And Call It Design Writing

The name *design writing* is one that puzzles me. The Design History Society describes it as the “work of critical debate in design through writing.” Often, though, the waters are muddied when design writing is used interchangeably with design criticism, which Massimo Vignelli tells us is “creative interpretations of the work, period or theory being analyzed.” Not all design writing is criticism, but among practitioners and scholars, calling a text design writing appears to elevate it.

To name something is to know it and also to claim it. Designer Benedetta Crippa shares reflections about names in her project Everything has a Name. In her essay In HistoryJamaica Kincaid explores the naming of her origins, places, people, and things. Names distinguish things and we use them to communicate our surroundings, yet, how often do we share the same meanings?

Writing about (or on) design gives visibility to the products, processes, aesthetics, education, ethics, challenges, politics, and all else connecting with design practice. This writing manifests conventionally or maybe, according to Steve Baker, through “fictive, vindictive, and improper” attitudes. Design practice unfolds in that way, too. Myra Thiessen writes that design writing is part of the studio classroom, where we learn all the crits: critique, criticism, and critical thinking.

It’s this studio DNA that also fuses design writing with typography. Tracing the shape-making to form letters to build words leans into another possibility: designing through writing. New ideas of design need to be explored through writing, suggests Anne-Marie Willis, rather than rehashing the old ones. In doing so, we practice a different craft of discovering “what if.”

New forms, new names, and new associations spring forth. And so, compose the text centered on design to alter knowledge structures and move cultural perspectives,

and call it design writing.

Parts of this essay are adapted from my recent article in The Design Journal

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