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What Comes First: Copy or Design?

1/24/23

Content Creation

Ah yes, the old chicken or the egg conundrum…but like, make it marketing. It’s no secret that copywriters and graphic designers work closely together to make cool shit happen — like websites, PDF opt-ins, a great social media presence, etc. 

But what gets done first? And why tf does it matter?

It’s actually a lot more important than you think and has the power to impact the final outcome of a project, which can affect your bottom line. So let’s take a look and settle this debate once and for all!

Copywriters vs. Designers — who’s right? 

Ask a graphic designer which comes first, and they’ll say copy comes first. Ask a copywriter (whether it’s content or sales copy), and they’ll say design. For centuries (okay, maybe like half of a century at best), designers and copywriters have been feuding over this mind-boggling question. 

And the truth is, a lot of it is because we just want to be right. My hot take of the year? I think we all tend to think our own job is more important than everyone else’s, especially if you’re working in the same department (marketing, sales, legal, accounting, etc.). 

But we need copywriters to write copy that gets people to buy. And we need designers to make it look nice so people even want to look at your offers in the first place. So who’s right in this debate?

I hate to break it to all of you, but the designer is right on this one. 

Why copy comes before design

In theory, you could create the design first. But you’re going to leave yourself open to a lot of unnecessary revisions and hours of reconstruction work, and possibly needing to look for a new designer when the project wraps up. 

Copy dictates design. And I dunno if you’ve ever tried to go in and physically edit a website but it takes a long time, and editing a Google doc draft is much easier than doing that. I’m not discrediting a copywriter’s work, but what it really comes down to is providing efficiency for the entire length project. 

Copy tells the design how long everything needs to be

No matter what you’re working on, a designer is going to need to know how long something should be. Do they need to add more pages to the PDF? Extra canvases for the sales page? An additional graphic to that Instagram carousel?

Copy is the framework for design. It’s like the blueprint or the floor plan of a house. To build a beautiful one, the builders need to know what the layout should look like. And that’s exactly what copy does for design. 

It provides ideas for visuals

Having a copy before you dig into the design is kind of like having a brief all on its own. A designer may see bullet points and go, “Hey! This looks like a great spot for some icons.” Or they may see a page break and think “Ya know, this is the perfect spot for an illustration to visually break up the sections.”

Copy can also tell the design what will be most impactful as a header, as a subheading, or even as a button. 

But on the flip side, if design comes first, it may pigeonhole copywriters and make them feel like they don’t have enough room to write. And that’s the last thing you want to do because as much as I love design, I have to admit that without copy, there’s no point of sale. Copy is what gets people to buy, especially in the age of conscious consumerism. 

And when copy comes first, everyone gets to play to their strengths and do their best work because they have the tools they need to get it done.

But copywriters should write with design in mind

It’s super helpful to designers when they can take a written document and begin to visualize the design elements as they read. How do you help them do that?

Easy! Make use of the tools in programs like Google Docs to form a very basic layout. Format headings and subheadings. Insert tables and use those bullet points. Even make notes to the side about what goes where and why. 

When copywriters and designers work together, the end result is just…beautiful (I’m shedding a tear over here). 

It’s indescribably valuable to the business. And when we’re talking about small businesses, that shit REALLY matters. 

What copywriting and design look like when working together

Whether you have a team of in-house designers and copywriters, or you’ve outsourced one of each, or you’re DIYing one half and hiring a contractor for the other, at some point, there will come a time when both need to work together. 

Here’s an example of what that could look like:

  • Info-gathering stage — have both work in tandem with this and communicate through the process. Send inspo to each other so you both get an idea of what you want to be working with. 
  • Draft and approval final copy — give the designer time to read through this before they get started with the actual design itself. If possible, allow them to ask the copywriter any questions they have directly. 
  • Wireframe + first draft design — does anything look or feel off? If so, get everyone together to figure out what went wrong. Both designers and copywriters are contributors to the final product and both can have valuable insight. 
  • Add the finishing touches and then get that thing out into the world. Pop a bottle of bubbly to celebrate!

Working together is always better than keeping creatives from connection — leading to a better result for YOU as a business owner. 

How Uncanny Content can help in all this

We aren’t a design agency, though you probably already knew that. We’re a full-service content agency, but we’re more than happy to shake hands with your designers to make one amazing final product.

One of the ways we can do that? With your launch strategy! Launches are one of the key moments where copywriters and designers work together, and when done right, and be really transformative for your business. And we’ve got countless launches (seriously, we lost count at 62) under our belt to back that up. 

Interested? Learn more here!

PSSST — While we are, by no means, a design studio, we CAN help with certain design projects, like social media graphics and landing or sales pages. If this is something you’re interested in, please let us know when reaching out!

Ashton Hoot, Lead Copywriter + Dedicated Swiftie
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