Design Thinking For Your Writing

Design Thinking and WritingWilliam Bostick over at Core77 wrote a terrific post called “How (Not) To Write Like a Designer.” Design thinking is how I prefer to think about my style of problem solving. I’m not alone…IDEO and Stanford’s D School coined the term, and Tim Brown’s blog is all about it. But what I liked about this particular post was that it talked about writing as design. In other words, writing as designer thinking and problem solving. And anything that reads, “…you work with contraints to find elegant solutions to complex problems…” is sure to catch my eye.

I put William’s five points to the test in reflecting on my process in writing In Pursuit of Elegance, and in the eventual work product.

1. Use Your Skills

  • Bostick says ask: Who’s this for? What’s the big idea? What are the pieces I’m using? In developing the proposal for the book, all of those questions were asked and answered. Check!

2. Kill Jargon

  • Stay away from buzzwords, acronyms, cliches, formulas, steps, etc. Check!

3. Tell a Story

  • The point here is to think less about “what it is” and focus more on “what is happening.” People want stories, want to know what what’s happening before they want to know what it means. Good news: the book is nothing BUT stories. Check!

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Put Yourself Into Your Writing

  • In other words, use first person. Check!

5. Finally, And Most Importantly, Don’t Say Too Much.

  • Funny, that’s my entire premise. Any book on elegance better be simple yet powerful. No fat, no fluff. It better have some pieces missing. Check!

So, tell a story, put yourself in it, use real words, and don’t write too much. How elegant.


Matthew E. May is the author of “IN PURSUIT OF ELEGANCE: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing.” He is constantly searching for creative ideas and innovative solutions that are ‘elegant’ – a unique and elusive combination of unusual simplicity and surprising power.

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