do quite a bit of Lego building for Sell right. And so, they have one of my favorite upgrades that’s happened since I was a kid is that if you get the Lego instructions now, the very first instruction is that it’s sort of it visualizes the idea of emptying out the bags on a table. So, not your shag carpet, right? So, ‘’Hey kid, work on a table’’.

Jason Ogle: You are bare skin rug.

Scott Kubie: Right, the bare skin rug. And so, to start one bag at a time. So, all the bags are numbered now, which is fantastic. Because if you have a piece with like, if you have a set with pieces, and you open all the bags and dump them together, you’re constantly hunting for pieces. But now they have them section open bag one builds this open back two build this. And that’s an intentionality of like organizing your inputs and all the pieces that you have to work with and creating an order of operations to get that work done.

And writing to me very much feels like, especially in the context of design, writing very much feels like building a model, it feels a lot less. Like when I sit down to write a song or poetry or a bit of fiction, it feels more like assembling a model, let’s get all these pieces laid out in a somewhat sensible order and start to assemble them. And so that is a skill that I think anyone can build, especially as a designer without having to worry about the writerly parts of it. It’s just that intentional thinking,

Jason Ogle: Wow! That is awesome. I love the Lego analogy and assembling you know the pieces and assembling the writing. Did you just come up with that or is, that in your back pocket?

Scott Kubie: No, I’ve investigated this before. It’s on my brain a lot. And you know, there’s another in my day job life as a content strategist, something I talked about a lot our content ecosystem apps, which are a way of, to a certain extent doing exactly that, app at the organizational level. So, let’s figure out what all the pieces are of this thing that is us, including our websites and channels, and content types, and so on, and arrange them on a canvas into a model that represents today or maybe represents the future. And again, like that, it’s a method of just clarifying your thinking that makes doing all the rest of the work easier. And I find that that is helpful at that big meta scale for a big content strategy initiative.

Like, we want to overhaul the website. And I also find it very effective at the micro scale of I need to get the writing done for this screen. And I’m not going to do it by just stubbornly plowing ahead with a blank document, but I’m going to arrange all my pieces, figure out what’s true about this, asked myself what my goals are, what am I trying to communicate, maybe create an outline, arrange my messages and then assemble them. And that’s kind of where the Rough-In comes in, right? you start to assemble all this stuff.

And if you get really good at that, in my experience, you find that the quote unquote, writing work is maybe like five to ten percent of the job, you’re not really doing that much writing, it’s assembling, trimming, cleaning, organizing, getting things in the right order. And once you’ve thought through all of that stuff, actually writing the text for what the button does, or putting a little bit of micro copy under the form. That stuff almost writes itself. Once you get your thinking clear enough.

Jason Ogle: That so good. I want to encourage the Defenders listening right now, when you’re writing, just, this is so hard to do. And all the time I do this, I want to kind of edit myself as I go. And I want to encourage you just writ, right and to just begin anywhere like Bruce Mel said, and is incomplete manifesto for growth begin anywhere, and just start writing, and get it all out. And don’t edit yourself until later. Like that is so hard, Scott, isn’t it?

Scott Kubie: It is, yes. And I struggle with it. And I think the workflow model that I recommend in the book, it’s a brief book. So, I don’t I don’t want to spoil the whole thing. But that, you know, there’s this idea of preparing first. And I think a useful little trick is to treat that initial general of text. So, dumping it all out there, as you said, writing without editing, I tend to think of that as sort of a preparatory step, that’s me generating one more input to work with. if you put the added pressure on yourself of I’m going to try and hit a home run on my first swing, right of like, I’m going to get this perfect and write the good draft, that there’s no reason for that pressure, no one’s putting that you’re putting that pressure on yourself, you have absolute permission to just write a big, messy lump of nothing, even if it just clears your mental throat and get you ready to write something good.

Or if it does end up generating useful tax, and you can edit it later. But no one’s watching, right. I worry that school has made a lot of people nervous about writing, you know, just you write a history paper that demonstrates your knowledge of some historical event and someone’s in there with a red pen correcting every little grammatical mistake, you know. And it’s, I don’t know that that’s doing a service to people, at least in the spirit of making them feel happy and comfortable with the idea of being a writer.

Jason Ogle: Yes, that’s such good advice. And I think that Defenders, when you do that, when you’re editing yourself as you go, and if you’re like just kind of getting down on yourself, because you didn’t have the perfect words or phrases right out the gate. Like, I think you’re going to discourage yourself into not wanting to pursue this craft. And so, I just really want to encourage you to just go for it, just go and get it all out. And just go and edit yourself later. And the good news is, you’re not printing this stuff on ten thousand, pieces of paper right after you write your first draft, like this is a digital medium. And we can always iterate and we can do that in our writing too. So, I just really encourage you don’t be discouraged by trying to edit yourself to death as you’re writing. You know, give yourself space, give it, let yourself just get everything out and think as you type like Scott encourages us.

