How designers can get the best out of copywriters

Copywriters + designers = the ultimate dream team... sometimes.

A note from Heydays: This post was originally published in November 2020. We’ve updated it to include more relevant, recent information. Enjoy!

Here’s a scenario you’re probably familiar with. You’re kicking off a new design project. It involves words (lots of words). So, you ask your client, ‘do you have a copywriter?’ And so the confusing back and forth begins.

Whether you’re creating a new website, packaging or an ad campaign, most designers love it when a professional copywriter gets involved early on.

Likewise, as a copywriter, I love to work with designers who can take the words I write and take them to the next level with design.

When copywriters and designers work together, magic happens. But how do you actually get that to happen?

In this post, we’ll look at how your design agency can easily collaborate with your copywriters to pull off spectacular projects that might even make your clients cry… in a good way. Let’s dive in!

Which comes first: design or copy?

If you’ve managed a project that includes copy and design, you’ll understand the struggle. Which team starts? Do you push forward with your dream designs and retrofit copy into the project? Or do you wait for your copywriter to wrap up and design around their words?

In the past, designers may have designed their projects with Lorum Ipsum and then passed them along to their copywriter to fill with writing. Today, with the prominence of design thinking, this process is losing traction. While you can certainly enlist a copywriter after the fact, you’re not going to get the best result for your money. Almost every great designer that I work with requests final copy before they start designing.

Sure, they might have concepts completed (and, this is actually something I love to see!), but they definitely won’t have finalised anything until they have the approved copy ready to input.

From there, a good copywriter should work with your team on every stage of the project together, with copy informing design choices and vice versa. I recently wrapped up a website project where the copy was tweaked about five times during the design process to ensure both the words and the visuals offered visitors maximum impact. I didn’t mind jumping back in and rewriting bits and pieces, shortening paragraphs and cutting out some parts altogether. In fact, I appreciated that the designer was consulting me and that we’d both committed to making this project look absolutely incredible.

This is why a good working relationship between your writer and your designer is imperative — it means they can reach out to each other and share ideas, request tweaks and improve your project in consultation with one another.

How to find the right copywriter for your design studio

So, you’ve decided to get a copywriter involved early on in your project. Your client’s happy to pay for one — now it’s up to you to find the right fit.

Your colleagues have likely worked with copywriters — both freelance writers and copywriting agencies before, so ask around! Other designers might have a little black book of writers they’re happy to work with again (and another list of writers they’d prefer to avoid). Asking them for a recommendation is a surefire way of finding a rare gem: a copywriter who understands how to work with designers.

However, in 2024 there’s one problem: due to volatility in the industry, the majority of copywriters have stopped freelancing and moved in-house. I’ve had at least a dozen phone calls this year from agencies who’ve lost their favourite writer. So, if you can’t depend on solid recommendations, you’ll need to turn to Google. Once you’ve made a short list of writers, make sure you do your due diligence and screen them:

  • Ask to see examples of their work
  • Read reviews of their business on Google
  • Ask to speak to a former client of theirs to learn more about the experience of working with them
  • Set up a Zoom call and ask them the tough questions.

From there, you can either get them to jump straight into a project, or test their skills with a smaller job to ensure they’re up to the task. It usually takes a job or two for a writer and designer to get comfortable working together, so expect a bit of awkward back-and-forth at the start. Once you’ve completed a few projects together, you’ll know how to give your writer feedback and you’ll also have a good idea about how well they fit into your processes.

Briefing: together or separately?

Often agencies will fully brief their clients and start creating a strategy before getting a copywriter involved. Thankfully, the days of design teams and copywriters working separately are ending. This means they can get together and create a cohesive strategy that addresses the problem holistically.

By involving your writers during the discovery phase of your project, it ensures they’ll be on the same page as your designers from the start. They may even offer crucial insights that your team have missed, as they are looking at the project from a different perspective.

Often, without you knowing, your creative brief offers a lot of insight into things like the tone of voice that they should be using to write the content. For example, if the brief indicates that your designer should use a lot of warm colours and fun elements, it makes sense that your content would also sound warm and fun. The imagery that you supply can give your copywriters a good idea about how you want people to feel when they see the final project, and they can adjust their content to match.

Nailing the revisions process

When you place content within the design, it’s often obvious that things need to change. Maybe the design is obscuring the main point of the content, and making the page hard to understand. Or maybe once the content is added to the page, it’s glaringly obvious that it’s too short (or too long) to fit the design concept.

That’s why it’s important that before you sign a copywriter’s terms and conditions, you check their revisions policies. Many copywriting contracts include two rounds of revisions so that they can get the copy spot-on for you, and spot-on for the design. If your copywriter’s contract doesn’t stipulate a revisions policy, make sure you ask to include one before you sign.

Putting it all together

Copywriters and designers give you the best possible results for your clients when they collaborate together as one dream team. You can build your dream team by finding a writer who’s already worked on several projects with a designer you trust, or by testing their skills with a small project to start. No matter which route you choose, the most important thing is that you ensure everyone’s working together with one goal in mind: to do the best possible job for your client.

If you’re looking for a copywriting team who understands how agencies work, and can add a lot of value to your projects, make sure you chat to us. We’d love to hear from you!