Why great design needs great copy

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Resplendent in a white silk dress and crimson cape, the Queen steps gracefully down from her golden chariot and begins a slow, dignified walk into Westminster Abbey. Accompanied by the ancestral Mistress of the Robes and Archbishop of Canterbury, the Queen proceeds up the aisle as the glorious, imposing notes of Handel fill the cloisters and vaulted ceilings.

Finally, the Queen reaches the Coronation Chair and takes her divinely appointed seat. The music stops. The silent crowd look on expectantly. The Archbishop raises a glittering crown aloft and asks in a sonorous tone, ‘Do you accept this crown on behalf of the subjects of the realm?’

And the Queen replies: ‘You bloody bet I do, pal!’


Setting the tone

Successful brands understand that what they say is as important as what they look like. The Queen doesn’t just look the part, she sounds the part, too. And if what she says – and how she says it – doesn’t complement the carefully curated pomp and pageantry of royalty, people would begin to question their support of her and her brand. (Yes, the Royal Family is most definitely a brand.)

And, as a public that’s becoming increasingly exposed and savvy to brands and advertisements, when we hear something we don’t believe in we lose faith in who said it. A successful tone of voice has the same aim as successful design: to encapsulate and project a brand’s values in a way that resonates with its aspirations and its target demographic. And whilst businesses spend a great deal of time and money ensuring their pictures, pixels, pantones and print substrates are just perfect, they sometimes fail to dedicate the same level of care and attention to the words on display.

Got a hard-edged, no-nonsense design for your newest kick-ass protein powder range? Great. Got a strapline that says A good way to improve your workout?

Yeah. That’s not so great.

Or what about a range of reed diffusers that promise to fill your home with a delicate, long-lasting aroma, by way of a strapline that says An odour that goes the distance.


Copy that fails to understand the brand for which it speaks robs that brand of its authenticity. And all that great design done by those hard-working digital Donatellos? Well, that’s just been irreparably compromised.

Let’s have an example. Take a look at My Protein below:


Symbiotic semiotics

They set their tone here with two key phrases: Fuel your ambition and Setting a new standard. Just like the clear, confident design in which they sit, these straplines are memorable, to-the-point and show a strong understanding of the market’s expectations. The words, just like the design, feel true to the brand’s values and bring a sense of credibility and confidence to the customer.

(There is one – admittedly small – misstep, and that’s the use of the word ‘Decadent’. On a pack that contains phrases such as ‘ultra-premium’, ‘maintain and grow’ and ‘fuel your ambition’, a word such as ‘decadent’ fails to encapsulate and reflect its target market and feels at odds with the striking-yet-sparse design.

But, hey, no one’s perfect.)

The visuals and words combine well to promote the brand’s message and aspirations – they sing from the same hymn sheet, they come from the same place. Essentially, My Protein’s packaging is successful because you can attribute the same descriptions to its design as you can its copy: bold, assured, impactful.

Copywriting is design, design is copywriting

Great copywriting and great design go hand in hand. They complement each other, bring the best out of one another. They are partners in the same dance, moving to the same music. Sometimes design takes the lead and copy plays a supporting role. Sometimes it’s the other way around. But if copy isn’t treated in a way that’s sympathetic to the design then neither will shine to their full potential.

This is why it’s crucial that copywriters and designers work together. One is horse, one is carriage. One is fish, one is chips. One is Romeo, one is Juliet (hopefully without the tragic suicide ending). Separately they can do a job, get the message across. But it’s when they work together that the magic really happens, when cutting-edge concepts come to life via engaging, on-brand content – content that makes you think, that brings tears to the eyes, that delivers an emotional gut-punch that stops you square in your tracks.

And, who knows, that maybe even picks up an award or two, just like these guys…




Final sign off

Just as the Queen helps justify her position by speaking in a way befitting a head of state, so must a brand’s tone of voice and copywriting foster trust and authenticity by accurately and imaginatively reflecting the values of the brand it represents. In other words, copywriting has the same aims as design. And if one fails, they both fail.

If design is the Queen’s crown, robe and royal wave, then copy is the Queen’s speech. And you simply cannot have one without the other.


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