Oh ho! Communication Design!

Oh ho! Communication Design!

SUMMARY: I think I just discovered what design discipline I’m in! Someone pinch me! However, do I have to choose between that and being a creator?

I was looking up the etymology of the word “copy” as in “copyright” and “copywriter” and of course “body copy” and “display copy”. This took me down a convoluted path of Wikipedia-enabled edification. I finally found out what copy editing really is: Copy editors are “responsible for improving the formatting, style, and accuracy of the text”. And this led to a review of just what an editor does, which is “editing”. I hadn’t given it that much thought before, assuming I knew what it meant, but I liked how Wikipedia expressed it (emphasis mine):

Editing is the process of selecting and preparing language, images, sound, video, or film through processes of correction, condensation, organization, and other modifications in various media. A person who edits is called an editor. In a sense, the editing process originates with the idea for the work itself and continues in the relationship between the author and the editor. Editing is, therefore, also a practice that includes creative skills, human relations, and a precise set of methods

Now, I like editing, because it bothers me when things aren’t clear. Perhaps this is a vestige of my old “I’m going to be an English major” life, before my brain got hijacked by the computer revolution and I decided to study engineering. And perhaps “like” is too strong a word; it’s more of a compulsion to correct and clarify. I feel better when things have been clarified. I feel like crap when thing are NOT clear.

Anyway, copy editing seemed to reflect the organization part of me, so what is copy writing?:

Copywriting is the use of words to promote a person, business, opinion or idea. Although the word copy may be applied to any content intended for printing (as in the body of a newspaper article or book), the term copywriter is generally limited to such promotional situations, regardless of media (as advertisements for print, television, radio or other media). The author of newspaper or magazine copy, for example, is generally called a reporter or writer or a copywriter.

That’s not quite me, because I’m not so much of a promoter at heart as I’m someone who likes to find the truth of things. In fact, that very insight made me think I’m not quite in the right line of work. So I quickly looked up the other stuff that I seem to be doing. Take graphic design, for example (again, emphasis mine):

Graphic Design is a collaborative process between a client and a designer — in conjunction with producers of form (i.e., printers, programmers, signmakers, etc.)— to convey a specific message to a targeted audience. The term graphic design can refer to a number of artistic and professional disciplines that focus on visual communication and presentation. The field is also often referred to as Visual Communication or Communication Design.

Visual Communication is the art of using only visuals to communicate, but Communication Design was a new term to me:

Communication design is a mixed discipline between design and information-development which is concerned with how media intermission such as printed, crafted, electronic media or presentations communicate with people. A communication design approach is not only concerned with developing the message aside from the aesthetics in media, but also with creating new media channels to ensure the message reaches the target audience.

Wow! Did I actually discover what it is that I’m doing? Reading further:

Communication design seeks to attract, inspire, create desires and motivate the people to respond to messages, with a view to making a favorable impact to the bottom line of the commissioning body, which can be either to build a brand, move sales, or for humanitarian purposes. Its process involves strategic business thinking, utilizing market research, creativity, and problem-solving. The term communication design is often used interchangeably with visual communication, but has an alternate broader meaning that includes auditory, vocal, touch and smell. Examples of Communication Design include information architecture, editing, typography, illustration, web design, animation, advertising, ambient media, visual identity design, performing arts, copywriting and professional writing skills applied in the creative industries.

I think I hit the jackpot! This encompasses so much of what I think about, and it’s exciting that there apparently is a field that I can say I’m a part of. Which means it’s time to look for other communication designers and see what they’re up to, and from that perhaps find rich veins of opportunity to mine for new insights. What on EARTH did we do before Wikipedia?

That said, there is one very important distinction I noted in the description of the copy editing process: that there are authors and editors. I would much rather be an author; that is, a creator of new things. I perhaps have mistaken the tools I need to create as an indicator of “where I should be working”, instead of properly looking at them as the means to do what I want to do. This certainly wouldn’t be the first time I’ve made that mistake. And given that I want to find the TRUTH of things, that suggests that I need to be looking for clients that deal in truth as a product to sustain me in the meantime.

Hm. I think it is time to adjust my niche yet again.


  1. Nollind Whachell 14 years ago

    Sounds very close to my own approach, as many of the examples mentioned are how I help my clients. Only thing missing from it though is the cultural aspect. For example if the communications isn’t genuine, then I’m not interest in helping a company BS other people. So certain values are important to the work I do as well. So almost a merger between a communication designer and a cultural designer.

  2. Dave Seah 14 years ago

    I haven’t heard the term “cultural designer” before. There might be an element of that in what I do too, or maybe the cultural value is implicit: the accessibility to truth and good information is its own reward, and people who value this tend to share a certain culture. Interesting!

  3. Britt Raybould 14 years ago

    Congratulations, Dave! Good authors have a bit of an editor in them, or they wouldn’t recognize good suggestions when proffered. It makes a huge difference on your world view when asked, “What do you do?” and you can provide an answer that makes you happy.

