Hey Copywriters – Designers Hate You for a Reason

Copywriting

Portent Staff Jan 19 2011

I consider myself a perfectly creative person. I can paint Manet-quality word pictures; every once in a while I will whip up such stunning moments of alliteration that the Cat in the Hat’s whiskers curl with envy.

I am a copywriter.

Outside of my poetic prowess, my creativity is pretty much useless. And most days that is okay: 75% of my awesome job is to sit and write righteous headlines and witty blog posts and whimsical taglines.

The downside of that 75% is that most online readers don’t actually like to read, a truth that forces me to troll the depths of stock photo forums, crowbar my glorious prose into bullet points, and attempt to transform the things I want to say into infographics.

The Dreaded Infographic

Don’t get me wrong. I think infographics are just peachy – people actually read them (the copywriter’s dream) and they are really cool when done right.

But remember, I can’t actually make an infographic. Color? Pictures? “Rusty metal text“? PHOTOSHOP?!

Forget about it.

Thus begins the process of copywriter/designer collaboration, and it usually isn’t a pretty sight.

Copywriter vs. Designer

The communication issues between designers and copywriters have some layers.

  • Copywriters have to fight for face time. Generally, designers are busy constructing important things like, say, entire websites. They don’t always have a ton of room in their days to help you create a timeline that also looks like a dinosaur.
  • Copywriters don’t know the first thing about graphic design. We have no clue how long it takes to code an image map. We might say something like “Maybe make that word pink,” but we don’t actually know if that is a good idea.
  • Copywriters usually have no clue what they want. At all. We are completely hopeless. We come to you with pathetic little sketches on notebook paper and hope you see it, realize exactly what it is we want, and then create a big, beautiful infographic that we can say we “helped” on.

Speaking of pathetic sketches

Need proof just how terrible copywriters are at graphic design? See below things we’ve actually presented to our fellow artistic experts.

The Sneeze
Sneeze sketch

Fellow wordsmith Welles sketched up this beaut. I’m not sure you can tell, but that is supposed to be George Washington on a dollar bill sneezing (I didn’t get it, either). A true copywriter-designer success story, check out the final product.

Map of China

Map of China sketch

Yep. That’s a map of China. Well… just Eastern China. Japan is in there, too.

Squares and Squiggles

Squares and lines sketch

I am still not sure what this is supposed to be. Needless to say, I don’t think it made it much further than the notebook paper.

Tried and (Not Very) True Communication Techniques

I’ve been working to “help” create infographics ever since some Portent reps went to SMX Advanced 2010 and took Chris Benett’s presentation on advanced link building to heart. I’ve had all that time to figure out what doesn’t work when talking to designers and what sometimes sort of works if everything is best-case scenario.

Notice how there isn’t a “guaranteed successful method of communication” option. Nope. I haven’t found it yet. Feel free to leave your recommendations in the comments.

Technique 1: Tell the designer “I trust you! Just go for it!”

I have tried this on more than one occasion, partially because I somehow thought it was flattering, partially because I was embarrassed I still don’t know the difference between Photoshop and Illustrator.

I approach the designer, give them bare bones details like “stegosaurus, 10-year timeline, green and blue” and then say GO!

Outcome: This is unfair on so many levels. It gives your designer about an hour more work than necessary as they try to figure out why the hell a dinosaur is involved in your timeline at all.

And even though you think a Barney dinosaur is the obvious choice, perhaps your designer is more inclined to create an anatomically- and historically-correct dinosaur. And maybe they think forest green looks the best, even though you were leaning toward teal.

…Well why the heck didn’t you SAY SO?!

2. Incessant back and forth

There will always be some back and forth before the final infographic is published – little tweaks, a couple of additions, etc. But to go to a designer with the intention of a lot of back and forth to help you develop your “vision” makes you a big jerk and I wouldn’t want to work with you either.

Outcome: Lots of wasted hours. A designer who dreads your pings.

3. Actually knowing what you want (and articulating it, too!)

Actually having a vision and presenting that information to a designer is (I hope this is obvious) the best option.

Outcome: An infographic everyone is satisfied with. A designer as your best friend. Maybe you even learn something along the way….?

Checklist of What to Present to a Designer

To cut down on the time it takes a designer to track you down to have you explain what the little squiggle mark in the corner of your sketch is, go through this checklist of things to have ready before you go to a designer.

  • One-two sentences describing what is supposed to be conveyed. If you can’t say it in two sentences, it probably won’t be a very good infographic anyway.
  • Basic, blocked-out sketch. Think squares and circles, not details.
  • All the images that will be needed.
  • All the facts, stats, statements, quotes, introductions etc. that put the info into infographic.
  • A few examples of other infographics you like and would like to emulate, be it through font, color scheme, or format.

If all else fails, bring a designer into your initial brainstorm, so they can give you an idea of what might work graphically before you come to them with more dinosaur inspirations.

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