How Graphic Designers Make Life Hell for Copywriters, and Vice Versa

Dan O'SullivanDesign, Kvetching, The Writing Life2 Comments

The relationship between a copywriter and graphic designer can be a beautiful, harmonious thing — or it can be a disaster because each does things that drive the other one nuts.

I’ll start with my perspective as a copywriter who has worked with dozens of designers over the past 20 years. Here’s one that kills me: I send the designer a Word document filled with pages of pristine website copy. But rather than simply copying and pasting the text, the designer decides to freelance a bit. She types out a headline here, a call to action there, and when the website goes live, it’s infested with typos. How could you do that to me?

I’ve got other beefs — e.g. the designer who casually mentions he needs 1,200 words to fill a Web page — but let’s hear from the other side of the divide.

So, designers: How do copywriters make life hell for you?

“Hmm. I tend to get along with writers,” says Diane Fassino, owner of Fassino Design. “With any creative partnership — and this includes photographers, illustrators, marketing people, et al. — the person has to be sane and reasonable, and not pull a scene or make us look bad for bringing them in on the project. I’ve had a pretty good run with writers, which I guess is good news for us.”

Yes, but bad news for me. Where’s the controversy? The tales of copywriter ineptitude?

“Unfortunately I have nothing at all to offer,” sighs user interface designer Lynn Cyr. “I think the last time I worked with a writer was when you worked on my website! And of course, everything went awesome :-).”

Thanks, Lynn. But flattery and emoticons won’t cut it here. I need blood.

“I have three things that drive designers nuts about writers,” says Laura McFadden, owner of Laura McFadden Design. Finally! Please share …

“One, overwriting. Lack of conciseness leads to ugly design. And the design solution is usually to shoehorn as many of the words in either by making font sizes smaller or closing up leading. Cinderella’s big-footed stepsisters aren’t going to fit into those tiny shoes without some pain.

“Two, not taking chances. Asking designers to tone back artwork even though the words fit the visuals. This has happened time and again because writers fear getting bad publicity. And just to clarify: This happens mostly with editorial writers. I’m not sure about folks in advertising.

“Three, tan pants. Really? All the time? Do writers own tan pants dispensers? Just kidding. Well, maybe …”

Keen insights served with a side dish of sass. Bravo, Laura! How about you, Anne Damphousse-Feilteau, creative director at Stormship?

“On a few projects, I’ve sent the copywriter some collateral to review in advance of the kickoff meeting with the client. Then at the meeting, the copywriter asks the most basic question like they haven’t read any of it.”

Bad form, no doubt. We’ll give the last word to Christina Babin and Karyn Goba, principals at Pantano Creative.

“We do get a little annoyed when a) ‘final approved text’ has typos in it that the client catches (and then we get blamed for it); b) writers say ‘the graphics are getting in the way of the message’; and c) writers are designers. And by the way, when writers ask whether we want them to cut copy, the answer is ALWAYS YES.”

Thanks to everyone for chiming in. On behalf of copywriters everywhere, I apologize for our transgressions and promise to smarten up.

Now, can we all just get along?

Do writers or designers do anything that bugs you? Get it off your chest below.

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2 Comments on “How Graphic Designers Make Life Hell for Copywriters, and Vice Versa”

  1. James Mahoney

    Dan,

    I think you could have tightened this post up by about a third so it would fit better (and FYI, no one reads long copy anyway), and the page would look nicer if the logo was bigger.

    Yours in Comity,
    James

  2. Dan O'Sullivan

    I appreciate the comment, James. I generally agree that web copy should be on the shorter side (esp. with something like a landing page), but I’d also argue that longer copy can work in certain contexts (e.g. a blog post). Thanks for reading.

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