Which comes first, writing or design?

chicken-egg-gsWhile it’s not quite as confusing as the chicken/egg conundrum, the question of “who’s on first?” is always in play when writers and designers work together. The correct answer, as with many creative endeavors, is “it depends.”

Here’s a quick rundown of common options with pros and cons for each:

Design first

In the design-first model, the designer creates the look and feel of the project first, leaving space or Greek text for the copy. This is especially common when a group or series is involved, such as a recurring newsletter, family of brochures, or other template-based pieces.

  • Pros: Great creative freedom for designer, writer has a clear idea of the visual tone and structure.
  • Cons: May require a specific word count for each section (especially in print pieces), requires more revision work if the writer comes up with a great idea that doesn’t fit the existing layout or template.

Writing first

This scenario gives the writer more options for shaping the style and tone of the project. It works especially well if you have a design-savvy writer who can give you stuff to play with like pull quotes, bullet points, sidebars, and the like. It’s also a good option if you or your client don’t have a clear visual direction yet.

  • Pros: Gives the writer more options for tailoring the content to the target audience, can make the designer’s job more fun.
  • Cons: May require the design team to give the writer more briefing, requires a more experienced writer for best results.

Tandem creativity

Is your project blazing hot? One advantage you have over the proverbial poultry is that writing and design can happen simultaneously.

  • Pros: Can allow the creative team to work faster and meet tighter deadlines.
  • Cons: Can turn into a major train wreck if the writer and designer have different visions for the project. Make sure everyone is on the same page before you risk it.

Playing to everyone’s strengths

A hybrid workflow that combines the best of both worlds begins with the designer creating a rough layout, wireframe, or grayscreen prototype. The writer still gets some idea of the desired structure up front, while the design team retains the flexibility to respond to new ideas from the writer when the full design is developed.

This model allows everyone to do what they do best without sacrificing the ability to incorporate cool ideas from the rest of the team. It’s also a stronger starting point in cases where the writer and designer will be working simultaneously by making it easier to establish a shared vision at the outset.

Again, there’s no answer that’s necessarily right or wrong for your workflow. If you hope to build a long-term relationship with a writing partner, consider trying out different options on different projects to see what works best for you.

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