The big debate in the website design world. Which should be done first, the design or the copy? This debate stems from the differing point of view of the designer and the copywriter. From the designer’s point of view creating a design is heavily based on the content that the design will be housing, designing with placeholder text can cause a lot of issues and reworking once the copy is provided. On the other hand, a copywriter may want a visual of what they are writing for, to understand what sections are needed and the overall flow of the website. Creating copy for a website where they aren’t familiar with the brand and overall vibe can make it difficult to capture the right energy within the word choice.
You can see where both sides of the coin are valid in their “Me First” thinking. So what’s the fix to please both parties in order to collaborate on the client’s project? Well, that’s what we’re here to find an answer for.
Allow me to take you behind the curtain of the process that has built a bridge between me and the copywriters I work with.
What is the secret?
Not a real shocker if you keep up with me. Brand strategy has solved so many hiccups in the design process, and it’s something I talk a lot about, in fact, check out this blog post for more clarity on what brand strategy is and why it’s so important. Okay, back on track!
Starting with brand strategy allows you to really get to know the business in order to build a brand around it that reflects what is important to the client and their audience. Doing this early on also helps the copywriter by establishing a brand voice for the tone of the copy.
Establishing the skeleton of the website and understanding the big goals of how the website should perform is a fundamental step in creating a website that won’t only look nice but will also work just as hard to reach the business goals.
Establishing strong messaging for the website that conveys the brand as a whole will connect with the audience on a level that allows them to feel seen, driving them to the goal of the website.
Create a design that compliments the messaging within the copy to captivate the audience and keep them engaged in what is being communicated. While implementing the branding and energy that was established early on.
When people first click on a website they first make split-second decisions about the site based on visuals alone. At first, they are only using visual cues from the images, colors, and layouts to tell them if the website is worth sticking around for.
Once the website visitor has decided to stick around, then they will take the time to read the website. The design of the website is what makes the website easier to read, leading the eye to the next section in a natural way.
Reflecting back on the initial question of which should come first, the design or the copy. Well, the answer is complicated but it boils down to the best websites stem from a good collaboration process. One where the copywriter and the designer are both aligned on the goals of the website.
Both need each other. A beautiful website with no substance isn’t going to lead to more sales. Whereas a wonderfully written website with walls of text and no design isn’t going to entice anyone to actually read it. Both need to have a clear vision of what is trying to be accomplished and work together to obtain it.
Of course, there are always exceptions to any rule.
In this case, it’s e-commerce.
Depending on the type of website, design can be a more important focus and can come first. Especially for e-commerce websites where there really isn’t much copy at all. The website relies heavily on photographs and design to do the storytelling.
Taking a look at the Reformation website which gives a great visual of this exception. The site heavily relays on the overall design. Using micro-copy to infuse personality usually with one-liners on the homepage and short product blurbs. This doesn’t lessen the importance of those small snippets of copy by any means. In fact, it puts more weight on the micro-copy to create that connection in a genuine yet snappy way.
So, the answer?
Just like most things in life- it’s complicated and individualized to the project at hand. The process described will work in most situations but as we explored there are always exceptions. So the main takeaway is that a website will only function as intended if the copywriter and designer are able to collaborate to help the client reach their goals through the website.