  4. Karen v. H. 14 years ago

    This isn’t about your blog post. Just wanted to write a note to say that after about 2 weeks of using your ETP forms—and now feeling that I can’t live without them—I was reflecting on which design features make them work so well. I believe I mentioned I have a history of trying out organizational systems and dumping them within a day or two, but your ETP has become part of my life like nothing else has. I like reflecting on how and why things work, conceptually, and I thought you might be interested to hear my thoughts on what makes them work so well for me.

    The way that the To Do list is somewhat separate from the actual schedule, yet on the same page, is a big part of it. If I just fill in a page in my Day Planner with tasks—e.g. “do X from 2-4” – then I’m stuck. If I don’t start til 2:30, I feel like I’ve blown my schedule. If it’s 5:00 and I want to review what I meant to do today, it’s hard to even look at X, because X is written down in the 2-4 slot, and now it’s 5; what am I supposed to do about it now? Of course, I can have a separate To Do list *and* a Day Planner page with time blocks, but then they’re somewhat separate.  The ETP form integrates them in a way that *feels* organized and coherent, rather than making me feel like I’m writing everything twice or juggling conflicting organizational tools. 

    It also helps that I can track progress separately from the hourly blocks. E.g. I thought I was going to do X from 2-4, but I didn’t get started til 2:30 and then at 3:30 something else happened. If all I have is the 2-4 block marked out, and I correct it to read 2:30-3:30, I no longer have a visual representation of the fact that I *meant* to fit in 2 hours’ worth of X. With the ETP, I still have the mark indicating the time estimate—or as I use it, the mark indicating the amount of time I *intend* to put in during the day—and I can see that I’ve filled in half the bubbles. As I find another 15 minutes here and half an hour there, I can keep filling in bubbles til I get all 8. The fact that it wasn’t quite 2-4 doesn’t throw me into chaos.

    The time mark also helps me see at a glance how ambitious I’m getting. I’ve learned to total up my time marks and see if my hopes are even reasonable—“Oh! I want to do 9 hours’ worth of stuff before 5:00 and it’s 10:00 now. Hmm…” I can see how many pegs I’m trying to fit into the holes before I start marking up my schedule with time blocks that all have to be crossed out and re-written.

    And finally, filling in those bubbles does give me that wonderful feeling of seeing progress. Instead of feeling like a loser because 2-4 didn’t quite work out as expected, I can see I’m on track when I get all the intended bubbles filled, no matter what time of day it happened. And I have that lovely record of all those important Other Things that popped up during the day, so I don’t wonder what the heck I was doing all that time.

    If you ever do any more posts about the ETP, though, it would be nice to see more instructions about how to use the current iteration of the form. I don’t quite get what to do with the 60 and 15 bubbles that run down the left edge. I also go back and forth on where I want to write the numbers for the main tasks versus the interruptions—on the dotted line or in the margin, leaving room on the dotted line for notes. It’s great to figure out what works best for me, but examples of how they were intended to be used are good too.

  5. Elise MacDonald 14 years ago

    You’re getting closer for sure!

    We’ve just got to make sure it’s something you’re happy with before we paint the title on that transom-window-enhanced door.


  6. Nollind Whachell 14 years ago

    Just found out about “cultural creatives” as well. I’d definitely consider myself within this segment of society.

  7. Gary Constantine 14 years ago

    Just catching up on your excellent blog posts Dave!….

    This pursuit of trying to understand what we do and then defining it, as a means for developing a strategic business model, for multifaceted types, can and will be perplexing, especially as you begin to stumble upon the myriad of vocational naming conventions out there in today’s world.

    As we were discussing Monday, I tend to view generally what you do hands-on, as being a design architect, and for now you just happen to be operating a majority of the time within Communication Design, as you’ve outlined it above.

    From my experiences and knowing many similar types, the architect posesses a rare blend between the vision for pursuing what they would like to do, the ability to model/prototype/test that vision, and both the technical skills and the perserverence to roll up their sleeves and either do the work themselves or manage others to execute to completion. 

    However, for those of us that are self-employed, in addition to being a Design Architect, the other reality is that as vertically integrated as that architect role can often seem, for us the self-employed, we have to first acknowledge we are also the CEO, or the business manager.  Its the CEO that manages the strategic focus of the operation, while the role of the architect tends to focus more on the tactical execution of said strategy.

    May be an obvious reminder perhaps, as many of us creative types may want to delve into what we enjoy the most every day, but its that CEO hat we must discipline ourselves to wear if we’re intent on having long term success.  As you’ve heard me break down what any self employed person does, or any company thatmatter, there are only two core processes, Order Acquisition, and Order Fulfillment, ie: how you get the order, and then how do you produce it.  The CEO oversees the business acquisition/development, and the Architect participates in both the development, as well as the production of the final product.

    The idea behind breaking down what we do, or don’t do, or need to do, I believe is important, as ultimately we must mostly manage ourselves day to day, and we really can’t work on what we don’t truly acknowledge.