In relation to understanding the connection in my life between writing and design, I was inspired to read a comparison of the craft of writing to the craft of design in David Wroblewski’s “The Construction of Human-Computer Interfaces Considered as a Craft” from Taking Software Design Seriously. This was required reading for our seminar 2 class.

There seems to be a connection between the writing process and design process (Wroblewski’s references John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction and Bill Strickland’s On Being a Writer). This connection has surfaced in other readings as well, especially those we read last semester for Richard Buchanan.

Creating a piece of good writing is a wicked problem: an ambiguous problem with a solution that cannot practically be found or measured. A good idea and some words thrown on paper will not necessarily generate a strong piece of writing, just like a good idea or some applied technology will not necessarily result in a product that connects with users.

Both are iterative processes. Almost always, a strong piece of writing is not the first thing written. Similarly, even if you frame the problem well and have solid research, the first idea for a solution will likely not be the final design.

In On Being a Writer, John Steinbeck says (Wroblewski uses this quote):

Although it must be a thousand years ago that I sat in a class on story-writing at Stanford. I remember the experience very clearly. I was bright-eyed and bushy-brained and prepared to absorb the secret formula for writing good short stories, even great short stories. This illusion was canceled very quickly. The only way to write a good short story, we were told, is to write a good short story. Only after it is written can it be taken apart to see how it was done.

This fits nicely with our graduate study program in design, whereby we are really only given guidance and tools to create a good design and an environment to evaluate the designs we have created. Though we are not, and cannot be, given the secret formula for creating good design.

However, maybe that’s how it works for a lot of things. There is no formula for success. No secret to happiness. Life, it may be argued, is like the process of design or the process of writing. The end is ambiguous, and there are multiple solutions for the same problem. The only way to live life is to live life. Only after can we see how it was done.