Autumn 2015

& Articles

Copy and design, working together


Copywriting and design walk a fine line together. There’s nothing better than seeing your copy slot into a finished design, done by someone with an eye for their craft (and beautiful, heavy, glossy stock doesn’t hurt either). Get them working together, and you’ve got marketing materials that will knock your customers’ and competitors’ socks off. And get one not-quite right, and neither can do their job.

When I’m working on a project, it’s ideal if I can be part of the design process, too. The earlier a copywriter gets brought on to a project, the better a sense they can get of a company’s culture, values, clients, aims and desires. And it’s great to have a handle on that before they start writing – the process goes more smoothly, they get better ideas, and revisions are kept to a minimum.

Of course, that’s ideal. What will often happen, however, is that a copywriter gets brought in after a design has been finalised. It’s not the end of the world, but there are some downsides – the copywriter comes in cold, without really knowing the reasoning for some design decisions, the company has to brief someone all over again, and the deadline for the copywriter is often tighter than it would have been otherwise. The copywriter then gets left with a pre-determined amount of space to use which may not allow them to use their full technique toolbox (what do you mean, you don’t want any copy on your homepage?), and the copy becomes simply content, filler to be slotten in around stock photos and pretty menu bars. Or they’ll write copy however they want, ignoring any restraints, which the designer then has to shoehorn.

So the savvy copywriter will know some ways around writing to a finished design.

– Take a close look at the design. What images have they used? What does the logo look like? What colours have they used? This is your springboard – besides your brief – for choosing a tone.

– Pay attention to the fonts used. Not only does that affect the tone you’d use to write, you’ll also need to check that your headline won’t look poxy, thanks to it splitting over two lines in an ugly way.

– Make sure that your calls to action match how the site flows. It’s no good writing lots of calls to action to call now, when the design clearly directs the user to reserve online.

– Check how it looks in situ. My very favourite way of doing this is using Inspect Element on the staging site so you can make changes to the copy in your browser, but it doesn’t affect the real site. I’ve often been really pleased with a piece of copy in my Word document, but find it isn’t quite right in the final design for whatever reason. This saves you from having to fight the urge to go back to the client after it’s gone live and asking to make changes because you’re not happy. It’s also brilliant when you’ve got selected content boxes that can only fit 25 words of lorem ipsum – the available space in that will really affect your choice of words.