How to Blog Like a Designer Even If You Aren’t One

Apr 18, 2017 | 4 comments

I fell into the rabbit hole a couple of years ago.

I was just curious: Is design art? Can art be practical? Do useful things need to be beautiful?

No no, wait. This isn’t an article for design nerds. This post is about things I learned from designers that I find highly relevant to business blogging, no matter what you blog about.

The thing is, designers can teach us a lot more than how to make things look good. Design isn’t just about making things pretty. It’s about making things happen and making things work.

 

Designers face complex problems on a daily basis, and it’s their job to arrive at a solution. They can’t afford to wait for inspiration, for better circumstances, for the perfect answer. They need to come up with an idea and move the project forward.

How is it possible that they don’t get stuck, paralyzed, and overwhelmed? How is it that the idea always emerges?

It’s not as mysterious as you may think. Professional designers have been stretching their creativity muscle daily for many years, and so they are more creative than most people. And they also have experience and education that enables them to see things and connections that most of us don’t see.

 

But there is one more thing that plays a crucial role. Something that anyone can adopt and start using right away to tackle creative problems (like writing a blog post): the designer mindset.

Today’s post is about how to think like a designer so you can blog like a designer: Bring value to your audience while creatively solving real problems, and do it with authenticity and courage.

 

How to blog like a designer even if you aren’t oneClick To Tweet

 

Feeling with the reader

“Empathy is feeling with people.”

 

Brené Brown

 

When you ask a designer to come up with a solution, they don’t start by looking at solutions that already exist. They start by learning all about the user so they can empathize with them. Similarly, when writing a blog post, listening to what your readers say about the topic is a better place to start than reading what other bloggers have already written.

I know, you’ve probably heard this many times before: Start with the reader in mind. Listen to your readers and write for them. Create an ideal reader profile and use it when you write.

But have you ever stopped to think about it? I mean, it sounds so simple, but it is so not easy.

Firstly, it’s unlike any other kind of writing. Whether you’re used to writing essays or fiction, you never have to think about the reader that hard. If you do research, you don’t study the reader, but the subject.

In academic writing or in school, you have just a vague idea of other academics (or your teacher) reading the paper. In fiction writing, you rarely think about the person who will read your story or poem. And even if you do, in both cases, adjusting everything to your reader makes your writing worse, not better.

But in business blogging – like in design – putting the reader (user) first is necessary. Your topic, your language, and everything you say and don’t say – it’s all about your reader.

 

And it’s not enough to collect data. It’s not enough to find out what your readers want to hear and try to please them. The thing is, your readers don’t want to be sugar-coated, fixed or saved. They don’t want you to offer them a blanket or a sandwich.  

They don’t need your sympathy; they need your empathy.

Feeling with the reader is the only way to create a human-to-human connection that goes beyond “reader personas” and beyond sympathy.

It’s also the only way to solve real problems. Today, being interesting is not enough. Sharing useful information isn’t enough. People need solutions to their problems, they’re looking for meaning and transformation, and they always prefer authenticity over mentoring.

And to be authentic, you need to go deeper. You need to feel with your readers. You need to become vulnerable.

And that’s why I said it wasn’t easy.

 

Working with constraints

“The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one.”

 

Igor Stravinsky

 

As a business blogger, you have all the freedom in the world. No one tells you what to write about and how. You can do anything you want.

And that’s the problem.

Paradoxically, freedom is paralyzing. Constraints are liberating.

 

In design, constraints are all the rules and limitations you have to take into account: your client’s budget, their wants and needs, material or medium, size, style, deadlines, and much more, depending on the kind of a project.

The success of the final design depends on the designer’s ability to recognize the constraints and work within them.

In blogging, you have to identify your constraints, too: your niche, your unique style, your blogging goals, your business strategy, your reader’s level of mastery, your posting schedule – these limitations make you more creative. According to pro designers, constraints are the best tool for creativity.

 

I love the idea of limitations making you a better blogger because that’s how you can reframe what you consider your weakness: Are you a non-native English speaker (like me)? Do you have a limited time to writing? Is your niche narrow?

Your Kryptonite can become your super power. Your limitations will set you free.

 

Think like a designer and turn your weakness into a superpowerClick To Tweet

 

Failing forward

“Fail often to succeed sooner.”

 

Tom Kelley

 

I believe that perfectionism is the opposite of creativity.

When you believe that every idea you write down has to be THE idea and every blog post has to be EPIC and go viral, you won’t make it too far.

In fact, you have to write down many stupid ideas. You have to write many awful drafts, and you even have to publish many mediocre and below-mediocre blog posts full of embarrassing mistakes.

In other words, you have to fail often to succeed sooner.

