Which should come first? Design or copy?

If you ask a copywriter this questions, they’ll probably say the copy. If you ask a website designer, they’ll most likely say the design.

So who’s right? It’s a bit like the age old “chicken or egg” debate. They’re both right.

Design and copy go hand in hand, and you need to have both spot on for a website that’s visually appealing, functional and persuasive.

Well written copy isn’t going to achieve its potential if it’s visually unappealing or unreadable. Likewise, the most attractive and well designed webpage isn’t going to hold the readers attention if the copy is sloppy or isn’t engaging.

The ultimate goal of most websites is to attract the right type of visitor and convert those visitors into customers. Neither design nor copy works particularly well on its own, but when you pair them together you have a powerful tool for conversion.

How design helps with conversions

Humans are generally quite visual creatures and respond to things that are aesthetically pleasing. Designers use a number of tactics to get the reader to hone in on something specific, depending on the goal for that particular website page.

Home pages commonly have a big header with an image that backs up the headline or tagline, then some conversion beacons that push the reader down the page. These might be some bright icons that highlight a service, product or specific offer.

The goal might be for the reader to click on one of the icons and be taken to a different landing or sales page. Or it might be to keep scrolling to the bottom of the page where they’ll come across a list of benefits and a call-to-action button in a contrasting colour.

Whatever the goal is, the design should reinforce the message. Designers are clever creatures and know where to place images, icons and buttons for optimum conversion. They know what colours and shapes work, and where to use white space for full effect.

All these things tie the copy in for a completely optimised and functional page.

How copy helps with conversions

Beautiful images and snazzy icons are great, but if they’re not coupled with the proper message, they’re nothing but a series of pictures that do little on their own to convert a visitor.

One of the first things a reader should come across on a home page is a value proposition. They want to know what this website offers, why they should be interested, and what value they’re going to get.

The body of any piece of copy should always include plain, easy to understand language with specific points that highlight the value and benefits, in a format that’s easy to scan (like bullets). These specifics are always important for conversion, and need to be conveyed by the copy rather than the design.

And it’s not just headlines and body text that are going to convince a reader to do something. Microcopy plays a huge part in the conversion process. In fact, this can have the biggest impact on whether your reader converts or clicks away.

When designers and copywriters collaborate

I love working with designers to create a new website or rebrand.

Sometimes, I’m given the website design and layout upfront, full of lorem ipsum, and I have to write the copy to fit the design.

Trying to force the copy into the design is challenging, and often results in a few changes being made to the design afterwards (a more time consuming and costly way of doing it). But, it can be done.

On other occasions, I’m asked to write all the copy first, then give it to the designer for them to start the design process based on the copy.

When the copy is written first, the copy dictates the design, which is often the easier way of creating a page and makes the words even more powerful. I’m not just favouring this approach because I’m a copywriter – it really is the most logical way of creating a website.

Whichever way round you choose to do it, remember users don’t see design and writing as separate entities. They just see a website. 

Make sure you invest some time and effort in getting every aspect of your website just right and you’ll have an impressive and convincing business tool.