Form Versus Function: Do Words or Design Rule? - Saxum


Form Versus Function: Do Words or Design Rule?

If you’ve ever been tasked with creating a piece of business collateral, you’ve had to think about things like bold design and a strong call to action. Everything from direct mail pieces to TV commercials to something as simple as a business card requires a thoughtful approach to balancing copy and layout, but often these worlds are kept separate.

Public relations professionals and copywriters painstakingly wordsmith the perfect product description or emotional appeal to the public, only to have the graphic designer request to trim the word count to make way for their innovative layout. Fortunately, this can be avoided by taking an integrated approach to marketing that brings writers and designers together from the beginning to brainstorm concepts and create a solution.

Think about this when forming project teams, whether internal or with an agency. Both perspectives are equally important to an effective final product, so the team must work to find the middle ground for marrying impactful copy with eye-catching design and avoiding what author Sam Harrison calls “creative junk food.” When using an integrated process, keep the following tips in mind to help writers and designers better understand one another.

For the copywriters:

  • Divorce your AP stylebook. (Keep reading…it’s only temporary.)  Even before “Web site” was officially changed to “website,” there were times when it needed to be one word. I’ve also seen cases where correct punctuation is altered for readability on a billboard for drivers on the interstate. This isn’t a reflection of your editing skills; it’s purely a readability issue. Plus, symbols like % take up less space than “percent.”
  • Think about the medium before you write the first word, then trim whatever you write by 20 percent.  Really challenge yourself to make every word count. Your copy may be riveting, but if it’s buried in too many words, nobody is going to read it anyway. Use active tense and remove superfluous terms.
  • The image is most often the strongest aspect of the design. Photography, infographics and typography are compelling and can express emotions or messages to support what you’re articulating in the copy. Don’t use words to emphasize what’s already being shown visually, it’s redundant. Instead, use the copy to spark action.

For the designers:

  • We all know the grid reigns supreme, but most people don’t take action just from looking at a picture. Please allow for a call to action, and the writers promise to keep it concise and free of widow-makers.
  • We realize you’re an artist, even if your tools are a mouse and Mac instead of a paintbrush. That said, marketing collateral is about a business objective so it’s important to infuse your style and expertise while also considering the overall brand and emotion you’re trying to evoke or action you are trying to drive.
  • The logo and/or URL need to be bigger. This is a common client response  to designs for anything from a brochure to a billboard. Designers sometimes minimize a company’s logo or website URL because it distracts from their vision (or is plain ugly…but that’s a different discussion). The client isn’t trying to take over the design, but they often have a brand standard and have to answer to their bosses about the readability of a company’s logo or contact information.

Taking an integrated approach reveals that while a brand is impacted by design and copywriting, it’s also so much more than that.  A brand is not just a logo or a tagline, it’s a combination of a product’s quality, customer service, community relations and more – it’s the experience that a customer has with a company. This is why an integrated approach is critical to success. Our team at Saxum provides integrated services to our clients, combining advertising, marketing, public relations and social media to enhance our clients’ brands and reputations among key stakeholders.

When you find yourself torn between copy and design, remembering the overall brand and original business objective behind the project can help you stay the course. While winning awards and creating portfolio pieces is fun, creating an integrated plan to achieve your business goals is a more effective metric for success.







Lindsay Vidrine


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