More Design Tips Every Copywriter Should Know

In the direct mail business there's no doubt - Copy is King. That's why we make the kind of money we make and that's why we're always in demand. So, why would you want to learn about design?

Because successful copywriters understand that the physical representation of their copy can be just as important as the copy itself. The very best copy can flop if the design is all wrong. Copy can get misplaced. Colors and pictures can be distracting and take attention away from the words. Or it could be that the layout is so bad, you're prospect loses interest just at the sight of it.

Previosuly, Stephanie Bozylinski and Ted Kikoler shared their top tips for copywriters working with graphic artists.

Today, here are three more insights taken from an interview by Catherine O'Neill, a leading direct-mail designer who lives in rural Ireland. Though written from the designer's point of view, Catherine's comments are useful for the copywriter who wants to take part in every step of a promotion's development.

  • "Rule #1. Remember that copy is the main reason for direct mail. Make sure the copywriter's message comes across clearly without any competing graphics. Graphics should enhance the text, not compete with it. Never use graphics behind text; they compete too much with the words.
  • "Rule #2. Remember to communicate with the copywriters to understand what they are trying to achieve. Work together with them to create a better package.
  • "Rule #3. Make sure the text is readable. Don't use too small of a point size. Use columns to break the text if it is too long. Choose minimal types of fonts. Times New Roman (and, in general, serif fonts) is always a good one for longer copy, sales letters, etc."

What do Catherine's words mean to you as a copywriter?

Rule #1 and Rule #2 tell you that you must communicate and work together with the graphic designer.

You should explain, down to the very last detail, the message and feel of the promotion. You know that a promotion's copy must identify and target the prospect's core complex of beliefs, feelings, and desires. The graphic design must do the same thing.

So when you've finished writing the copy, your journey into the prospect's core complex is not finished. You must describe these beliefs, feelings, and desires to the graphic designer. Together, you will decide how to translate that core complex into the "look" of the promotion. This way, just SEEING the promotion will excite the core complex in the prospect. Then the copy will slam the message home.

Lori Haller, another successful freelance graphic designer, tells an interesting story about working with copywriters.

She says that when she started in direct mail, she didn't say anything when a copywriter wanted design elements that didn't fit with the feel of the promotion. She gives the example of a writer who wanted to put little pictures of the premium on the cover of a fear-and-doom magalog. You can imagine how a little picture of a booklet with a big "FREE" sunburst would look next to a cover photo of burning buildings and Osama Bin Laden. She used to let the promotions go out "as is." But now, she speaks up and tells the copywriter what she thinks.

In other words, "communication" not only means that the graphic designer should listen to what you have to say about the copy, it also means that you should listen to what he or she has to say about the visual aspects of the promotion. The copywriter and the graphic artist should be a team. As a team, they can turn out the "perfect" package.

Rule #3 tells you that clear, simple presentations rule both copy and design.

This is the graphic designer's equivalent of "barroom talk" for copywriters. You wouldn't use words like "flabbergasted" or "ostentatious" in that Popular Mechanics promotion we just mentioned. These words distract the prospect from the sales message. In the same way, you don't want fancy or clever graphics to steal the prospect's attention. Catherine O'Neill says: "Good design doesn't mean complicated design. More often than not, less is more."

One way to ensure that there will be no conflict or miscommunication between you and the graphic designer is if you write AND design your own promotion. As copywriter/designer, you will have a better chance of capturing your prospect's interest, since the copy and the design will be done side-by-side.

And here's the best part: The copywriter earns 41% more per promotion for both designing and writing it. (Source: Direct Marketing Association) Plus, since a package created this way will probably pull more than one written and designed by two different people, it has a better chance of becoming the control. (Which translates into more royalties!)

That's why AWAI has created a new direct mail graphic design course for copywriters – which you will hear about very soon …

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »


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Published: April 22, 2002

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