7 ways copywriters can work better with designers

Kevin Sawyer
5 min readJul 19, 2018
“Two young women working at their laptops at a dining table at home” by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

As a copywriter and content strategist, I’ve partnered with dozens of talented designers on hundreds of print and digital projects.

And I’ve worked within creative teams that range from one extreme (extremely process-oriented, assembly line production) to another (throw the spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks).

One constant throughout these jobs? How copywriters give edits to designers—and vice versa—is always different.

So if you’re a copywriter, content strategist, UX writer, or just anyone looking to improve the efficiency and clarity of your working relationships with designers… here are 7 of the best ways I’ve found to provide edits and get great work done, together.

Photo by Mike Petrucci on Unsplash

First, determine what type of feedback you want to give

There’s no magic bullet for how you should collaborate. And learning how to work with an individual designer—for example, how they communicate (Slack, email, IMs, texts, etc.) and their personality (introvert or extrovert)—can take a lot of trial and error.

The best solution for giving feedback should consider these factors:

What program is the sketch/wireframe/prototype built in?

Is it enough to just update the words, or do you need to leave editorial context for your changes?

Do you need to make broader comments on the content hierarchy and/or information architecture?

How fluent are you with technology typically associated with designers (for example, Sketch and InVision)?

“A smart phone displaying the Facebook page and scrabble tiles forming the words “social media”” by William Iven on Unsplash

Then, pick the right solution

Once you understand the type of feedback you want to communicate, pick the most effective way to do it.

I’ve ranked the following 7 ideas on a continuum of low-tech to high-tech. The main distinction is whether you want to simply leave feedback or whether you want to make real edits to the actual design itself.

Keep in mind that the former is easier, but the later is generally more accurate —and eliminates the headaches of version control.

1. Talk to the designer at their computer (or screenshare over video).

Pros: There’s nothing lost in translation when you simply point and talk. If you’re new at a company, or you’re paired up with a new designer, chatting face to face is invaluable for getting to know each other.

Cons: In-person interaction requires both parties to be available at the same time. This can be the most time-consuming option.

2. Write your edits next to screenshots in Microsoft Word.

Pros: Word is basically a warm, snuggly safety blanket for copywriters. We know it, we love it. It’s our safe space. Plus, the designer can easily grab your new words to copy and paste.

Cons: You’ll need to provide some directional cues to pinpoint *where* you want your edits. And it’ll still require a bit of the designer’s time to implement the edits.

3. Add comments to a screenshot using Preview or Adobe Acrobat.

Pros: You can physically place a comment on top of the part of the design you’re talking about, so there’s less ambiguity. And you can circle/highlight specific text in question.

Cons: PDF file sizes can get monstrously large pretty quickly, which makes it impossible to share via email.

4. Enable comment mode in InVision.

Pros: Comment mode lets you have ongoing discussions in the prototype, so you can keep track of what people are saying.

Cons: You can’t highlight or draw attention to specific text; instead, your comment appears as a small dot.

5. Use a collaboration tool like Mural.

Pros: Mural is the digital version of a whiteboard — anyone can add notes/text/shapes/etc. to the board and see updates in real time, so it’s a logical artifact to share with stakeholders, business owners, product owners, and other folks who may not have a design background.

Cons: If you haven’t used Mural before, expect a slight learning curve. Their onboarding experience will get you up and running pretty quickly, though.

6. Create your own wireframes with Freehand.

Pros: InVision has a neat tool called Freehand that lets people without a design background quickly and accurately create wireframes.

Cons: This probably works better for a new project rather than editing an existing wireframe.

7. Edit that sh!t yourself in Sketch.

Pros: If you’ve earned enough trust, a designer may be comfortable sharing their Sketch file so you can edit the content directly. This is easily the most efficient way to get things done.

Cons: Tread carefully—any changes you make in Sketch can potentially mess up a designer’s hard work. For example, if you add a few extra words of copy, you could inadvertently create a new line break that disrupts the spacing between elements. Or, worse, you could accidentally delete design elements. There’s no way for a designer to be aware of these changes unless they are specifically looking for them.

Bottom line: With great power comes great responsibility.

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Evolve or die

Personally, I’ll stay forever fond of pencil and paper. There’s simply no substitute for a Palomino Blackwing and the smell of fresh printer toner. For a grammar nerd like me, there’s nothing more satisfying than settling into a quiet corner, popping the top on a felt-tip red pen, and getting down with the proofreading symbols.

That method worked fine for journalists, book editors, and newspaper editors. However, the break-neck pace and iterative nature of modern digital design work demands that copywriters and designers find faster—and, quite frankly, more eco-friendly—ways to collaborate.

Let’s face it: The days of being “just a writer” hacking away with just Microsoft Word are over. New design software is launching all the time, making collaboration easier and easier, especially for remote employees. It’s time for copywriters and designers to move away from the old-school method of “handing off” edits and instead focus on shared, real-time collaboration tools.

The silver lining? The more comfortable you are with design software, the more career opportunities will open up for you. And you can always keep your red pens nearby for when the internet goes down.