Hey writing — design just ate your lunch.

In this world of performative rebrands, there's one successful brand re-do that no hipster marketing agency can claim credit for: the rebirth of graphic design as design thinking. The phrase transformed design from something you look at to something you do — a process that could solve problems and create change. 

Good design had always solved problems and created change, but now the process had a name. And with that name came the chance to do big things. You didn't hire a design thinker to make a pretty brochure. You hired a design thinker to stop HIV or reimagine a school system

Design thinking codified a creative process, and a problem-solving process, that were known and intuitive to industry craftspeople but mostly invisible (up to then) to consumers. It told designers and non-designers alike that design was special and why.

It brought out smart, vocal, and iconoclastic champions. Mike Monteiro launched his decade-long come-to-Jesus with the design industry. Michael Beirut became almost as well-known as his logos.

Design thinking was part of a moment. Tech money was transforming programmers into power brokers; smartphones were teaching our moms and dads about usability. Design thinking transformed designers into thinkers. It got them off the page and into the war room.

We hope this isn't awkward, design, but writing would love to know how you did it. While you were out there taking over the world, we got branded "content" and judged not by whether we changed the world, but by how many empty clicks we could pull.

Then the layoffs started. 

Writers have made a dangerous mistake. We have let the industry change us, instead of changing the industry. Some of us chase clicks; some of us just complain about them. We accept lower pay than our design colleagues. We accept less interesting work. We call ourselves marketers, storytellers, and content creators, rather than strategists and thinkers.

Yet what writers do is just as transformative as design thinking. Or it can be.

Writers shape ideas. We design strategy. We articulate dissent, build consensus, create clarity, map the way forward. Writing is not a product; it's a process that solves problems and creates change. Words on the page are just the outcome of what we do.

There's plenty to dislike about design thinking. It's a buzzword. It's the darling of today's MBA. And it is, after all, just thinking.

But design — we think you've got something. And you can't save the world alone. We'd like to suggest a partnership. We've got a lot to learn from each other.


Dawn McCarra Bass