Scott Kubie: Absolutely! Yes, I’m really big on the idea of a scratch pad, you know, of just having some place that you’re not committing to what you’re right there and it’s your you have permission to be messy. I love that I follow a lot of illustrators on social media, because it just, it’s a fun little community. I do know from time to time, I don’t think of myself as a designer in that sense. But a lot of them do and share their warm ups, sketches right? They just have some piece of legal pad and they draw something silly. Or they make an illustration out of the coffee stain that morning. Or, you know, a leaf, there’s a leaf on their window sill and they just draw that. And it’s that has no purpose other than getting them ready to draw. And I think even writing in a journal, writing an email to a friend, like, I find that even if it’s not about the assignment doing any amount of writing, before I do try and do good writing for that for a client or for a project I’m working on that the it ends up being that much better.

Jason Ogle: Yes, absolutely. That’s such great advice, Scott. And I think about the there’s a quote about, we all have good ideas, we just have to get out all the bad ones out first. And I think that we just kind of put too high of expectations on ourselves quite often. And that’s where the writing that’s with art, as you mentioned, that’s with anything we’re doing that we really truly enjoy that we take seriously. I think we tend to just feel like if I’m good at this, and this is a fixed mindset defender, if I’m good at this, if I’m really good at this, I’ll just nail it out the gate, right. That’s the John McEnroe mindset.

Or when he messes up, he throws his tennis racket breaks, it yells at the ref, right. It’s like, that’s not the way to approach this. And so, I really like that that feedback like and that’s a reminder to me to keep my sketch pad, I usually keep my sketch pad in my backpack. And I I’m like, I’m a digital guy, you know, and I don’t tend to use my sketch pad as much. But I feel like I’m missing out on the opportunity to grow by not getting that the Rough-Ins out, so to speak, as well. So, that I really like that take away a lot, Scott.

Scott Kubie: Yes, and just as a bit of our onboarding, you know, I find like the scratch pad for me, at the end of a writing session is, I mean, it seems like some kind of cryptic code. I don’t even know why I’m writing down half the things I write down but it just moving the pan a little putting a couple of words, a short list together, kind of glancing at that and then going like, yes, okay, back to the writing. It’s, weird. It’s like a little bit of a magic trick.

Jason Ogle: It seems cathartic. It’s like kind of that John Nash getting that Beautiful Mind stuff out, right.

Scott Kubie: There you go.

Jason Ogle: So, Scott, as we kind of start wrapping up here. You know, in addition to buying your book, which I highly recommend, Defenders–it’s so great. And our wonderful friends at a book apart are giving us a 10% I think off on this, which is really cool. And I’ll be sure to mention that in the outro. So, highly recommend that. But Scott, what are some other ways designers can level up their writing skills? In addition?

Scott Kubie: Oh, that’s a great question. So, I mentioned this just a moment ago, but I think doing any sort of personal writing can be really helpful for just getting you in the habit and right. So, like, you don’t want to feel a lot of inertia at when it’s time to write right. It shouldn’t feel like a big scary mode shift, right. Like writing is to just be a thing that you are used to doing, like making words go even right, it’s just a thing that you should feel comfortable doing. One thing that I find helpful in a lot of ways, but I think in this regard in particular, is I keep…my personal journal is digital. On my Mac, I use this app called Day One.

Jason Ogle: Oh, yes.

Scott Kubie: And there’s a quick little, there’s, yeah, there’s a quick little key command and there’s a little window off my menu bar. And I could just type anything in there. And you know, off if I just have a fleeting thought where I’m like, I probably shouldn’t tweet this, but it’s just on my brain. I open it, I type it in their command return, now it’s saved. So, I’m just, you know, I have a habit of making words happen on the regular. So, I think that’s really nice. I think the other another way to consider it too, is that my experience has been that Junior designers especially like, beyond just not writing for their designs, they often try not to do any writing at all. And I think a good place to start leveling up your writing skills is to write about the things that you have designed. So, you can do that publicly, like on a blog, right. If just like write about something that you’ve learned.

That’s, that’s a big commitment. Not everyone has the time for that. But I think even in your own design processes, if you are going to send a comp over to someone for review, or comments, don’t just say, hey, let me know what you think of this. But maybe take a moment and write a paragraph about around what the intent was what you were trying to accomplish, what went into it, right, just doing a bit of reflecting and writing about what you’ve been up to. So, there’s, there’s lots of little moments, I think in your day that you can start to use words more. And if that becomes just like drawing a little bit every day makes it that much easier. You know, playing an instrument for five minutes a day, when it’s finally time to jam with the group. You’re that much more competent. I think doing a little bit in those small moments adds up.

Jason Ogle: Yes, practice doesn’t make perfect Defenders. Perfect practice makes perfect. So, practice what you do, keep going for it and begin anywhere. And give yourself grace and to grow and room to grow. Scott, what’s the best way for the Defenders listening to connect and to keep up with you?

Scott Kubie: Sure, so I try to keep my website up today. So that’s And there’s links there to Twitter and the blog that I should update more but update when I can. Because, writing is still hard even for people like me, and I’m on Twitter as @ScottKubie, and there’s links there to the book and all that other good stuff.

Jason Ogle: Defenders, practice what you do, buy Scott’s book. Scott, thank you so much for writing this and for contributing this important message to our community. Last but not least, I just want to say, fight on my friend.

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