Real Talk: Ellen Ma

“When it’s your turn to give your solution, it doesn’t have to be the right solution; it just needs to be understood by everyone in the room.”

Young college students and high school students often underestimate how valuable reading and writing skills are in the real world, and why they matter so much in jobs that aren’t commonly associated with those skills. I’ve started this series, Real Talk, to give professionals in a variety of industries a chance to share why reading and writing are so critical to what they do.

Today, we’re profiling visual designer Ellen Ma. Be sure to check out some of her gorgeous creative work on Dribble!

What’s your current job?

I am a visual designer for a magazine app company. I mainly design graphics and visuals used in marketing materials – promotional/follow up emails, banner ads, campaigns, as well as working with the product team to develop visuals for in-app usage and lastly, designing company swag.

What kind of reading and writing do you do on an everyday basis?

There are so, so many emails. Sometimes I’m added into the middle of an email conversation that’s already 20 emails in.

What kind of reading and writing skills are key to your job?

Being able to have good communication skills is a must, especially working within a big company and a number of people who aren’t in your department. Comprehensive reading is so critical, especially when I’m given a creative brief. In a nutshell, the creative brief is a document that kicks off a project. The owner of the creative brief writes the objective of the project, develops the strategy of the project, sets deadlines, and goes into specific details as to what assets need to be created, which is then passed to me to execute. If I don’t read carefully, I could end up spending hours designing a draft and then be told that I did it incorrect, which would be a waste of my time.

Writing is just as critical, especially when I’m communicating something about design to co-workers who know nothing about design. Being specific helps greatly, and I’m a big fan of adding visuals to my emails if it’ll help clear up confusion immediately, i.e., if co-worker is asking about a certain color used in an email, I would attach an image of the email and ask the co-worker if any of the colors were what they were referring to.
Why are these skills so important to being successful in your work?
In general, good communication is important, but more critical when it comes to working in a large environment and emails are the main way to communicate.
You’ll also discover the need to word certain emails very differently from each other. For example, you can write a paragraph explaining your reason behind making a certain choice to a co-worker, but if you were writing the same email to your manager, you’ll want to keep it to one sentence because you know your manager is dealing with more on their priority list, and doesn’t have the time to read a paragraph.

What advice do you have for students, particularly college students in first- and second-year writing courses?

Whatever career path you have in mind, you’ll always be trying to solve problems / trying to provide solutions. And when it’s your turn to give your solution, it doesn’t have to be the right solution; it just needs to be understood by everyone in the room. Having strong reading skills can get ideas going, and having strong writing skills can help you define those ideas, which then can be clearly articulated to others.

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