Celebrating copy as a writer-designer partnership

Fran Morgan

shoutaboutit limited

We’re all familiar with some of those iconic advertising slogans – Just Do It (Nike, of course), Because You’re Worth It (L’Oreal), Is She or Isn’t She? (you have to be my age for that one – Harmony hairspray).

They capture the essence of a brand, its positioning and its USP in just a few simple words. For me, that’s the ‘glitzy’ end of copywriting – an intense, creative world that must be both stressful and exhilarating in equal measure – the Hollywood of copywriting.

As we know, many of our best adverts come from a copywriter-designer partnership. Whilst I can only aspire to these dizzying heights, I am nevertheless a firm believer in the importance of copy and visuals working hand in hand, always. I think most people would agree that if you want to create an engaging, impactful piece of communication, you need to ensure that it is not only the content that engages, but the visual expression of that content.

It’s also true that a dense block of copy might be riveting, but getting the reader to engage long enough to read it all might just prove too much. So the environment in which copy sits is just as important as the words themselves.

Writing in situ

As a copywriter with a 19-year background in the design industry, I try to write ‘in situ’, visualising how the copy will sit on the page, alongside any visual elements. Maybe all copywriters do the same – I don’t know – but for me, it’s about the copy and visuals working together to create something which is greater than the sum of their individual parts.

It’s the reason we embolden phrases or pull them out for effect. When I’m working on a printed book, I’ll think in spreads rather than Word document pages. Sometimes it might be necessary to treat copy as a graphic, creating a visual treatment for a word, phrase or number, and thinking of the key elements of the copy in this way can be truly impactful.

Creative collaboration

Working with graphic designers can be challenging and sadly, some designers don’t always like to see copy presented in a visual format, as though I’m treading on their rather trendy trainers. Too many times I have received a brief for 100 words of copy to go in a particular space on a printed or web page.

This misses a trick for two creative minds, with different skill sets and perspectives, to work together on a communication challenge and come up with a solution that neither might have arrived at if working solo. I always ask to be briefed alongside the designers and sometimes a creative concept will come out of the joint copy-design conversations that ensue.


Think about the importance of pace and breathing space to a graphic designer. Now think about dialogue and conversation when we deliver a message using pace and space subconsciously, to great effect. They’re just as important in the written word too. Working with a designer can take this beyond what is possible with sentence length and word trickery.

Giving over a page to just one small word in the centre might just solicit the response you’re looking for, much like the pin-drop in a crowded room. And conversely, a densely packed page with a slightly-too-large font and condensed leading can give the illusion of a deafening level of conversation  in that same crowded room.

A picture (sometimes) paints a thousand words

Finally, working with a designer means that you have more tools in the toolbox. A picture really can paint a thousand words (in a lot less space) so if the brief is about communication, then we should use all the tools at our disposal and think of them as a holistic toolbox and not undertake them as individual, sequential activities.

A well-designed chart shouldn’t need a wordy explanation, just as graphic icons can be used as shorthand for what would otherwise be complicated and lengthy descriptions. Sometimes a picture just does the job better.

Maybe I’m preaching to the converted. Maybe all copywriters work in this way – I’d love to know. I’d like to think I write better copy when I’m working alongside other creatives, and it’s certainly a more exciting process.

What do you think?

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