Which is more important, copy or design? Let’s find out!

When you think about your logo, website, or product, you usually focus on how things “look”. The way it “sounds” comes in second, if at all. 

And here’s the thing, your designer probably says that visuals are more important than copywriting. And your copywriter would say the opposite. So how should you, the person actually paying for these services, decide where to invest first (or do you need to invest into both)?

Written vs visual language –  what’s the difference?

The first thing you need to understand is that visual language as well as written language are both very powerful forms of communication. When you look into history, the very first forms of written communication were done in the form of symbols (Sumerian tablets or Egyptian Hieroglyphs).

Symbolism is in general, a wide spread way of a visual language nowadays to the point when using some symbols is preferred over using written words (look at toilet signs, driving signs, hazardous signs etc.).

Consider these recent COVID-19 guidelines from Public Health Ontario.

The simple iconographical visual language communicates the messages clearly to their audience.  

Want an example that hits even closer to your business?

Logos use symbolism and visual language to convey meanings, metaphors or messages. Some do it in a way that looks very straightforward and often have hidden meanings, too.

Look at these examples:

  • Pinterest displays a “P” in its logo, where the letter “P” is actually shaped as a push pin which reflects the message clearly.

Image Source: Digital Synopsis

  • Fedex has a type based logo at first sight, but when you look closer you will see a negative space arrow representing the speed, accuracy, and efficiency of their process.

Image Source: Digital Synopsis

  • Levi’s logo is shaped like a pocket of jeans.

Image Source: Digital Synopsis

Symbols are everywhere, and the power of visual language is undeniable. They can convey seemingly hidden and intriguing meanings, make things memorable and recognizable for our brains, and even create connections by using the psychology of colors, shapes, or familiarity.

However, images can only take the story so far.

👉 Your logo can only convey a few meanings and metaphors. And a tagline is often necessary to ensure your audience truly understands what your company does just from looking at the logo.

👉 Your website design needs more than visuals to send the right message and convey the value you bring to the table.

👉Your packaging can be striking at first sight but abandoned when people don’t understand enough about the product from its label or sales page.

“The relationship of design & copywriting is as old as the story of the chicken and the egg. One cannot exist without the other.”
– Medleythink Creative

While visuals are the first thing people notice—the scroll stopping, website converting, product exploring element—it takes more to make them stay. 

Did you know that the average time your website visitors will stay on your website in an ideal scenario is 15 seconds?

That’s a small window of time to rely just on visuals to convey your message, don’t you think? Combining visuals with strategic copy can intrigue them to stay longer, and learn more about what you do.

It gives you space:

  • For your readers to feel heard and understood
  • For your ideal clients to relate to your brand
  • To inspire action for visitors to purchase your products or services

Which is why focusing on how things LOOK as well as how things READ is that important.

So let’s take a look at a few things to consider when making sure your brand, website, or content works for you and doesn’t fall flat.

Great design with terrible copy is a bit worse than great copy and terrible design. 

Yes, you read this right. I may be one of the few designers with this opinion, but I’m also a brand strategist who understands the power of the right tone of voice, the right emotional connection through copy, and the right words you use.

The biggest mistake people make on their website is that they keep talking about their brand rather than “what’s in it” for the audience. No one likes to go to dinner with someone who only talks about themselves without taking interest in you. Same same with your content.

And while you stay talking about yourself, your audience is leaving the page, probably yawning and most definitely looking for their solution from one of your competitors. 

“You” is the most powerful word used in copywriting. 

I recently visited a page to get an answer to a question. I came for information and yet the website only offered musings about “how they started”, “what they do” and their “goals and vision”. 

That’s all right. But, what’s in it for me? If I don’t find what I need quickly, I’ll be taking my 5-second attention span with me and going back to google to find another site that will respect my time and not make me dig for the information I’m looking for.

But let’s be honest here, very few of you are willing to invest into amazing copy at the expense of compelling visuals.

You’d rather go for pretty designs, with DIY copy that no one understands while hoping it won’t affect the conversions terribly.

Trust me, 99% of my clients would choose that option.

So while yes, I believe that the copy is a tiny bit more important, I also think the scale is not that uneven and there is a way to help you write good enough copy without compromising your visuals.

Don’t settle for mediocre, but aim for even quality on both sides.

I’m not saying it isn’t wise to be smart with your finances when starting a new business. For example, you might be clueless about the web design and the logo, and you would need a designer to save you time and stress rather than figuring it out yourself. 

But when it comes to the copy, you are well aware of your brand’s representation and how you want the world to see it. And when it comes to DIY copywriting, focusing on the right audience and a little attention to detail is something you can work on without hiring a copywriter.

Step into your audience’s shoes and understand their pain points and motivations. Your copy needs to speak to their problems. Paint a picture of the goals you’ll help them achieve. Write the way it feels like you’re speaking directly to them, not to a crowd.

Once your business is generating steady income, the copy can be re-visited by a professional copywriter. But until then, look at these DIY copywriting tips I have for you.

1. Set the right tone of voice

How do you want your audience to perceive your brand? The services you provide and the audience you deliver to will inform your choices.

Do you want to make it sound more formal and professional because you are a legal firm? 

Do you want to create messaging that’s as fun and cheerful as a candy store?

How do you want the audience to feel when they land on your website? 

Will you layout your website in the conventional way – About Us, Contact Us, Homepage, etc or you want to include different elements that may surprise and delight your audience?

Either way, get a cup of coffee, grab a notepad and a pen and spend some time on it.

Write the way you speak or make sure you know what tone of voice your audience will respond to and be consistent with it across the board. Sometimes, even the most minor word changes can create significant results. Your audience will feel it when you are speaking authentically and when you’re feeling confident. And the opposite, too.

