The Real Loser: When Designers and Copywriters Duke It Out

by Babar Suleman

Last updated on February 21st, 2018

Are you ready to pick a side? The battle starts in 3. 2. 1…

Meet the DESIGNER:  He talks with visuals, loves clean lines, doesn’t have a lot of use for words and believes that text is, by definition, tedious and unattractive.

Now say ‘Hi’ to the COPYWRITER:  He believes in the power of words, has a knack for wordplay and looks down at people
‘who can not string a sentence together’ (which is a jab he mostly aims at the designer above).

And finally, let me introduce you to the CLIENT: What she wants is simple. She has this great product or service and she
wants it to connect with her target customers in the most effective way possible. In this scenario, she hires the designer
and copywriter to make a landing page that makes her more money.

A few days later, the designer comes back with great artwork and the writer sends in pages worth of powerful copy.

The only problem is that the copy the writer sent does not mesh with what the designer created.

The client wants the designer and copywriter to come together and make it work.

And this is where the sparks fly!

THE COPYWRITER:  The copy is great! You should delete that image, make the background color a little lighter, remove those unnecessary circles at the bottom and just let the text flow downwards. Users know how to scroll, don’t they?!

THE DESIGNER:  No can do. I worked really hard at this, we should just edit your copy to make it shorter. That way it will fit the design. Problem solved.

THE COPYWRITER: Are you implying I didn’t work hard at MY copy? Your doodling may look cute but it’s my words that speak to customers and do the actual job of selling.

THE DESIGNER: My ‘doodling’? FYI, it’s the design that will make visitors interested enough to start reading that novel you typed up…

Ding… Ding… Ding.  End of Round 1.

You can imagine how the rest of this fight goes; but do you know who ended up the loser? THE CLIENT.

Her customers visit her landing page only to be put off by an unprofessional design or leave unconvinced by poor copy.

The designer or writer may have gotten their way- but if the result does not benefit the client, the project is a failure.

The conflict

Copywriters complain about how their words lose their effectiveness when they are processed through bad design elements such as terrible typography.

For instance, one of the ways to cripple great copy is to use reverse type in the design. For those who don’t know, reverse type is the practice of using light color fonts against dark backgrounds, white against black for instance. It’s a design faux-pas criticized by the likes of David Ogilvy and for good reason: research has shown that reverse type makes text harder to read and consequently repels customers.

While reverse type can work in certain cases, it’s especially tiresome when used for extensive text.

On the other end, designers dislike having to change or compromise their work just to accommodate ‘some more text’. Or they just refuse to take any part in planning the ‘writing aspect’ with a one-liner we have all heard: ‘I’m a designer, not a writer’.

Bad copy and poor design can also create frustration for the designer and writer themselves.  Crippling careers due to ineffective projects.  The design may be a real winner but the page might not convert because of bad copy.

The client has one question — did it work?  Similarly, the writer could have written killer copy- only to find themselves cringing at the way it is visually presented.

And this is exactly why so many advertising campaigns- whether print or web – fail. And why so many landing pages just don’t convert.

In today’s age, the single page ultra-long sales letters (set against white backdrops and looking aesthetically challenged) immediately cause savvy Internet surfers to put their guard up and clunky flash sites have lost the ‘VA VA VOOM’ they once had.

You can not simply throw a flurry of words together and a couple of pictures and call it an effective selling strategy.

To make your sure you are communicating effectively, you need a strategy that is more than the sum of its parts, more than just ‘images’ and ‘words’ . You need a cohesive focused approach that uses all components to become something bigger: effective communication.

In effective communication, all the elements on a page work in unison to attract, inform, engage and persuade the visitor. The problem in our copywriter/designer battle was not that the design isn’t aesthetically pleasing or the copy isn’t well written.  The problem is that both creative professionals failed to realize the bigger picture: The client doesn’t want to simply throw words at his customers and neither does he want to flood the page with splashy flash animations.

When the client loses, we all lose

What the client wants to do is to communicate.  She wants to convince the customer that the product is beneficial and he should opt in immediately.

She wants results that are measurable. And the best design/copy one-two punch is one that helps her do exactly that.

When designers and copywriters work together, they can deliver the advertising equal of a knock-out punch. But when they insist on twisting communication to their individual interests, they bring each other down.

When the client loses, there are no referrals for new projects.  No testimonials.  No fabulous case study proving that you know how to get results.

Change or get knocked out

For the modern communication process, we just can not have the copywriter and designers working in isolation. What
we need is communication symbiosis (are we on the verge of a new Internet buzzword?)

Symbiosis is a biological term that is used for two different organisms that live next to each other to the benefit of both.

By helping each other grow together, they form a united whole. And that unison is what we must strive for in our communication.

Copywriters and graphics designers can no longer claim that they are in opposite corners when they both have the same objective: To communicate effectively. And when words and visuals are both so powerful, how can communication be effective or cohesive without them complimenting each other? Instead of labeling copywriters and designers individually, let’s call them both what they essentially are: communication planners.

The best communication planners understand the mutual dependency between design and copy.

By juxtaposing the effects words and visuals can have on each other, communication planners create sales pitches, advertising campaigns and promotional materials that deliver solid measurable results.

Those that recognize the need for integrated communication realize great benefits for all involved.

In our scenario, the client benefits from getting a landing page with cohesive communication that converts well. But ‘communication planners’ themselves gain an edge over rigid graphics designers and copywriters who do not participate in the whole.

You may have sworn yourself to being ‘just a designer’ or ‘just a writer’. But it’s not too late to see the light. If you want to stick to one discipline, commit yourself to understanding that your success lies in your ability to provide a positive result for your client.

Learn to work together as communication planners or you may receive a knock-out blow to your career.

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Babar Suleman

Babar Suleman (MFA, Parsons School of Design; Fulbright Scholar) is a visual storyteller and an experience designer. He is interested in the interplay of words and visuals in the communication process and uses his diverse experience as a writer and designer to create meaningful user experiences and effective branding strategies. You can contact Babar at his official website.


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