Me, a copywriter…well, I’m a cashew…
…Often roasted, a bit sweet, high in fat. Raj, one of our graphic designers, is a walnut. Hard shell, a little bitter, loaded with fiber. We’re different, but the point is…we’re both nuts.
The relationship between copywriters and designers is often considered…let’s just say “challenging”. Writers think the words are the important part of any marketing asset, while designers think “Who’s gonna read that? It’s the design that matters!”
The truth is, copywriters and designers are two sides of the same coin. We’re inseparable, and that’s how it should be. The creative team at Vidyard includes two content marketers (myself included), two graphic designers (Raj included), a web designer, and two video experts. How do we all work together? With a large portion of magical fairy dust, muscle relaxants, and chocolate.
I kid, I kid. But if you’re a marketer who wears one of these hats, or who has to work directly with the creative team, this post might help you define how your team could work together to achieve its full potential and wow your customers. (Note: for the purposes of this article, I’m loosely referring to our two content marketers as writers, and those who take those words and turn them into visual awesomeness – through graphics, web, or video – as designers.)
It might feel like it’s your baby, but it’s not.
If you’re a creative marketer, you know that creating something awesome, powerful, and inspiring takes equal amounts hard work, imagination, and passion. So we creatives can get a little, shall we say, possessive of our work. Whether a project takes you a week or a few months, you’re probably proud of what you’ve created, and you’ve grown attached to it. It’s your baby.
Here’s the thing: It’s your customer’s baby.
That may be a weird way of putting it, but let me explain. Your work may be your pride and joy, but you didn’t actually create it for your own enjoyment and consumption, did you? You created it for your leads and customers. Whether you’re a copywriter or a designer, that means your creative process has to be ruled by one thing: The user experience.
A strong creative team will think about what the audience will care about, and that will be the focus. An audience doesn’t “see” how well a page is designed. In fact, a very talented designer-friend often tells me that you don’t see good design (you only see it if it isn’t working!). It’s simply a natural, pleasurable experience that you don’t consciously take notice of.
Same goes for writing. No one reads anymore, right? People don’t have time to be bombarded with words; they just want the bottom line so they can make their decision and move on. So the trick for a writer is to tell a story while keeping a balance between writing a novel or just a bunch of bulleted lists that lack power or inspiration.
Combine writing and design that have been created with the end user in mind, and you’ll get a landing page or video or brochure that isn’t just a landing page or video or brochure, it’s an experience. Because that’s the point, isn’t it?
But what comes first, design work or copy?
That’s the age-old question. How can a writer know what to write, or how much room there will be for copy until a designer designs something? How can a designer begin to design anything when they don’t have any content? It’s the chicken or the egg. It’s the catch-22. It’s the awkward back-and-forth shuffle when you try to move aside for someone but they move too, so you’re both blocked again, and going nowhere.
The answer to who begins work on a project is simply: It depends on the project. (Don’t kill me for saying that!)
For example, with content marketing assets like downloadable ebooks or printed sell sheets, content would likely come first since these assets are heavily content-based. With a landing page, however, design greatly impacts the audience’s experience. In this case, the final product can be stronger if the designer creates wireframes (like a rough sketch) or mock-ups (with the already-agreed-upon key messages in mind) before final copy is created.
Can you guess which Vidyard landing page this was an initial wireframe for?
At Vidyard, Raj and I have worked together on a number of landing pages, and I have carried his wireframes with me everywhere as I’m writing copy to figure out how much room I’ll have for certain messages, and how the different pieces or sections will fit together as a whole. For example, knowing in advance whether a section will be displayed as one long blurb, or broken into clickable tabs will help me determine how to start sentences to avoid redundancies or to heighten clarity. Of course, wireframes aren’t carved in stone, so writers and designers have a perfect opportunity to discuss and rework things before any more time and effort is spent in creating a final product.
