What have you learned from design that helps and improves your writing, and vice versa?
is going to sound odd, but almost nothing in one can “improve” how well
you do in the other. Design has helped me appreciate how hard it is to
typeset text, to lay out a magazine, to make a book from start to
finish. But I think learning an appreciation is about where it ends. I
know that good typesetting can make poor writing look good but still
read poorly. Thinking about how my writing is going to look on the page
can often hijack the writing process, distracting me into thinking about
the design of the whole book before I've written a single chapter. But
in certain projects, I have been able to combine the disciplines into a
single effort, envisioning the design and writing as part of, more or
less, one idea. The Dead Bug Funeral Kit
is a good example. I had the idea. Then I looked over all the ways I
could construct the kit, meaning I thought first about the design of it.
Then when I had the kit done, I worked backwards from the end result to
fit the writing into it. I wrote the poems a certain length to fit the
page. I wrote instructions that could fit on a scroll. I designed labels
that would look good with the limited means at my disposal. That's a
good example of design and writing combining within a single project and
reinforcing each other so that the whole is greater than the parts.
Magazine design is another area where I might be able to say that design
and writing reinforce each other and lead to better results, but only
when I'm able to both write and design and conceive of them together. In
most other areas, I improve my writing only by reimagining and
rewriting, not by designing and redesigning.
The vice versa
(whether writing has improved my design) probably deserves the same
answer. I have a respect for words when thinking about design, I know
how you can so easily affect the interpretation simply by adjusting the
design of the words, and I might use text differently within a design
because I'm a writer. For example, I wrote a short story to fit on a
bookmark. This is something a writer is more likely to do. But whether
being a writer improves my design is a separate question. I think my
love for writing influences my designs, but I also think I'm as likely
to screw up a design because I'm a writer than I am to design better.