Design skills: Required in your next writing job?

Note: My article was originally published on the University of Washington’s Flip the Media blog on 5/1/2012.

Have you seen “design skills” asked for in a marketing or content writing job description recently? I have— the most recent two writing jobs I’ve held listed graphic design skills a prerequisite. The visual web has arrived: look no further than Pinterest, Tumblr, or the rise of cell phone photography for evidence. With tools like iPhones and Instagram, most of us can take good pictures without photography skills, but what about other kinds of visual art?

As the web has evolved from text to images and video, many jobs in the communications field now expect candidates to bring visual design skills to positions that were once mostly about writing. Experience with interface design, storyboarding, wireframing, prototyping, infographics, and even cartooning are all in demand, as they are now part of the content creation process in the visual web era. What’s a non-artist to do?

There’s currently a cadre of visual notetakers —people who explain concepts with drawings— who are on a mission to convince you that you can draw.  Still, as a colleague of mine observed, “these are some pretty talented people.” Fortunately there are digital tools for drawing and prototyping that don’t assume any skill. The iPad, for example, is overcoming its reputation as a consumption-only device  by increasingly offering content creation apps for non-artists. Here are three:


iMockups provides drag-and-drop tools for web and mobile user interface prototyping, with common elements that are easy to align, resize, and reposition. The iMockup YouTube channel has several user tutorials, but the app is intuitive, and within a minute, anyone can create a basic layout for an app or page.

Adobe Ideas

Adobe Ideas is a vector drawing program that gives non-artists the power to draw anything by tracing it. Take a photo of something with your phone, draw over the outlines— you’re done. You can also sample and use color palettes based on the photograph for color drawings.


Mixel is an app allows you to assemble, layer, and rotate images from your own photo library, Facebook, or the web into collages, which is useful for generating logo design concepts, cover art, and other ideas just by moving elements around.

Of the visual web, Mixel’s creator, Khoi Vinh, says,  “I think what Tumblr, Instagram and Pinterest have done for helping people express themselves visually is so great. They really represent a maturation of the web. Where once everything was text and task oriented, they’re showing the way towards a much more expressionistic form of communication. I think you’ll see a lot more in this arena — and it’s no accident we built Mixel to fit this mold — and it’s only going to get more interesting.”

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