Making the leap to print (or the web)December 01, 2001
Whether you find copywriting easy or hard, there comes a point when you have finished your final draft. Everyone’s happy: the marketing manager, the marketing director, the managing director, the company mascot. But if you’re writing for print (and even for the web), this is really only the beginning. Now you have to let your precious words off the leash and send them to the designer. Where, believe me, all manner of traps await them.
My overall remark on this subject is that it’s the designer’s job to make your words work on the page. Anything they do to the text that reduces its effectiveness as a selling tool is bad. End of story.
So I’d like to suggest a few things you can watch out for/ encourage when working with designers.
I hope you’ve given some thought, as you’ve polished your copy, to the headlines. Not just what they say, but the relative importance of each. You may find a simple numbering scheme helps. For example, H1 for the page head, H2 for section heads and H3 for sub-section heads.
Make sure your designer understands your scheme. AND FOLLOWS IT! Of course they can decide on typefaces, colours and so on, but the structure of the copy is yours– You’re the writer.
Here are a few suggestions for typography. This is a vastly underrated area of design and one, sadly, that many younger designers are just not getting trained in. It can, however, make all the difference to the effectiveness of your copy.
Left-justified type is easiest to read. Centred is pretty hard. Right-justified harder still. Justified type only works for narrow columns, say 8-10cm. And irregular measures (line widths), eg copy shaped to fit a graphic element, produce maximum reading difficulty.
Serif faces, like Garamond or Times, are easier to read in dense body copy than sans-serif faces, eg Arial, Gill Sans.
Reversed-out text, particularly white out of any colour, is harder to read than the ‘normal’ way round. Reversing type out of a photograph or textured background is almost asking people to give up trying.
Obviously, black is the easy choice for type colour. Black on white is very clear, high contrast and easy to read. But, for an upmarket feel that doesn’t sacrifice readability you may want to consider using a dark grey.
3 Point size
Like the advert says, “size matters”. Some designers make a fetish out of small type. Nine, eight or even seven point type is not uncommon. But it’s very hard to read. From a designer’s point of view, small type means more white space, but then, they’re not depending on people actually reading the stuff.
So make sure the text is readable. I’d suggest no smaller than 10 pt for body copy. If you’re targeting an older audience (and by this I mean over 30), bear in mind that people’s eye- sight tends to start going.
First of all, are the pictures relevant to your message? Pack and product shots, or sample pages of publications are all good. Random photo library shots of smiley people pointing at computer screens are not!
If you’re using pics, always write a caption for each one. Eye-tracking studies have consistently revealed that people look first at pics, then captions, then headlines and then body copy. So captions are a great place to insert powerful selling messages.
And, as I said before, don’t run copy over pictures.
This month’s message
We all spend a lot of time perfecting our copy. After all, it’s the most powerful tool we have to convince our potential customers to buy from us.
So when you have copy that you’re happy with, and the powers that be have approved it, make sure your designer understands that it’s there to do something, ie SELL.
Work with them to ensure that your copy has the best possible chance of being allowed to do its job.