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Friday, 10 January 2014

The Creative Partnership: Design and Copywriting

In my long career as a copywriter, I’ve had the pleasure of partnering with designers on many website design and development projects. Over the years I have come to learn one very important thing: the partnership between a copywriter and a designer is crucial to the success and effectiveness of any web project.

When a copywriter and a designer don’t work as partners in a web project, it’s the client that suffers. They end up with design that doesn’t support the copy; copy that doesn’t support the design; mixed messages; or loss of the message altogether.

So how do you develop a successful partnership? It starts with the three C’s: concept, collaboration and communication.

 

Designers and copywriters may be like apples and oranges, but we’re all in the same fruit bowl!

Concept

First and foremost, the designer and the copywriter must get on the same page about what the client’s end goal is.

Who is the client’s audience and what is the message the client is trying to convey to them? 

Is the entire website going to be torn down and built from scratch, or is the client just looking to update the existing content?

Is the client’s main goal a bigger visual punch or more effective content marketing? 

The best way to nail down the overall concept is for the designer, the copywriter and the client to get on the phone together or meet in person. Often a project manager will coordinate this, but when there is no acting project manager, the copywriter or designer must initiate this meeting.

Never assume that everyone understands the project. Misunderstandings can cause unnecessary frustration, extra hours and ultimately one very unhappy client.

Collaboration

Every individual has their own preferred way of working – but to do a good job for the client, designers and copywriters must collaborate. That means willingly cooperating to produce an end product that meets the client’s goals.

Sometimes it makes sense for the copywriter to start writing first, so the designer can get a feel for what they’re working around. Sometimes it makes sense for a designer to start work first and the copywriter can start writing once they see their space constraints.

Kirby Kana, the creative director of Azoogma, says, “I have worked in both ways, sometimes doing design first and sometimes getting copy first. Most of the time, the winner for me is copy first. Working mostly in web I find that real copy helps information architecture and design go more smoothly. I plan design around the copy so that the message stands out, rather than cramming words into a design that may not be the best for the client.”

To contrast that, I have worked on projects where I knew the space was going to be tight, so I let the designer mock-up the website first before I started writing copy. The key is for the copywriter and the designer to agree on a process up-front, and then continually check in with each other.

Communication

Designers and copywriters have a tendency to silo themselves once the work on a project has begun. This is a big mistake.

Get on the phone with each other. Do daily or weekly email check-ins. Have a lunch date to touch base on where you are at with the project. No matter how you do it, continually communicate throughout the project’s life cycle.

I once worked on a project for a client who changed direction halfway through. The client called me and said that they understood this would mean more hours and a higher invoice at the end – but they wanted to focus on a different audience. I assumed the client had called the designer – and I was wrong. That bad assumption caused everyone a massive headache. The designer was unaware of the change of direction. When it came time to plug my copy into the designer’s website design, it was a total mismatch.

I should have picked up the phone and made sure the designer and I were still on the same page. Again, a project manager would normally coordinate these things – but often we are asked to work without a project manager, and it is up to us to make sure we communicate with each other.

A creative partnership

When a copywriter and a designer partner up, magic can happen. Great design makes copy come to life, and sharp copy makes design more effective.

Remember to nail down the concept first, collaborate with your partners and continually communicate throughout the project. A strong partnership between a designer and a copywriter can produce amazing results and happy clients.

 

About the Author

Jessica Mehring is a professional writer and editor, and the director of Horizon Peak Consulting. When she’s not writing compelling web copy for businesses or editing her clients’ brainstorms into virtual gold, you can find her taking long walks with her dog, attending comic conventions with her husband, reading or practicing yoga.

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