Measuring Up: 5 Reasons to Hone Your Verbal and Written Skills

Filed Under: Tools and Resources

How do you rate in the workplace? What are best practices? What skills do designers need in order to excel at and accelerate in their careers? AIGA and Roz Goldfarb Associates surveyed a small, but geographically diverse group of hiring managers to learn about the skills they seek in creative talent beyond visual communication abilities.This is the first in a series of articles sharing theirinsights and constructive comments for designers, to offer a window onto the hopes (and frustrations) of your potential employers. We hope this information will be useful, so please share your thoughts and questions, too. 

Fifty-three (53) percent said the designers they work with lack professionalism in their writing, especially when it comes to e-mail. Employers not only consistently stressed the importance of written communication as a skill, but also pointed out the qualities that are required to deliver the desired tone of expression. They noted the importance of having a “knowledgeable and objective voice” in written communication. A “professional tone” is one of the many ways in which a company communicates its brand to its customers as well as its employees. Some found that their designers responded well to such constructive criticism, but do not expect to always get feedback from your employers—sometimes you simply won't be asked back for another job. Always keep in mind that your correspondence is a reflection on the firm you are working for, which is linked to the quality of the final product, the firm's efficiency, the quality of its creative output and ultimately the company's reputation.

Eighty (80) percent of the managers said there was a general lack of clarity in written communications. The ability to clearly express ideas, instructions and feedback in writing is very important—this should be a logical assumption of designers, who are trained to seek clarity as a creative necessity. For just as design thinking requires analysis and the distillation of ideas for problem solving, designers should be able to apply those skills to written and verbal communication, developing the ability to communicate in a focused manner. The quest for clarity of expression is of course a common problem in all areas of communication, and designers are not alone. However, the success and profitability of your projects rest on the quality of communication—whether you are communicating with clients or vendors or within your own creative team. It is a business requirement, not just an option.

Seventy–four (74) percent complained about poor grammar. Ask someone you trust to read your work first, to see if it makes sense. Or take advantage of free resources online (podcasts, blogs, tweets) that can advise you on correct usage. Don't risk making common mistakes that could undermine your achievements.

Twenty–seven (27) percent said that you should improve your vocabulary. Grammar and vocabulary are linked. This survey points out that designers have a much better grasp of vocabulary than grammar. But the best way to improve on both is to read more, or take a half hour each day to listen to a good podcast. At the very least this should serve as a reminder to consider your spoken and written communication abilities. While in many instances it is acceptable to use professional lingo in speech—in fact it may show that you are aware of trends and demonstrate that you're well informed—you would be wise to use more proper language in formal business communications. Jargon might not be tolerated or even understood by corporations, your clients. Particularly if you are involved in global projects, you should take precautions to ensure that nothing is lost in translation.

And… surprise… 33 percent complained about spelling. We all have spell check, be sure to use it. Not only in formal documents but in your e-mails too!

In conclusion

One principal of a brand consultancy commented, “Designers need to be able to tell a story.” How wonderful and succinct. The artist Robert Motherwell once said, “Painting is a metaphor.” So is design. Designing a visual story is what designers do best—communication is at the heart of design. Just as communication with others through verbal expression is essential, design and the written word are part and parcel of the creative process. In the end, your ability to communicate effectively and compellingly will allow the final creative solution to flourish.


5 helpful resources

Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips 

Grammar Monkeys (Twitter: @GrammarMonkeys)

Andrea Marks, Writing for Visual Thinkers (e-book / download PDF excerpt)

William Bostwick, “How (Not) to Write Like a Designer” (via Core77)

Learn Your Damn Homophones (if you can look past the crass tone, this website tells it like it is!)