Jony Ive has a full-time writer on his staff. Maybe you should too.

When Jony Ive, the long-renowned Apple product designer, left to create his own design firm, one of his first hires was a full-time writer.

In a Wall Street Journal feature on Jony, he talks about the importance of using words to articulate a product design, beyond what drawings alone can convey.

(Note: the WSJ feature is freely available with no paywall. It’s a great profile of Jony, and is very much worth a read.)

Our preconception of designers is that they create by drawing sketches in a notebook. But drawings won’t fully capture the intentions of a design. You also need to write out what you’re wanting to create, why it’s significant, and how it’s intended to function.

Indeed, the WSJ feature reveals that his approach to product design, rather than using drawings, is first through thinking, then conversations. Then after that, capturing those spoken thoughts into words.

Jony believed enough in the importance of good writing that he felt justified in having a writer on-staff, to help his designers define their product creations through written documentation.

With the possible exception of technical writing, it’s not common to have a dedicated, full-time writer in a company. One main reason is that we too easily take writing for granted.

We don’t believe in paying for writing because we think we can do the writing ourselves. But at the same time, we fail to deliver. We all say we would be able to write more, if only “there was time.”

The simple fact is that good writing and documentation go far beyond successful product design. They are indispensable in so many other ways:

  • Product marketing managers need writing to clearly communicate a new product’s key selling points and value propositions, to help sales colleagues succeed in the field.
  • Product managers need documentation to define, to exacting precision, every important product design feature and technical specification to engineers and contractors.
  • IT operations routinely spell out all of their expectations for a service level agreement when seeking an outsourcing partner for provisioning cloud-based services.
  • Software engineers use in-depth documentation to fully convey product requirements and detail how the software operates – essential for ongoing maintenance.