Writers and Designers: Working Together

I am a word person, but I know the truth: Design matters.

In fact, it plays a huge role in getting our carefully crafted words read--or not.

How can writers help designers make the words look good? And conversely, what do we do, perhaps inadvertently, that make the designer's job more difficult?

Ben Roberts, the principal of Six Half Dozen, a design studio in Alexandria, shared some ideas with me recently.

What Helps

  • Make it a team effort. At the beginning of the project sit down with the designer to pull out key points. Don't expect the designer to glean them, especially for longer documents.
  • Break up the whole into pieces

    For content-rich graphics, like infographics, help the designer by breaking up big ideas into smaller ones, such as steps in a process or key facts & figures.

  • Draft titles that are "short and smart." Be open to collaborating with the designer to select words that suggest something visual.
  • Organize online information in "levels." For example, for bios, provide a longer bio, a shortened form, then just name and title. 

One challenge we talked about is the "which-comes-first" conundrum: You want to write content based on how it will look on the page, but the designer wants to use the content to create the design. To him, dummy text ("lorem ipsum") is fine, as long as you have a reasonably good idea you will eventually use the final product. ("Why provide dummy text for three newsletter articles but then decide not to use articles at all?")

What Hinders

Ben diplomatically had difficulty coming up with things that writers do that get in the way of designers. But here are a few things he observed.

  • Don't do the design yourself. No need to spend time creating your own graphics (pie charts, etc.) that the designer won't use.
  • Don't write just to get to a certain length. Just because it's a four-page spread, you don't have to fill up every one of those four pages. "Never assume designers want to fill space with text," he said. "We like having room with which to work."
  • Don't wait until the last minute to hand off perfect copy to the designer. If you are waiting for final approval, give him or her an interim draft to start thinking of design possibilities. 

You can check out how Six Half Dozen incorporate words into design by looking at the portfolio on the studio's website.