I’ve worked as a graphic designer for nearly a decade and I’m constantly surprised by the lack of strategy and ad-hoc approach to design, even with some of the larger clients of who you would expect a more robust approach to content strategy.
One of the things you get asked when you’re a designer or a copywriter is, “Would the designer prefer the copy to be written for the piece first? Or would the copywriter prefer the content to be led by design?” This is something that has occurred recently in my role as a content designer for the website of a leading chain of supermarkets and the answer isn’t as immediately obvious as some might lead you to believe.
Firstly, on a quick information gathering exercise you tend to discover that the content strategy often takes the form of being led by copy – take this article at smashing magazine that states:
“At our firm, we find that the best way to get past such a standoff is to write first. This is because content strategy, at a fundamental level, frames a project for the designer.”
This is fine and yes, content strategy is exactly what is needed to inform great design and UX, but it suggest that the copywriter shouldn’t be afforded a similar luxury to the designer or that the designer just waits for everyone else to get on with the hard work while we wait for the design discussion to eventually roll around.What is more likely to be the case is that your design or copy discussions are collaborative and take place parallel to one another – this is down to finding the right people to work together initially or can be almost a stroke of luck, personalities clash and creatives are notoriously egotistical Get a copywriter and a designer on the same page to act as the same entity however and you have something special.
I’ve worked for agencies where those writing the copy are completely remote from the process and there’s little for the designer or copywriter to care about or be inspired by other than the staggering amount of typos in a piece of work. Believe it or not, designers and copywriters need inspiration to do their jobs as much as they need any other skill or tool to do their job.
When you get copywriters and designers together you find that the collaborative process of working together at roughly the same time on a project is the most productive approach that leads to the most creative outcomes and the most effective design. Especially for the more aspirational pieces of content. There are exceptions to this, for example if your work follows a strict template that includes rigid guidelines on word-count, alignment, positioning, tone of voice etc. If a lot of your work is like this then the design rules are already in place and the copywriter should probably look at the wording after the raw content has been collected and placeholder copy examined.
So who comes first for those aspirational editorial piece discussion? Somebody has to, right? Perhaps flip a coin to decide as the copywriter and the designer are two sides of the same coin and should be treated as such at any stage of the graphic design and editorial content creation process.