My cat, Molly, making clear her stance on one of Raj’s proposed wireframe layouts
Video scripts, on the other hand, often involve writing a script before designing images, and finding music and voice-over talent. For example, to announce Space Camp 2015, the video marketing summit, we wanted to create a teaser video. Our Creative Director, Blake, knew he wanted to keep the video’s design and animations simple, involving basic dots and dashes (and keeping the focus on the words on screen) so it would feel in keeping with Space Camp’s overall simple and imaginative brand. The rest was up to me as the script writer. Once I created the message and story, Blake used his creative powers to bring it to life with visuals and music.
Watch it, you know you want to!
So have you noticed what really comes first? The concept!
Really, before either writer or designer can start anything, a concept for the project should be agreed upon. It’s important to remember that writers should never just write down empty words and cliches, and designers don’t just make things pretty. Think about the goal of what you’re trying to create. What’s the story? What’s the message? What would the audience care about and how can you bring that to life? Maybe a creative brief needs to be completed, or meetings held, or key messages documented. However it’s done, a concept is how you’ll create a strong final asset.
A concept is what essentially creates an experience. For example, this year when the name of our annual video marketing summit was changed from Ignite to Space Camp, we knew we needed a concept to tell a story and make it a powerful experience. In this case, it was actually more like creating a whole brand, because it was a quite distinct experience from Vidyard’s own brand.
There were a number of directions we could have gone, but Raj and I both wanted to achieve a very inspirational, awe-inspiring, and imagination-provoking experience (while avoiding cheesy or too juvenile camp references). Raj’s visual experience, with a dark, mysterious, edge-of-the-universe (with moving constellations!) look-and-feel, topped off with the “impossible object” (yet imagination-provoking) Penrose triangle logo, and coupled with my text-based brand and story of Space Camp, created what we think was a pretty powerful impression on our audience.
But copy and design, sitting in a Word document or in design software, don’t jump onto the web all by themselves. That’s where the pecan of the team, Karel, our web designer, came in, bringing designed constellations to moving life, and animating buttons and other visual elements to truly power a breath-taking user experience.
Space Camp website above the fold, with video
Space Camp ‘About’ copy section
A concept is perfect for creating clarity during a project. It keeps writers from throwing up random cliches (“Hit it out of the park!”, “The gloves are off!”, “It’s time to double down!”) If your concept isn’t about baseball or boxing or gambling, why add language that won’t have any impact? Copywriting without a concept creates confusion in design as well: if a designer doesn’t know how best to tell an arbitrary story, he could end up presenting a visual of someone eating a pie followed by a bird flying over the moon.
But for any of this to come together, we have to talk to each other. All the damn time.
This is the part of the blog post where I talk about how important communication is to the creative process between copywriter and designer. You might think it goes without saying, but I’m saying it anyway because it’s. Really. Seriously. Important.
Too much advice out there suggests that copywriters and designers can be on different teams or work independently of each other before passing off the project to the other one. Um…NO. It may sound like a drag to always check in with each other, or to have to deal with each other’s input. Copywriters don’t want to hear that their copy is too long, and designers don’t want to deal with “What would that button look like if it was purple instead of green?”
Yes, maybe sometimes you want to smack each other upside the head, but it’s important to remember that creatives are all creating the experience together, so we all need to communicate often to not only save time and effort, but to share ideas. Designers have great ideas about copy, and once in a while, a copywriter might even have something useful to add about web design! A team that is built on honesty and trust can feel comfortable sharing even dumb ideas because it’s those ideas that might just take you down a path to awesomeness that you might not have discovered on your own.
At Vidyard, the whole creative team sits together and, often when we have collaborated during all the stages of different projects we have worked on, Raj, Karel, and I have even shared a monitor (whaaa??!). That way, we can see how the copy and design and user experience are all coming together. It’s a pretty awesome experience for us, as we bounce ideas off each other and improve assets in “real time”, like changing text sizes, cutting down copy so it fits on more or less lines or columns (since you can’t tell from a wireframe), changing the layout of a table or tabs to better communicate a message, and so much more! No matter which creative team members are coming together on any given project, our combined strengths only mean great things.
When all creative roles work together, that’s when the real magic happens. Do you have any tips to bring your copywriting and design together for a powerful experience? Let us know!