What’s more important: copy or design?

It’s the question that won’t go away…like automated calls for PPI claims, or Joey Essex.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been working with a designer, let’s call him Rob, on a global marketing campaign. With just minutes to spare until we had to present our work, we both had some last minute tweaks.

I highlighted mine in yellow, ensuring no margin for error when Rob updated the copy. To save time I suggested updating the PSD files myself, as touch-typing wasn’t a tool in Rob’s arsenal (okay, his shed).

But there were design tweaks to be made too, and time was running out. ‘What do you think’s more important’ he asked ‘the copy or design?’. Now this wasn’t a question he’d been musing over like ‘why do toilets flush backwards in Australia?’; the implication was that design is more important, and has more impact, than words.

I’ve worked with many designers who fully appreciate the value and impact words can have; so I know this wasn’t a consensus viewpoint. But I still wanted to grab him by his velvet lapels and shout, ‘they’re equally important you self-righteous fool!’ Instead, I took the high road and waited patiently for him to make his last few tweaks.

Many have written articles with titles like ‘Content is king’. But would a King’s speech be as commanding if it were not for the crown, robe and regal accouterments? Of course not. We remember the King’s, or Queen’s speech, as much for the words as the setting (the design) in which the words are belted out (or even stammered in the case of King George VI).

To say that design is more important than words, or vice versa, is like arguing that set design or cinematography is more important than the script. It’s darn-diddly ridiculous, as Ned Flanders might say. Words are the puppet strings of our emotions. With one pull they can inspire, educate, engage, console, tickle and profess. It’s the words that establish a brand as a thought leader, and ultimately sell a product or service. But design and copy need to work together as the puppet master, especially in the case of UX or environmental design, pulling the audience along in their journey.

A puppet master can’t perform without strings to pull, just as a user experience can’t be mapped out without words to guide it.

So instead of asking what’s more important, the copy or design, perhaps a better question would be how can we improve the way they work together in the customer journey. In my opinion getting a copywriter involved early on in the project is one way of improving this relationship. And of course, mutual appreciation and respect for one another’s craft helps too.

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