08 November 2006
Commentary by designer John Isom
Commentary by designer John Isom

Nothing. And everything. Depending on how they operate, that's what copywriters can contribute to design - assuming their design associates let them.

Admittedly, a lot of writers believe designers don't put enough emphasis on words. We ve all heard, "The type needs to be larger," more times than we'd care to remember.

Many designers, meanwhile, wonder why writers write so many words. We've all said, or at least bit our tongues and thought, "Nobody's going to read this anyway." (Which, in today's world of communication overload, may not be far from the truth).

Thankfully, these are stereotypes about parallel professions and do not apply to all those who make livings in them. The fact is, many writers and designers understand the value of working together, with sights set on a common goal: to produce a product that effectively communicates an intended message to an all too distractible audience.

The truth is, writers can contribute to design in many ways.

This begins with the project concept. Designers aren't the only creatives who need or can create concepts upon which communications can be built. The brainstorming that creates the overall message - words coupled with images - or perhaps a metaphor that clarifies the message, can and often should involve both the writer and designer. Both parties can contribute their strengths - designers thinking in terms of images and layout and writers focusing on the words and style that might effectively convey key themes.

As an aside, it's interesting to note how many writers doodle or sketch while developing their thoughts, just as many designers scribble words in the margins while creating design concepts. Visual balance and gestalt may not be primary issues for most writers. Active and passive voices aren't common concerns for most designers. But the natural interplay of the two - words and images - can be helpful to both disciplines at all stages of a project.

Writers also can help increase the clarity of a communication. Otherwise it looks to the reader as if there are a bunch of words here and a bunch of cool images there. The message gets muddled, unclear and unfocused, increasing the chance the project will be over budget, past the deadline or not fully acceptable to the client. Writers who have been involved with a project from the start can make sure the message and tone - both in the text and in the visual presentation - are on target. Similarly, designers can be valid reviewers of writing. While writers inherently tend to complicate, designers naturally seem to simplify.

Of course it comes down to the individuals involved. As a designer, you need to find writers you can work with and who want to work with you. Ask questions to find out their preferred ways to work and when they would like to be part of the process and expect the same kind of questions from them. The goal of any project is to create a strong concept that both the writer and designer can work from. Most projects are neither word nor design-driven, unless appropriate, rather they are focused on communication that leverages the strengths of both.

We're not writers vs. designers when we all are communicators.

How Copywriters Contribute to Design (Part Deux)
Commentary by writer Charlie Quimby

After more than 20 years of working closely with designers, I know that most of them (designers) are too nice to speak critically of their peers (writers), at least in print. So, to foster greater understanding of each other, I offer this list.

1. Writers provide grey stuff that keeps the photos from bumping into each other.

2. They remind you when the CEO is over 50 and can't read 10 point Gill Sans.

3. They can start the client meeting while you look for a parking place. (You had to finish just one more cover idea, didn't you?)

4. They come up with a wide variety of concepts - usually in the same piece of copy.

5. They can pin the account executive's arms while you gut punch.

7. They put in those pseudo em-dashes and extra spaces after a period, so you don t have to.

8. When sending you copy files, they remind you why designers love Macs.

9. If they notice that you skipped 6 when renumbering the list, and it's already gone to print, they don t point it out to the client. (They just badmouth you behind your back).

10. They show the client their own thumbnails, saving you the trouble of coming up with a layout.

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About this article
The above articles appear here with permission from AIGA/MN Issues.
Copyright 2000, AIGA/MN Issues.

About the authors and AIGA/MN Issues
Jon Isom is with the firm Words At Work (Minneapolis, USA) where he is one of three graphic designers in the midst of ten writers. Charlie Quimby, of the same firm, has been dangerous ever since, as the only writer attending a three-day concept and design workshop, he stayed up all night doing marker comps while the designers had time to go drinking.

These articles first appeared in AIGA/MN Issues in April, 2000 and are provided here with permission. ''Issues'' is the official news paper of AIGA/MN (American Institute of Graphic Arts, Minnesota Chapter).