Why do so many designers view copy simply as one element in their design rather than the focal point of the communication?
I suspect it is simply a matter of priorities to the average designer. He or she is employed to organise everything and lay it all out so that a brochure, website, poster or advertisement (or whatever other item is beign created) is striking and inviting. Their priority is to create a cohesive whole, and if you work with a good designer, they will hopefully recognise that in most cases the design is a means to an end, and it is the words that carry the message to the reader. But this is not always the case, and I have worked with countless designers over the years who have viewed copy in much the same way as they view illustrations, photograps or tables - they need to fit in, be attractive and not spoil the overall aesthetic balance of a piece. But they can be cropped and sliced up, with blocks of copy being distributed about the piece at random.
To a writer, it is frustrating to have one's copy cut up and littered around in the name of making an effective layout. If one's eye is not led on a comfortable journey from start to finish, reading anything can be a bit of a struggle, so it is vital that a designer treats the copy in a way that invites a reader to travel along that journey. Similarly, it is just as frustrating to be asked to change the way a sentence has been written, just because a single-word 'widow' is being caused on a screen, and the designer wants a more convenient line length. It would be like a designer being asked to delete the righthand third of an image because it contained yellow, and the copywriter on the project hated anything yellow in colour. It doesn't make for a really compelling reason.
Clearly, there are a lot of particularly good examples of design where words are not important and where a messgae is conveyed purely by an image. Icons are the most obvious example. But in most commercial situations where a message is being communicated - perhaps on a product's packaging, a pension scheme's literature or a telecoms provider's website - the information is contained in the words, and it is the job of the designer to ensure that a reader quickly and easily takes on board the informaton being conveyed.
The bottom line is that a good designer understands words and recognises the importance of guiding a reader on a journey. A poor designer is one who thinks design is all about layout and impact, or aesthetics. I am pleased to say that nowadays I work with some particularly bright designers who treat copy with the respect I feel it deserves.
Do you have any thoughts on this subject?
Excellent post David.
I guess it's a case of horses for courses. Both copywriters and designers need to leave their ego at the door from time to time and focus on what works as the best solution to the communication problem.
Design and text are like the Lennon & McCartney of marketing. They work best when they work together, sometimes one part carries more weight than the other.
Reminds me of a quote I read once: A picture paints a thousand words, except the words "a picture paints a thousand words".