Up until a few weeks ago, when I wrote an article outlining basic typographic guidelines, I would have considered myself a submissive designer. I stumbled upon this epiphany when I came to the simple realization that I (as a designer) should have more say in the content I am designing for. Let me explain: For as long as I have been designing, I have been relying on a copywriter or a client to provide me with the content in which I am expected to make look nice. On it’s surface, this is completely expected and acceptable. But why stop there? Shouldn’t you, as the designer, have more say in how the final text should read?
In an ideal world, there should be a great collaboration between the client, copy writer and designer. Content should be re-evaluated at each stage of design in order to be as cohesive and visually appealing as it can be. Lets be honest though, this is hardly ever the case. In a much more real scenario the client supplies the initial copy, the copywriter tweaks it, then it’s supplied to the designer to be flowed. In this real-life scenario you’re bound to receive copy that is in-consistent in length from section to section. Headlines will break to multiple lines and body text will range from one sentence to five paragraphs; there’s no avoiding it. While it’s true that a good design should accommodate various amounts of content, there’s no denying that a design housing a steady amount of content from section to section is much more visually appealing.
Unfortunately, however, there’s a contradiction in the ideal situation I mentioned above: You can’t design a site without content, and you can’t write perfectly tailored content without a design. So what’s the solution? I suppose the most obvious fix would be to ensure that your copywriter maintains the same word count from section to section. It’s never this simple though. There must be a prerequisite in place prior to the copy being written.
One Step at a Time
Before anything happens at all, the client must have a decent idea of the content they want in their project (regardless of the medium: Website, brochure, book, etc…). This is not to say that the client must have everything carved in stone, but merely an idea of what they want/need incorporated into the project. Once this is established, the designer should be able visualize (through wireframes or sketches) the placement, organization and word count of this rough content. Then and only then should the final content be polished to the point of being worthy of flowing into the design.
The process doesn’t stop here though. My whole intent for writing this article was to not only point out the team aspect of the copywriter/designer relationship, but to also put more responsibility on the designer. I’ve mentioned a few times before that I believe a designer needs to be well rounded and competent (not to be confused with “an expert”) in many areas of the industry. This includes the ability to modify and construct a body of text. Even after following all of the best practices of creating content for your design, you’re still bound to have copy that doesn’t fit perfectly from section to section. This is simply the nature of the beast. I believe, however, that in these final stages of population it is the designers responsibility to make the absolute final tweaks of this content to fit the design perfectly. There’s many ways to communicate a message; if a sentence needs to be slightly re-arranged to include more or less characters, then take the initiative to change it.
Over the past nine months I’ve had the task of creating a weekly flyer/program for my church to hand out at Sunday services. Each week, I’m provided content from one of the pastors in which I flow into a template that I designed. It is a rare occasion that all of the content I’m provided fits perfectly into place. Therefore, I must take the initiative to make alterations to the text in order to make it fit. Sometimes it’s as simple as opening up the leading, while other times I must rearrange the structure of the message in order to better fit the design.
There’s obviously a lot more restrictions on multiple page designs rather than a double sided flyer. (eg. you shouldn’t be adjusting the leading on the main body column on a page to page basis in order to accommodate the text). You can, however, rewrite and rework the text in order to fit. Take initiative – Don’t be a submissive designer. Stand up for your designs and ensure they are not being compensated due to the poor organization of content. You’ll find a much greater satisfaction in the final product when you are able to see your design as it was intended to look.