What comes first: the design or the copy?

It’s the age-old stand-off. But projects tend to go best when designers and copywriters come together and collaborate from the start.

Whether it’s a homepage or an email sequence, great copy informs great design and great design informs great copy.

Designers can help match and enhance the copy by discussing messaging and language choice in the early stages. In contrast, copywriters can get a feel for where their copy will go on the page and how the design will elevate their choice of words.

But if you’ve worked in the field for any amount of time, you know collaboration and offering creative feedback can be a tricky beast.

Designers and copywriters are invested in their work. They can get attached to creative visions that the other side can see as ‘picky’ or ‘odd.’ Think: neon color schemes, the length of a headline, and whether ‘and’ belongs at the beginning of a sentence.

In this post, we’ll walk you through 10 effective ways to deliver creative feedback for copywriters and designers to help create more alignment.

1.  Put the right systems and guidelines in place

A seamless and supportive working relationship between designers and copywriters depends on having the right systems and guidelines in place.

Importantly, both groups need to agree on the right processes, goals, and channels for their collaboration to create greater alignment and to facilitate ongoing feedback and communication.

In the first kick-off meeting for a project, set out:

  • Creative goals: each department should share their goals and let the other department know how to help them get what they need to make the project a success. Take a look at where goals and needs align and how each team can support the other in fulfilling them.

  • The process for feedback: when and how will feedback be shared? What guidelines are in place for sharing constructive feedback? Meetings, creative tools with shared access, email and IM channels are all options for staying connected and sharing feedback throughout the project.

  • The channels and solutions you’ll use for collaboration: from project management software, which gives everyone a clear sense of everyone’s role on the project, to instant messenger channels for quick check-ins, it’s important to outline the tools each department will use in their work together.

  • A shared terminology: collaboration requires creatives to understand each other’s terminology. From UX to syntax, often writers and designers speak a completely different language. To work together well, you need to outline clear definitions of creative terms and support a shared understanding of them. Does everyone know the terminology used by each creative team? How will they talk about their projects?

  • The timeline: what are the project milestones? How will each departments’ deadlines coincide? When will you schedule important meetings and rounds of feedback?

  • The shared design brief: both copywriters and designers should have access to the same design brief, allowing them to visualize each other’s aims and roles for the project.
Bynder helps teams collaborate more effectively by creating more efficient workflows and centralizing all of your shared content and brand guidelines—so everyone has easy access to everything they need throughout the project.

2. Help your team visualize what you need

Nothing makes it easier to visualize exactly what you’re looking for than concrete examples.

Everyone has a different idea of what ‘flowy’, ‘pointed,’ or ‘bold’ means. Without real-world examples, feedback can easily fall into vague suggestions that have subjective interpretations.

Writing for Entrepreneur Europe, Will Meier notes that the best creative feedback always goes back to the goal. This approach helps keep your feedback focused and avoids heading into the questionable realm of personal opinion.

Meier highlights a solid, question-based framework for providing relevant feedback, sourced from the book Discussing Design, written by Adam Connor and Aaron Irizarry:

1. What is the objective of the design?

2. What elements of the design are related to the objective?

3. Are those elements effective in achieving the objective?

4. Why or why not?

These questions can also be applied to the copy, aligning feedback to the end goal of the piece.

3. Don’t limit feedback rounds

Regular feedback rounds are key to facilitating a more cohesive and constructive collaboration between copy and design teams.

Regular feedback meetings offer valuable outside insight and critique. While a limited number of reviews and chances to provide feedback can create a sense of separateness that can make creative teams overly focused on their own creative ideas and viewpoints. In addition, make sure that both departments attend regular meetings, where they can share their ideas, provide their work for review, and offer feedback.

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4. Make audience feedback a key part of the process

People can often become attached to their own viewpoints and ways of doing things. When there’s a creative clash on where to feature your client’s logos or how long your subheadings should be, you need the user to step in to show you the best choice and to pinpoint creative blind spots.

In a nod to the importance of collecting user feedback, Smashing Magazine notes:

Our opinion of our own work will always be subjective. Furthermore, because we’re emotionally invested in what we’ve created, it is difficult to discuss its flaws calmly and collectedly. Users are the ultimate judge of any creative effort, so why not take subjectivity and emotion out of the equation by going directly to the source?

Usertesting.com is a great place to get real-time reactions from users to your copy and design drafts. You can pay users to record their real-time reactions to your page or piece of content.

Use the platform to test for things such as:

· Clarity

· Image relevancy

· Color scheme

· The user experience

· The stickiness of the message (aka how memorable it is)

· The opening hook

· How well the design and copy work together

5. Get the client to offer feedback halfway through the project

Aside from the audience, you can help ensure copy and design are on the right track by bringing in your client to review the project halfway through its development.

When you ask the client to offer their feedback halfway through the project, you create more cohesion between departments by focusing on their shared goal: producing something brilliant for the client.

6. Create a culture of curiosity

In this excellent piece on how clients can offer the right feedback to a designer or copywriter, A Lined Design advocates for asking over heading down the DIY-edit route:

"Feel free to ask or comment before grabbing your red pen or the delete button. We can explain the strategy and thought that went into our creative decisions- so make sure you have all the info you need before we start cutting and shifting."

Nothing kills creativity and collaboration faster than taking a red pen to every element of another creative’s work. With years of training and experience behind them, great copywriters and designers should be able to back up and explain every creative decision they make.

This doesn’t mean they always make the right one.

But an ethos of curiosity, instead of criticism, can help designers and copywriters become more open to learning from each other and enable them to develop a greater appreciation for the other’s art and science.

Constructive feedback is important, but so is getting curious about each other’s creative decisions. Curiosity cuts through defensiveness, fosters an openness to other ideas, and helps ensure that the right calls are being made on a project. As such, always encourage teams to focus on asking questions first.

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7. Know when to cave…

Creatives are often deeply invested in their work. That’s what makes them so good at their jobs. But holding too tightly to one’s visions, ideas, and opinions can undermine a project’s success. Creatives need to remember that when offering feedback and advocating for their own vision, it’s important to be able to let go of a particular outcome.

In his interview with Very Good Copy, Nikhil Narayanan says that one of the most important lessons of his career was learning to detach from his personal vision and ideas:

"Not every battle needs to be fought. Watching some of them from the sidelines is just fine. If a great idea gets shot down by people who don’t care about it as much as you do, so be it."

8.  Don’t underestimate the destructive power of a ‘minor’ prescriptive critique

To create the best work, copywriters and designers need space to be able to make authoritative decisions in their work. This freedom to create depends on the absence of prescriptive feedback on their minor creative choices.

The Cranky Creative highlights Andrew Boulton’s on the importance of this stance when providing and listening to feedback:

“Why the “don’t start sentences with ‘and’” thing actually matters:

"If we disagree over something so small and, indeed, unambiguous as the “and” thing, our authority — and our ability to argue for the most effective copy — begins to erode."

9.  Pair compliments with criticism

Feedback should be kind as well as constructive. When it’s not paired with an appreciation of what’s being done well, criticism can quickly lead to resentment and despondency.

In contrast, appreciation can encourage people to be more adventurous in the work they create and help them feel more open to sharing their ideas.

10.  Work closely together

People can leave meetings feeling completely aligned. Only to feel like they’re on completely different pages when they meet a week later. That’s why working together throughout the projection is essential. UX Design encourage pairworking among people from different departments, they say:

"Get your design person, UX person, and content person, maybe a developer too, working around one computer. Attack the problem together, thinking about it from your different perspectives and with your different areas of expertise."

Learn how Bynder can level up creative collaboration. Talk to one of our experts by clicking below 👇.
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