Do copywriters need to be designers too?

June 3, 2015 •
Do copywriters need to be designers too?

I received this email from an aspiring copywriter named Chelsea last night. I thought it and my answer might prove helpful for other up-and-coming writers.

The email from an aspiring copywriter…

“I’ve watched your Youtube videos on your tips for new copywriters. I want to thank you, as I have learned quit a bit. I have additional questions that I would like to ask you please. I’m leaning more towards creative and marketing copywriting. I have no formal background in copywriting and I’m not a college graduate, but much like yourself, I was born a writer.

What I wanted you to please clarify, when it comes to creating ads, say on billboards or even short print ads in magazines. Am I responsible for the creating a design as well or just the wording, as I have no idea how to create web designs and although I can draw it’s more of a small hobby. I don’t mean to ask silly questions, I’m just trying to learn = )”

My reply email…

Hi Chelsea,

Thanks for your email and for suffering through my YouTube videos! 😉 Firstly, don’t worry that your questions are silly. When I first started Divine Write, I got a call from the marketing exec at an IT company in Sydney. She wanted a quote on a whole heap of ‘collateral’. I kid you not, this was my reply:

“I’m sorry, Simone, but I’m just a copywriter. I don’t do collateral.”

Thankfully she was very understanding. (I’m sure my desperately low rate didn’t hurt…) She was after IT copywriting, and with my background in technical writing, it was right up my alley. I just wasn’t up on the lingo.

So don’t beat yourself up or apologise for any question. There’s no such thing as a silly one.

Anyway, onto your question. The short answer is no. As a copywriter you don’t have to design the material that will house your copy (print ads, billboards, websites, etc.). Some copywriters do, I’m sure, but most clients don’t expect it.

In my experience, most clients want copywriters to just write the words. Some want their copywriter to create concept too (i.e. the clever idea), but you don’t need art skills to do that. You just need to be able to somehow illustrate your idea, and how the visual and the words will fit together to support it and achieve the client’s aim. The client will use an artist or designer to develop the concept into something they can publish. I’ve never been asked to personally design the finished version of anything.

That said, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have design skills, because that increases your value. I’d love to have them. But in their absence, I’ve partnered with a brilliant designer, so I’m still able to win those jobs where the client needs design too.

I also tend to do a lot of wireframing and user interaction design – particularly for websites and apps. But this isn’t design in the art sense you’re asking about. It’s more about illustrating how all the information elements will fit together on the page, and how the visitor/user will use the page. Like this wireframe I designed for a website client earlier this year:

Home page wireframe for website & copywriting client

And here’s the case study about that job, showing how my designer translated my wireframe into something beautiful.

Interestingly, though, this isn’t a service that many of my clients request. Never has been. I didn’t start offering it because of external demand, but because of internal demand. I was just finding it harder and harder to write copy without reference to its context. Here’s a video tutorial showing how I create my wireframes, and an interview by the guys at Balsamiq (an awesome wireframing tool) where they ask me why I started doing it this way. Also a discussion about whether I charge extra for writing copy in wireframe format.

I now offer wireframing and interaction design as a service, but few clients request it. I think most don’t even know it exists as a service. And even if they did, they wouldn’t know what it was called. They’d probably just look for a web designer. So I just call it ‘website planning’ and I refer them to it when I think they need it.

Anyway, sorry for going a bit off track. Hope you found this useful nonetheless. Please let me know if you have any questions about the above.



Feel free to comment...
comment avatar
Madiha wrote on June 4th, 2015

Hi Glen, You made my day with, "don’t beat yourself up or apologise for any question". It's good to know your point on not being double edged doesn't make you any poor at copies. I'm a copywriter, but i sometimes offer designs seeing that my copy must appear a certain way to the audiences. But if that doesn't work i sit along with the designer to add finesse and style to the layout. Sometimes, i feel if knew tools like Photoshop, Dreamweaver etc. I would be able to show how a copy must look like at the display. I may stand wrong here, but i guess so :) Warmest, Madiha

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *