Copy, Design, and Pancakes: What Breakfast Can Teach You about the Content Creation Process

5 minute read

Upland Admin

Every Sunday morning, I wake up, drag my tired old dad body to the kitchen, and begin my family’s Sunday morning ritual of making pancakes. (For the record, they’re from scratch. None of that Bisquick nonsense.)

I begin by taking two mixing bowls from the cupboard, laying the utensils and measuring cups on the counter, and pulling out the ingredients—flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla—from the pantry and fridge. Then, I mix the dry ingredients together in one bowl, wet ingredients in the other. Pretty straightforward. But what happens next is critical.

Prepare to have your mind blown. I pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients (never the other way around, you heathen!). Why? Because, quite simply, without this critical step I can’t make pancakes. I’d have all the makings of delicious, fluffy pancakes, but I wouldn’t actually have pancakes.

I tell you this, not so you can imagine me in my PJs on a Sunday morning, sleepily making batter, but to serve as an analogy for how you need to approach content creation.

Design and writing must be mixed.

Failure to blend the two processes will leave you and your audience, well, hungry.

Whether you’re redesigning your website or putting together that killer new eBook you’ve been dreaming about (don’t act like you don’t dream about eBooks), it might seem logical to keep the design and writing streams from crossing until the end.

But that’s a common mistake, letting design do their thing and hoping the writer will fill in the copy gaps later. Don’t do that. Especially when you know these two ideas eventually have to come together into a cohesive whole. It makes no sense.

Yes, you should get your design team and your writing team talking early in the process. You’ll save yourself a lot of headaches. But talking isn’t enough. There’s actually one other really important thing you can do to ensure writing/design success.

Hire writers who understand UX.

Make Critical Choices Now

If you’re not familiar with the term, UX stands for user experience. User experience is what we call it when a person has certain interactions with a company. Actually, it applies to every interaction. And every aspect of the company. The website. The app. The content. The customer service team. The product.

Every. Aspect.

You know what makes for a great user experience? Consistency.

The words should be deeply integrated with design to create smart, intuitive UX. Any copywriter worth his salt knows this. Designers, well, I can’t speak for them, but I do know this: Wireframes without words make little sense. “But Chris,” I hear you saying, “We use placeholder text.” Yes, even your sub-par lorem ipsum falls short.

That’s because the words that go into the design force you to make choices earlier rather than later. Instead of putting placeholder text on buttons, a fully-written CTA will make you decide what action the user should take. And that action will tell you what should exist on the backside of that click—the promise you need to deliver. What words do they need to see to get there? What design elements will help them navigate to that next step? “CTA here” doesn’t help you make those decisions.

Working with a Designer

When you think of the creative process this way, writing depends on design and design depends on the writing. They’re yin and yang. Bert and Ernie. Kanye and Kim.

Take something simple like product features. If you write the actual copy into the design, you’ll see how the words layout on the page. You’ll understand how they interact with the design to draw attention to specific parts. You’ll know exactly which words are most effective with which design elements, and visa versa, helping you catch poor or ineffective decisions early on.

Most designers want to lead with design. And most copywriters want to lead with copy. Of course, I’m in the second camp. But with one strong caveat: only if the writer understands UX and design in the first place. A writer who simply writes isn’t much help here.

At the beginning of every engagement, I ask for an introduction to the designer who will put it all together. This is critical for a few reasons. 1) I want to make sure we’re both on the same page, 2) I want to develop a rapport up front to ensure feedback and changes go better, and 3) I want to make sure I have some influence on design based on my customer research and feedback.

I’ve been in situations where there’s a “middleman” passing information between copywriter and designer. Inevitably, things get lost in translation. It’s best to put the two in direct contact and let them co-lead the creation process. This way, they can share information, best practices, and research to get the best possible results they’re capable of.

Putting it All Together

In the end, none of this is about design, or UX, or copy. Because user experience isn’t about design or writing in isolation; it’s a thinking process.

It’s the anticipation of a need or the addressing of a fear. It’s a process for predicting and guiding behavior. It’s a map of the conversation a customer is already having with themselves. Having a copywriter who understands UX is imperative.

While growth and revenue drive many business decisions, copy and design should be driven solely by customer experience and the underlying emotions guiding that experience.

Hiring a copywriter and designer who both have a clear understanding of the user experience is the best way to speak to these emotions.

Flour and eggs and milk are just ingredients. So are design and copy. They’re a means to an end. The real magic happens when you combine them.

Reliable products. Real results.

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