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Which Comes First The Copy Or The Design

What comes first, the copy or the design?

Design or copy? Which one should we work on first? This dilemma has plagued copywriters and web designers for decades. 

In fact, many might consider it to be the “chicken and egg” debate of the web design industry. It’s a common fact that designers and copywriting professionals work hand in hand to create a site. 

A designer might say that they need the content first in order to know where it will fit in. Conversely, a copywriter may ask for some wireframes to understand where the content’s supposed to go. 

It’s an age-old question, and at Atarim, we have worked with quite a few agencies who prefer one over the other. The good thing is that no matter which you prefer, Atarim simplifies workflows either way.

In this post, we will determine the best way to go about this, and how choosing one process over another may help streamline your workflow. 

The Design-First Approach

Wait, but why? Many digital marketing agencies generally start with the design of a landing page before they move on to the copy, and that largely has to do with maintaining a logical flow. 

Think of it this way: if you’re designing a house, would you decide where the furniture’s going to go and then plan your entire design around that, or first build the structure, and then put the furniture in? 

Most companies generally start with preparing the design elements and the core assets for the site before they start working on the copy. But, there are several reasons for this. Let’s explore them. 

It Helps Copywriters Better Understand The Design and Limitations

It’s generally a bit confusing for copywriters to understand how much to write, especially if they don’t have a design in front of them.

Even if you give your copywriters just a wireframe, they can get started on the copy. It helps them understand the spatial restrictions and makes it easy for them to craft the messaging based on the design. 

Words Complement Visuals 

This one’s fairly simple: copywriters try to use words that evoke emotions based on the visuals. It’s the marriage of the two that delivers such a strong impact. Simply put, one can’t perform well without the other. 

When a copywriter has a design to work with, they have a better understanding of what the designers are trying to convey. They can trim or extend the copy based on the screen real estate available to deliver the highest impact.

Helps Reduce Inefficiencies in Internal Processes

Another reason why most marketing agencies take a design-first approach is because it helps reduce inefficiencies. Once the wireframes are prepared and reviewed by the client, the copywriters can get started on the copy. 

If the process flow is reversed, there’s always a risk that the copy might not fit in the finalized design, and may need to be amended. This just prolongs the work, and ends up costing the agency more than it should. 

Once copywriters have a finalized design, they know the rules they must play by. 

Once they know the constraints, they can plan their copy more effectively. Without so much as a wireframe to go with, copywriters often suffer from decision paralysis. 

The Content-First Approach

Most designers will agree that having copy written makes things easier. A content-first approach seems viable, primarily because that’s what your website is for: to deliver content. 

The design elements generally exist to highlight the content and to make it more impactful. In our experience, even the most well-designed websites tend to lose engagement over time if the content is poorly written.

The content-first approach is actually becoming quite popular, and for good reason. It definitely has some merits. 

Reverse Engineer the Dialog 

The content on your site lets you engage your visitors in a dialog. Perhaps you want to curate informational content on your site, or maybe you want to focus more on persuading a visitor to buy (conversions)?

Either way, when you write content first, it allows the designers to develop the design around it. This way, designers can essentially create visuals that make certain parts of the site pop, retaining your visitor’s attention for longer. 

Provide Designers with a Reference Point

Copy makes it easy for designers to know exactly where to start, and makes it easy for them to play around with different blocks. When a designer already has copy available, they know how much space will be required for each block. 

As such, they can decide whether to trim it down a bit, or create a design that diverts the focus solely on the copy and makes it really stand out. 

Gives Designers a Better Feel for the Site’s Core Purpose

Copy essentially determines the direction of the website, and helps designers understand the core message that the site intends to convey. 

Some designers might argue that their primary job is to create a mock-up that improves the messaging, essentially completing it instead of competing with it. 

In certain cases, designers may need to carry out more revisions if copy is written after the design, which defeats the purpose. 

Good copywriters usually understand the design constraints, so they can often write content that doesn’t require many revisions. 

They can even provide instructions to the designer about where specific content blocks should go, simplifying matters considerably. 

The Best Approach: Concept Comes First

Building synergy between copywriters and designers is generally good, as the two work very closely together. The ideation process, or the conceptual stage, is all about the two creating a fundamental understanding of what the client wants. 

In many cases, both can work together, especially if they have already worked on the concept together. For instance, if the two have decided on the core brand messaging, both parties will be clear about what the website’s all about. 

The next step is to focus on the functional details: the design or the site’s dimensions. Some clients can be really picky with how they want the site to look, down to pixel adjustments. 

If you aren’t sure, the first iteration will probably be a calculated guess, at best. It’s obvious that in such situations, the design will always come first. 

However, don’t expect to rest on your laurels just yet. The client is likely to request changes, and the copywriting team may have their own suggestions about how to improve the design so that it accommodates their work better.

Perhaps the most important point here is to understand that neither is more important than the other. Some of the best, portfolio-worthy web design projects are the ones that come to life when both departments work together seamlessly. 

The Bottom Line: Focus on Highlighting the Site’s Purpose

In the end, the most important thing is to have a concept or an idea before you start creating content or a design. Once you have a basic understanding of the site’s purpose, you can then create a design, and write copy, that highlights it. 

The best designs can fall by the wayside if your copywriters don’t know how to make purpose and audience matter, and vice versa. 

And so, while there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, most marketing agencies prefer going with design-first, since it helps save time and ensures a timely delivery. 

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