With the economy tightening everyone’s belts, more and more often the content development and copywriting for marketing and communication’s material is being left to marketing directors, marketing and communications managers and sometimes sales managers. While ideally most projects should be written by a professional copywriter - when the ball is passed to you, are you micromanaging your graphic designers? And becoming what I like to call a “back seat designer”?
Below are some signs that you may be designing from the back seat.
1. I often edit my content after seeing the first draft layout.
In any marketing or communication piece the message and supporting content is the framework that the designer will use to build the design upon. He will make decisions based on the amount and type of content to make the message as impactful as possible. If you are making major changes to the content after the piece has been designed, the designer will have to re-evaluate and redesign the piece costing you time and money - and frustrating your designer at the same time.
2. I’ll know it when I see it
The designer’s job is to design the piece so it effectively communicates the content. You should give the designer direction on the look and feel you want. If you’re working with an inexperienced designer or you’re not totally clear, yourself, on the direction you’d like the piece to take, then a formal written brief outlining the objective, target audience, and desired look and feel are a necessity.
You might also ask the designer up front for two or three rough drafts or hand sketched thumbnails so you can nail down the look and feel before formatting all of the content and design elements. A more streamlined approach may be to simply provide the designer with examples of other pieces that have a similar look and feel AND similar content to the piece you are working on.
3. I give very specific design and layout feedback
Your feedback on a piece should not include detailed layout instructions like changes in point sizes of type or specific size or position changes of content elements. The more specific you are in your feedback over time, the more the designer is going to start doing exactly what is asked for and not look for the creative solutions that can make a piece great.
The best feedback is more general in nature like “This section seems crowded to me” or “I want this item to be more dominant on the page”. Be careful not to give conflicting feedback like saying the piece is too crowded while adding additional content. Or asking for multiple items to stand out or be dominant.
4. I need more than three revisions to get it right
Designers realize that developing a piece is a collaborative effort and expect some revisions. However, if you give good direction and polished content on the front end you will rarely need even three revisions. One helpful approach is to give the designer some pieces of content that are optional. That gives them flexibility in their design. Sometimes content is too much for one page and not enough for two. A nice optional side bar item may be just what they need to make it all work.
If you have no idea how long your written content should be, have the designer mock up the layout using “dummy text” and provide you with a rough word count. A good rule of thumb for a marketing/promotional piece with images, charts and branded elements would be between 250 and 350 words per letter size page. For more text heavy technical/instructional pieces you can push it to 450-500 words per page.
5. The final piece looks completely different than the first draft
If the final piece looks completely different than the first draft then there are some major issues in your communication and trust with the designer and their expertise. You need to work with your designer to develop processes that better communicate the purpose of the piece and discipline yourself to refine and edit your content BEFORE sending it to the designer.
In the end we all have the same goal. To create a piece that effectively communicates the message, compels the reader to take action or influences their opinion and looks great. If you have the benefit of working with an experienced designer, then trust them to do the designing and keep your hands out of the pot.
If your designer is less experienced, then nothing is more valuable than clear and open communication and a pat on the back for a job well done. And if you are really having trouble refining and editing your copy, ask another member of your marketing staff to take a look at it. A fresh pair of eyes just might result in some great ideas for making it better.
So how do you rate? Are you a back seat designer? Please leave your comment below.