Copywriting for Design, Designing for Copy

Note: This post is co-written by Kristin Dziadul, marketer and KDMedia’s founder, and Alysa Seeland, KDMedia’s Communication Artist who is both a marketer and designer. We think you’ll enjoy this collaboration of perspectives.

Copy and design are like the two oars of a rowboat. If they’re not moving in concert, you’re going to exercise an enormous effort only to gain very little. If you’re a marketer who has ever written copy for a display ad, case study, eBook, etc., you’ve probably interacted with a designer. And the same goes for designers — if you’ve ever designed a piece of marketing collateral, you definitely had to work with a copywriter. As you know, when both don’t align from the start of a project, the warning signs start to flare and the project goes downhill fast.

WebAt KDMedia, we’re thankful that we sit at the perfect intersection between copy and design, as we offer both services and work with clients on them in unison. But we’ve all also been in scenarios outside of KDMedia where either design was working with unfinished copy only to find out the entire design layout had to change to fit final copy, or vice versa, that the designer created a template in such a way that you as a marketer had to entirely rework the copy. Either way, not a good scenario.

So, how as marketers and designers can we be better at collaborating on these projects for better outcomes? Having experienced this intersection time and again, we’ve found the critical points where these two areas of expertise must interact — and how to make them interact very well.

Below are three pieces of advice from both sides of the table — marketing and design.

Choose Your Copywriter and Designer At The Same Time

Kristin’s marketing stance:

“Just like each marketer has a different writing style, so do designers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the midst of a copy project when I find out that design will be now involved to bring the copy to life. While I always appreciate my copy “beautified”, it’s a disaster waiting to happen when design in brought in far too late in a project’s lifecycle (especially if it’s a designer I’m unfamiliar with).”

“It’s much more helpful to know the designer I’m writing copy for upfront so I can ensure my copy style (length, formatting, etc.) fits their style, and vice versa. Nothing is worse than spending hours upon hours perfecting copy just to find that it doesn’t fit the vision and layout the designer has, and with little time to collaborate and come to a happy medium.”

Alysa’s design stance:

Every designer has a different philosophy and that is important to know. It is one of the first things you should ask a designer when considering if the two of you are a fit. Some designers prefer a heavy design pass, others think restraint and minimalism is the key (KDMedia Creative is more on the latter). The goal when asking to hear a designer’s philosophy is not simple “do I agree” but more importantly, does this align with the brand I’m representing? While many designers have a chameleon-esque quality, able to mimic or adapt to your needs, designers truly shine with they are able to be in their own skin. As a designer, nothing takes the life out of a project more than being stripped of your creative rights and slavishly adhering to someone else’s (potentially unaesthetic) vision.”

Strategize Together 

Kristin’s marketing stance:

“Forget the divide between design and marketing, that doesn’t exist anymore. In fact, that’s one of the primary reasons why we launched KDMedia Creative. We knew those barriers were breaking down and wanted to be at the forefront of our customers’ expectations. When you’re embarking on a new project that requires both copywriting and design, bring both ends of the talent into the room on Day 1 to strategize the look and feel, direction, and everything else in between so each party can be as effective and efficient at getting the project done right and completed on time. This also allows us to fully understand each other’s style so we can come to a consensus on how to accomplish the project’s greater goals.”

Alysa’s design stance:

“I’m willing to bet you’ve felt the flatness and disappointment of something designed by a designer whose work you previously loved. The issue is not one of lost talent, but almost always one of origin and strategy.”

“As a designer, there is nothing more frustrating than working blind. Working blind refers to working without knowledge of all the moving parts. As designers, our role is that of an architect or engineer, exercising restraint and discernment as we orchestrate the various parts to create a beautiful and seamless experience for the reader. The most crucial piece of information that informs my design is purpose: What is the purpose of this document, image, phrase, quote, etc? When I know the purpose, I am able to help the copywriter make the necessary decisions to design the element in a way that breathes life into the piece much like the air in a balloon. When both copy and design work together from inception, the results are stunning.”

Involve All Decision Makers in Reviews

Kristin’s marketing stance:

“I’m always a proponent of having all key stakeholders in the same meetings rather than having separate discussions and running around in circles trying to get everyone updated and on the same page. It just doesn’t make sense. But alas, I’ve worked on far too many projects where the project manager separated marketing and design so there was no effective communication and collaboration between us, which ended up in some unfortunate resentment on both ends when things went wrong since we had no relationship. Regardless of if your talent is in house or outsourced, bring all stakeholders in on every review meeting so everyone is in on the loop, feels like an important contributor, and can collaborate on reaching goals together. On each KDMedia design or video review call, we ensure both Alysa and I are available to take the call so we can handle every angle appropriately. It’s been met with huge success.”

Alysa’s design stance:

“A while ago, a friend contacted me to design a logo for her company, I did it that day and sent it to her hours later to her audible delight. I was promptly paid and thought the project was complete. A month later, she contacted me with three people cc’d on the email with feedback that was not only poorly informed, but was a task-list, not a conversation. Being robbed of the three other decision maker’s goal and vision for this piece, the project spiraled on for three months as they came back with minor change after minor change. Finally the completed work was so poor, I informed them that I could not in good conscience attach my name. I promptly called a decision-makers meeting and in two weeks we had a fresh logo that everyone agreed upon with a few minor changes. The difference: I knew everyone’s expectations, desires, and vision.”

“This project ended up being three times as costly for the client and, while they paid me without complaint and there was an eventually happy ending, it was a train-wreck of an experience I do not wish to repeat. I cannot stress the importance of involving all decisions makers in every conversation, even if you have to limit the calls to 15 minutes. It will do wonders not only for your designer but also for your budget.”

In a Wrap

Bringing together two different disciplines is not an easy task. We have the fortunate position of both sitting with a birds eye view of the marketing and design worlds and being in the trenches getting things done, so we’re quickly and easily able to see what works and what doesn’t. That’s why we were excited to share with you thoughts we’ve pondered during and after every project and feel important enough to share with you all today.

If you’re a designer or marketer (or both, like Alysa!) and have a horror story to share, or another suggestion for how to improve this collaborative process, let us know in the comments below! We’d love to continue the conversation on this important topic.