Welcome to an article written by a copywriter for an audience of designers. During my years working at agencies, freelance and in-house, I’ve had the pleasure to work with some extremely talented Designers, Art Directors, Videographers, Editors and Photographers. They’re my creative partners. They’re the reason I’m an AIGA member and sit on the board.
Sadly, some of you haven’t had the opportunity to work with a copywriter. Until you do your ying will never be yanged. A good copywriter not only injects an element of play into the project, they also know how to subtly change words for the greatest effect—when to use passive voice vs. active…when to eliminate contractions for emphasis and when to utilize them to foster familiarity…the examples could go on and on. Every word should have a purpose, if it doesn’t it’s a distraction. As a designer you already know that poor design can destroy the impact of good content, but good design with bad content is hard to consume creating a friction that most won’t try to overcome.
Copywriters love words. It just makes sense. Part of gaining experience as a copywriter is learning to get to the point but—just like film and audio editing—pacing, mood and tension can be created using sentence structure. Properly constructed a paragraph talking about “the problem” can make your chest contract and another about “the solution” make you feel like you’re taking a breath for the first time. If it sounds like I’m getting excited, I am, I love words. I love the stories they can make, the things they can reveal and the engagement they can create.
Good copywriters are curious—we read all sorts of obscure shit and love asking questions. It’s the questions that help discover new angles, identify issues and really get down to why people should care about the project. In essence, we’re looking for the reason we can share to the audience about why we care about the topic or offering…why we feel engaged…why we are moved, after all, it’s easier to move people when you’ve been moved yourself…well, in a perfect world.
How do you approach a copywriter? Well, that can run the gambit as well. In a perfect world the team starts off together and helps solve the problem together. I’ve had award winning projects where I came up with the visual and my Art Director partner nailed the headline. I’ve also been brought in to “fill blocks” for projects that are almost completely developed. It works both ways. When in doubt, grab a coffee and chat about what can be achieved. Working with a copywriter only adds to your capabilities. Bringing in professionals with strengths that compliment your own helps your work and will benefits the project you’re working on. Just think, your copywriter can free you to concentrate and build on your own strengths.
So you’ve decided to team up. Kick-off time! Let’s suppose that the project isn’t a simple “follow the creative brief” execution. Your client has provided samples of their previous work, competitors’, likes, daydreams, random thoughts…the usual discovery. Art and copy creatives begin seeking, this can span the development of mood boards and word clouds to developing character archetypes and backstory. Where this goes next is going to depend on the relationship and trust between the creative and client partner. Are you simply developing materials for an execution or creating a foundation that nurtures the evangelical potential of your client’s brand?
Do you need to work with a copywriter? Only you can answer that question. I like to think that the design community cares about every aspect that goes into their work—including the meaning behind the words they’re leading and kerning.
Paul Elliston is a writer with 20 years experience working in the advertising field. He’s worked for large global clients and for smaller more intimate brands developing digital and traditional assets. Feel like a chat? Reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.