Elementor Talks #57: The Challenge of Writing About Web Design

Shayna Hodkin, the managing editor of InVision's blog, talks about writing on design as a non-designer, explains how she maintains high writing standards when working with designers from the community, and predicts the next hot design topics for 2020.

Shayna Hodkin is the managing editor of InVision’s blog, Inside Design. This online magazine is one of the leading resources for web designers with over 2.3 million subscribers.

At the beginning of her career, Shayna worked as a freelance writer for different companies. She studied creative writing at college and later decided to combine her journalistic skills with her love for design. After several content positions at design companies, Shayna joined InVision, where she has since been responsible for the blog’s content operations.

01

Writing About Design as a Non-Designer​​

As a non-designer that writes about design, how did Shayna overcome the obvious obstacles — the jargon or getting familiar with web designers’ workflows?

“It’s not that complicated. As soon as you’re interested in something or anyone is interested in something they want to learn, and writing is just putting words on observations. So I looked around, I read; I read a lot. And I started meeting people in the field. I got started working in design because I was working with design agencies on writing copy for their websites because I’ve worked with them on projects for their clients. So I had to learn about their workflows to do these landing pages and these about pages right. So it just kind of snowballed from there.

I got started working in design because I was working with design agencies on writing copy for their websites, because I've worked with them on projects for their clients. So I had to learn about their workflows to do these landing pages and these about pages right. So it just kind of snowballed from there.

At InVision, it was just a lot of luck. I came in through a referral. I had written for the blog before when I was working at The nuSchool. So I knew the managing editor of the blog. And when she was promoted, she reached out to me, and it gave me a little bit of an edge on the way in.

And because I had been working in design for five years, I think at that point between RapidUI and my freelance clients, I didn’t need a design degree, to have that kind of knowledge and advantage.” 

And at the start, was there a gap or did you have to read a lot of books? How did you cope with that challenge?

There’s always a gap because design is changing day-to-day. And as soon as I feel like I have design systems under control, then there’s a new kind of prototyping workflow. There’s always something new going on. And especially somewhere like InVision, we’re not only, as InVision, a market leader, but we’re also a fully remote company. I would say for myself, the first and biggest hurdle that I dealt with at InVision was learning how to navigate a 900% fully distributed company.

02

Delivering Content to Different Personas

Many company blogs provide content for different personas, based on their target audience research. Does Shayna identify more than one persona reading their blog? Do they differentiate between different types of web designer?

“Oh, definitely. We have a lot of different personas. So the persona that I spend the most time thinking about is the junior designer who needs more educational resources. Just because those are the ones who need a hand, they need a cultural resource that will always be willing to explain complicated concepts to them at a high level. But there’s also the senior design leaders who want to read the interviews with other leaders or the mid-level designers who want to learn about more obscure theories, but they don’t need explanations of basic techniques.

There are people who want to learn something new every day. There are people who are just web design hobbyists like me, who want to know how to do things without actually having to do them, or they want to know who’s important in the field without actually working in the field. Lots and lots of people.”

There are people who want to learn something new every day. There are people who are just web design hobbyists like me, who want to know how to do things without actually having to do them, or they want to know who's important in the field without actually working in the field.

Do you know which format they prefer when consuming content? Like do they prefer these junior web designers? Do they prefer watching your videos, reading long form articles?

“We do a lot of research there. And we’ve been able to narrow it down and to target different people with different types of content. But we’re always testing and always changing. So our DesignBetter.Co team has been producing incredible resources for senior designers. And that’s where we’re able to get really creative with our content types. They have videos. They have podcasts, they have webinars. We have books. InVision publishes books, which is fantastic. 

Beside the content team that I work on inside design, we focus primarily on blog posts, more long-form and short-form. And that’s where I get to interact with the junior designers who are looking for more education.”

03

How to Keep High Writing Standards When Working With Nonprofessional Writers

How does Shayna get other people write content that lives up to her standard? And how does she monitor and edit it?

“It’s a lot of work. Keeping things up to standards is my job as the managing editor. So I think it starts with how do we find our writers? We don’t have any staff writers right now. So everyone who writes for us is either a freelancer or an external contributor who is not freelancing, someone writing for their company, or an internal contributor. And all three come with different pros and cons, but they all have to be edited to meet the blogs voice.

What we’ve managed to do is build a design language that explains design concepts to people who don’t have advanced design knowledge. So when I work with a freelancer, sometimes depending on the topic, it’s better that they’re better writers and not designers, and I can add the design knowledge. But for some things, it’s really important that they have that impeccable design knowledge. And I just have to help them put their words on their stories.”

What we've managed to do is build a design language that explains design concepts to people who don't have advanced design knowledge. So when I work with a freelancer, sometimes depending on the topic, it's better that they're better writers and not designers, and I can add the design knowledge.

One of the challenges that I know our designer audience deals with is, really, the translation of the knowledge that they have in design into words, into copy, into stories. Have you had any successes that you can mention in that field?

“That’s my favorite part of design and my job. That’s what I love about my job; figuring out… and it happens, I don’t want to say every day, but most days, working with someone who using language and words is not their strong suit and helping them figure out how to express their strengths using my strength.

My favorite one, we had a UX researcher from Lithuania send in a post. And the research theory was genius. And the writing was difficult to understand. And it’s something that I spent a little while thinking about whether I should just thank her and not use it, or what we should do. And I ended up printing it, I’m sorry, to the trees, printing this post, sitting on my floor with scissors and rearranging it paragraph by paragraph, so that I could have the order done. Because it was like 10 pages printed. But it was so good. I knew if I could just crack it, it would be really good. But it needed that work. And I’m so happy with how it came out. It was one of my big wins of 2019, I think. Not even by the numbers, just for myself.”

04

Most Trending Topics for 2020

We asked Shayna for her forecast for 2020 — what web design topics will trend the most? What will the community be talking about?

“We just published a post about this on Thursday, so I highly recommend everyone go check that out. But aside for that, I personally, my Shayna Hodkin predictions for 2020 are inclusive design. So continuing to discuss accessibility, but also moving that conversation into inclusion and embracing what inclusion means as opposed to accessibility.

So if we know, for example that accessible design practices save design companies millions of dollars, and we saw that in a report that we commissioned earlier this year; why or how can we go past that into inclusive design? So they say that accessibility is being invited to a party, inclusion is being asked to dance. How can we incorporate those principles into our better digital design practices?”

What design should look like, it's copy that's written not to trip you up. So that's where dark mode comes in with accessibility. It's copy that's written to get you where you're going. It's forms that are designed with the user in mind, not the appearance.

Can you give us an example of the inclusive design?

“What design should look like, it’s copy that’s written not to trip you up. So that’s where dark mode comes in with accessibility. It’s copy that’s written to get you where you’re going. It’s forms that are designed with the user in mind, not the appearance.

For example, if the copy of the form has to be on the left so a screen reader can read it instead of inside of the form that will start to make those compromises. It’s about color contrast and the things that make sense; putting all tags on all of our images, making the web easy to navigate for people with disabilities.”

About the Author

Matan Naveh
Matan Naveh
Matan is Elementor's Magazine editor. Starting his career as a Radio Broadcaster, he worked as a content manager and Editor-in-Chief for over 10 years. Matan enjoys psychological horror movies and 80's Chinese restaurants.

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