2. Remember the 5 second rule

It’s not a revelation to know that the human attention span is less than that of a goldfish. But really; count to 5. That’s how long you have to evoke any response in your audience. Which is why the first copy that people get to see should be clearly specific about what benefit the audience can expect and they should they stay. 

Let me share an example with you, 

Sasha, a friend of mine, is a copywriter. She wrote an easy-to-read piece of content for her client. And this is what happened.

Client:  The copy is fragmented. We need to fix it. It’s grammatically incorrect. 

Sasha: But, it’s easy to understand and readability is imperative. 

The client didn’t agree and changed the copy to a grammatically correct one – but in the process making it a bit longer and a bit less readable. 

Poof! The conversion rates dropped

The audience didn’t understand it completely which led to low conversion rates. He switched to the old content piece written by Sasha and saw the results coming in. 

So, it’s okay for your copy to be fragmented. Readability is what matters the most.

“Customers don’t buy the best products or services–they buy the products and services that are easiest to understand.” – Donald Miller

3. Remember that people buy based on emotion over logic

Triggering emotions doesn’t mean that the copy should make you feel sad or lovey-dovey. It means that before you offer your product or service, the copy should make the readers want it even more.

The easiest way to do it is by focusing on attention grabbing headlines that makes them stop, and then elaborating on their pain point while offering a quick solution.

Consider this copy by Basecamp that clearly emphasizes on how stressful it is to not have a proper project management system during COVID times when everyone is working remotely. 

It reflects the frustration you feel (before using Basecamp) and the positive impact it will create in your professional life once you start using it.

4. Don’t talk about the features, talk about benefits.

Here’s a truthbomb for you: Nobody cares about your product/service’s features. What they care about are the values brought to them. The benefits.

What’s the difference?

Let’s make it easy for you,

Features: “Here’s what our product/service can do.”

Benefits: “Here’s what you can do with our product/service.”

There’s a thin line and that is what makes all the difference. When talking about benefits, you talk about why it’s good for them. About what they can do now that they couldn’t do before.

Image Source: WordStream

How to make sure the benefits aren’t made up though?
The last thing you want to do is to create a benefit just for the sake of selling. Especially when there’s a way to uncover the benefits your product/service really brings to the customer.

Here’s how to do it:
1. Make a list of the features
2. Take each of them, and answer questions like:

  • Why should they care about this feature?
  • How does it make their lives easier?
  • Why did we include this feature in the first place?
  • Why should it matter to anyone?

Take an example from Dubsado, a CRM system that decided to put benefits on their homepage instead of just features.

But what about RXbar, you ask? They put the features all over their protein bar packaging!

And you’re right. This protein bar brand goes against the wisdom and displays its features instead of benefits. 

Because health-conscious customers want to know what they are consuming. The brand stays transparent and gives the users what they want. 

Here’s how adding features turned into benefits of the healthy protein bar. 

That’s clever!

You can do that too, but, be cautious and make sure you are giving the right message. 

Image Source: ActiveCampaign

5. Always have a ‘Call To Action’ (or as others call it CTA)

A call to action is one of the most important elements of anything you create. It can be a button on your page, a sentence on your packaging, or a thing you ask them to do at the end of your video. 

CTA is the action you want them to take. It is the cherry on top that every user (consciously or subconsciously) wants. They need you to tell them what to do. To nudge them in the right direction. To show them the next step they need to take.

Never expect your customer to find their own way through your content. They won’t. They don’t want to be looking for anything, especially not on your website. They want you to lead the way, to make the experience pleasant and intuitive for them.

The CTA can be subtle or blunt, can have a sense of urgency, It can be playful, sometimes even fun, but it should always be clear about what the action is about.

Examples of simple CTAs

  •  ORDER “THE PRODUCT” TODAY!
  •  ADD TO CART
  •  TAKE THE QUIZ NOW
  •  JOIN THE WAITLIST
  •  CLICK TO LEARN MORE
  •  DOWNLOAD THE CHECKLIST NOW

Want to see more examples of website CTA and some good practice tips?
Read this post https://medleythink.com/10-tips-for-designing-click-worthy-buttons/

Bonus point: Everything you do should be based on a plan. So make sure you’re planning to invest into professional copywriting in the future.

This is what many business owners really, really don’t want to hear. Why? Because it means investing both into the designer & into a copywriter. And that means spending a lot of money at once. And that’s scary.

But here’s the thing, it’s only scary because you’re afraid it’s not gonna work. And you think it won’t work because you have no idea what purpose each of these parts serves, what goal you are after, and how to achieve it.

Imagine you visit a website to get a solution. You click the link and you’re welcomed by flashy colors and mismatched layouts that are cluttered and don’t speak clearly. 

A turn off.

Now, imagine being welcomed by a beautiful website but words that don’t resonate with what you’re looking for? 

You’ll probably close the window. 

Another big fail

Good design and good copy increase audience retention and enable higher conversion rates and you simply can’t afford to miss out on that. Right?

Takeaway

A powerful brand has both a good design and an excellent copy to sway its audience. Both designers and copywriters are masters of their craft, and good collaboration between the two can amplify your brand image. 

DIYing your copy and hiring a designer is a nice approach initially. But investing in a professional copywriter once you have a steady flow of income is a must.

Because words make a noticeable impact. 

Is it still worth a debate? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Catch you on the confident side,

Zuzana

PS:  For more tips on building a personality-driven brand that you’re dying to share with others, follow me on Instagram.

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Which is more important, copy or design? Let’s find out!

Zuzana Zapletal

Brand Strategist, Creative Designer & Recovering Perfectionist on a mission to help you become more confident about your brand.

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