 

Designers aren’t afraid of terrible ideas. They regard failure and dead ends a necessary part of the design process. A learning opportunity that moves them forward faster. They don’t expect themselves to come up with a perfect solution right away, so they don’t waste time. They create a low-cost prototype, gain feedback, and then improve.

 

To give yourself permission to take creative risks, you need to think about blog posts as about prototypes, not final products.

Some blog posts work. They spread like wildfire, bring you responses, subscribers, and even clients. Yes, it’s flattering. But you have to stop and think: Why was this particular piece successful? And was it as successful as it seems? Are the people that I managed to attract my dream clients? And if they are, how can I build on that?

Some posts fall flat. And again, you have to put your ego aside and think: Why didn’t it connect? Is it possible that I’m working on the wrong problem?

It’s better to find out this way than after you create a big product that no one cares about.

Failure is just a part of the blogging process. It’s how you move forward. Even if it hurts. Sometimes, it hurts a lot.

 

Failure hurts. But it's the only way to move forward.Click To Tweet

 

In summary, to blog like a designer, you need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable:

★ when you make yourself vulnerable so you can feel with your readers,

★ when you embrace your limitations instead of trying to remove or hide them,

★ and when you make public failure part of your working routine, no matter what your ego says.

 

These three aspects – empathy, constraints, and failure – are just a tiny part of the blogging-design intersection. In the #blog2teach course, we will go deeper into the rabbit hole.

 

So here’s what you can do now

★ To learn more about the difference between empathy and sympathy, watch this short video: Brené Brown on Empathy.

★ To learn more about the relationship between creativity and constraints, read this article by Bob Sutton: Want Some Creativity? Crank-up the Constraints.

 

Action step: To map your own constraints, find and read a content style guide of a professional blog and then write your own style guide. Here is an excellent example from Voice & Tone, the style guide for MailChimp’s internal copywriters: blog guidelines.

✯ If you liked the ideas, could you please share the article on your favorite social media? It only takes a sec and helps me a lot. Thank you!

4 Comments

  1. Elfin

    Veronika, there is so much to think over in this post ! I have bookmarked it so I can come back to it while I let some of your suggestions sink in.

    And I really want to thank you for sharing the link to the Brené Brown video, it was really helpful.

    • Veronika

      Hey Elfin,

      Thank you! It always makes my day to see your comment.

      I loved the video, too. It’s so important to talk about the difference between sympathy and empathy. In writing, the tone of voice is very different. For example, when I read blogs for language learners, some bloggers speak about not being a native speaker as if it was some kind of a disease.

      Thank you so much for the comment, it means a lot to me.

  2. Elena Mutonono

    Hey Veronika,

    I had to reread this post a few times to get all the juice out of it. It’s so deep and thought provoking!

    I also think some posts don’t take off because they look at the root of the problem, not just the surface, because people sometimes want easy answers, and we can’t always provide those quick fixes.

    We need to dig deeper and get uncomfortable, and sometimes people don’t want to walk that road, that’s why I believe not every post resonates with everyone but it doesn’t mean we have to dig ourselves into the grave trying to find out what exactly didn’t work.

    I know people whose content is so deep and challenging that it doesn’t generate a huge viral response, and yet these business people are still successful.

    To quote Brene Brown (again), I think we’re sometimes obsessed with the extraordinary (and wish we weren’t so ordinary), and that keeps us from doing the things we need to be doing consistently: putting out content, no matter how imperfect or unpopular it may seem.

    • Veronika

      Hey Lena,

      I so much agree with you when you talk about the quick fixes. It’s a different thing to list “10 quick ways to make your first 1k online” (for example) and to challenge people’s deep-rooted money fears so you can help them change their money mindset. Or to write a post about “how to start a blog in 3 steps” and to talk about overcoming the creative resistance. Or to write a “morning routines” article (I’m becoming allergic to that!) and to talk about – I don’t know – how to live a meaningful life.

      The quick fixes are easy to learn, easy to write about, and more probable to get hundreds of shares. But they won’t help your brand stand out because anyone can google the info, and they won’t help your audience in the long term.

      Needless to say, this kind of content attracts people who are looking for magic bullets and aren’t seriously interested in doing the work. I’m talking about myself, too. I read every article about becoming a morning person, but never set the alarm clock to 5 am. I think I’m looking for someone to tell me how to do it without the pain of actually going to bed earlier and actually getting up. I mean, is there a pill I could take to become a morning person? I would pay for that 🙂

      Anyway, you’re right, the numbers (esp. shares) aren’t a good way to measure success, and I try not to do it, no matter if they’re big or small. It’s always misleading.

      Thank you for your comment!

The designer mindset will help you bring value to your audience while creatively solving real problems, and do it with authenticity, elegance, and consistency.

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