The content vs. design feud is much like the chicken and the egg. Both are necessary critical components of an effective web site, marketing piece, annual report, e-book or presentation. As a marketing professional (disclaimer here – I am a content writer), I am often asked if it’s better to start with a compelling design and write copy to fit it, or if copy should be at the forefront and then drive the design?
One of the most frustrating things as a marketing strategist is when a client starts bombarding me with marketing collateral for various things and asking my opinion. That’s kind of like an accountant looking at a single check and trying to make a determination on whether a budget is effective – there is so much more to consider!
Neither content NOR design will be effective and actionable unless they map to an overall brand strategy. Here is an extreme example. If you saw an ad for an elitist brand like Apple, Mercedes or Louis Vuitton you expect a certain look and feel. So cartoonish fonts, deep discounts or cluttered copy would not map to the look and feel of their brand.
On the other hand, marketing for a child care would probably not be black and white, it would be colorful. It would likely feature certain kinds of action words and emotional cues for parents. Perhaps it would have regional or local references. This is in keeping with the branding for a company that serves children and parents in a specific geographic area.
The first thing I always do with a new client is determine their brand voice, look and feel and look for key terms. These may have to do with SEO, or they may just be terms that typical clients respond to.
Great content comes from a thorough understanding of the brand, the audience, the buying motivations and the objectives of the organization. It’s also important to understand what marketing initiatives are already in place and how effective they are. Can we writers just ghost write a blog? Sure we can, but we craft that blog to the voice of the company and the purpose of the blog.
Honestly, even my designer friends will tell you that in most cases, the content comes first. It is possible, especially with web design, to have a format in mind that you want to use and suggest your writer map to that template. But it’s far more effective to see how much content you have and what broad categories it fits into before you commit to a design.
Graphic and web designers take the content and match it up with design work that mimics the feel of the content. Is it more data driven or emotion driven? Is there a very focused service offered, or is it a broader offering? Does the brand already have recognition? What are the analytics on the web site telling us? All these are factors in how the content will used in the graphic design elements.
Frequently, my design partners will come to me and ask me to identify pop out quotes, or a few data points, or some sentences of teaser content for some specific purpose in the design. I’ve also had web designers tell me the copy is either too long or too short, and some editing is needed. Good writers have to be responsive to the needs of the design and be able to generate content that meets the needs of the design.
Collaboration is Key
Whether you, as a consumer, respond more to strongly written content or creative visuals, there is no question that BOTH are equally important.
Not long ago, I submitted an article to a client for publication on their website. It was a 1,000 word piece written from an interview with one of their key leaders. When I saw what the designers did with the piece after adding photos, cool fonts and headlines, and pulling out sections to emphasize them – I was blown away. The article was shared over 700 times!
That article was compelling because of the incredible design work that went along with it. In the marketing world, the best copy in the world always benefits from strong design. With today’s emphasis on digital marketing, we have mere seconds to capture the attention of our target audience, whether with a few strong words or an exciting visual.
A collaborative vision that maps to brand strategy in BOTH content and design will generate a finished product that is effective and compelling for the client profile. As a writer, I have a team of graphics professionals that I regularly work with and we understand how each of us works best and we love working together. The finished products are always amazing!
How well do you bridge that gap between content and graphic design? Is one stronger than the other? Do you have a good grasp on your brand strategy and vision so you know how to reach potential clients?
All these questions are important to answer to set yourself up for success in a highly competitive business climate.
Originally published and created by Camille Burch on LinkedIn Pulse