Working with a copywriter: a web developer’s view

Louise is half of Swift & Magnus, the London-based digital studio she co-founded with professional yarn-spinner Becca Magnus earlier this year.

Louise took a break from coding and coffee drinking to tell us about her unusual work partnership.

Using terms that not-very-techy types will understand, describe what you do

“I write code for both straightforward websites and more complex web applications, such as ecommerce platforms that handle lots of custom subscription orders.

I’m always delighted when I get time in a project to fuss over the details in the user interface, like subtle icon animations.

I also recently made a Slackbot and, due to being a big geek, am working on a text-based game in my spare moments.”

Swift & Magnus is a ‘creative digital studio’ what does that mean?

“To us, this means a mini powerhouse of creative and technical skills that can be put to good use in collaboration with other teams.

Rather than only handling the production stage of a project (the bit where the words and code get written and revised until ready to go), we now also play a bigger role in the earlier discovery stage, helping our clients first figure out what exactly needs to be built and how best to build it.”

What did you do before you co-founded Swift & Magnus?

“I was a freelancer for four years doing lots of that production work mentioned above, and learning a lot about how important it is to do more of the discovery stuff first. Because otherwise, the production work can take longer and cost more, and nobody wants that.”

How did your unconventional collaboration come about?

“We’re aware that coders normally pair with designers and writers normally work with art directors, but we’re also aware that all the best work starts with a strong story. That story is your strategy. It says ‘here are the people you are selling to, and here’s how to sell to them.’

Adding website or app features to keep up with competitors, or because they sound fun and interesting to the client and their team, is something that I did a lot of as a freelancer. But these aren’t very good reasons to invest in more development work.

Instead, we should look at what our story/messaging-led strategy tells us is truly important, and set aside anything else, and we’ll get better results.

This is why I was keen to team up with Becca. She is a genius when it comes to story-led strategy, and I also think it’s excellent to work with someone who isn’t preoccupied or distracted by tech concerns.

She cares about human experience and I strongly believe that this is what should guide all website & app development projects.

Humans understand themselves and the world through stories, so writers should lead the way.”

Tell us about the kind of projects you work on

“Currently, any larger projects we take on usually involve collaborating with larger branding agencies to support them in creating websites and apps of varying complexity, for food, drink and lifestyle startups and established brands.

We’re also cooking up some fun side projects (although working this into our weekly schedules is a challenge I am currently tackling), and doing other smaller pieces of work whenever someone comes to us with an interesting idea.

I’m really enjoying this first year of our studio’s life where there’s lots of variety while we explore where we can do the most valuable work. It’s a little hectic sometimes, but at this stage in our lives and careers that suits us well.”

How much did you know about copywriting before you started working with Becca?

“Hilariously little. I still see her work as a kind of magic, because she puts words together and they become delightful whereas when I put words together, they are plain and awkward. But I’m happy to celebrate her skills rather than worrying that I can’t replicate them. Coding keeps me plenty busy.”

What’s it like working with a copywriter?

“There are some similarities in how we work, and some differences. For example, when coding, I have to spend a fair amount of time shut off from the world, not letting outside things distract me from the problems I’m solving.

Whereas Becca benefits from exposure to all sorts of different environments and people and outside things – that seems to be what her subconscious needs to do its magical work to produce those excellent words and stories!

But we respect each others’ skills and processes and, overall, collaboration is a delightful experience. Because her stories and messaging make the goals of our projects seem much clearer to me, that helps me then come up with better ideas for how the tech-related aspects of the project can support the story. I’m always happier when things make more sense.”

What are the benefits?

“Being able to share the stressful moments that are a natural part of any creative project with someone is wonderful. No matter what the problem is, once we’ve discussed it we always come up with a really good solution to try, and we know that together we can tackle just about any challenge.”

Anything you find tricky?

“Collaboration requires a lot of communication and negotiation. These need to be or become second nature, because if you’re going to work with someone a lot you both need to be good at working things out together in a way that makes you both happy.

We probably both worry too much about bothering or annoying or disappointing each other, but I’d expect that to reduce naturally over time as we become more confident about working together. Although, I think it’s always important to be sensitive to others’ feelings.”

Has it changed the way you see or do things?

“Before we co-founded Swift & Magnus, I had a strong sense that collaborative work would be essential for the kind of career that I want to develop, but now I know for certain.

It’s not about never doing anything on your own, because of course we still do our own things sometimes. But at the end of the day, no matter how smart and talented you are, if you can work well with other smart and talented people then the sky is the limit (and the projects are so much more fun).”

Is there anything you think copywriters can learn from developers?

“Hmm. This one’s tricky to answer because copywriters and developers are diverse groups who benefit a lot from bringing their different knowledge and experience together in collaborative projects.

Oh wait, I know one thing. Copywriters should learn to submit written content in plain-text format if it needs to be put into a website or app. 😉 Possibly with Markdown formatting, although simple HTML for bold, italic and subheadings is just as easy to pick up.

Above all, no lengthy Microsoft Word documents that we have to pick through to remove weird spacing and whatnot, please!”


18th August 2016

Leif Kendall

There must be a simple way to convert Word docs to web-friendly formats…

I’ve tried writing and editing in plain text, but it’s unpleasant if you’re used to the look of a word-processor like Word and the easy formatting it provides.

Interesting read – great to hear more about this creative partnership at Swift + Magnus.

19th August 2016

Charlotte Ford

Nice advice about the plain text writing. *thumbs up*
It’s great to see how your partnership works and the creative differences. Would love to hear more like this!

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