Great Design is Only Half the Battle

by guest contributor, Mike Plaster

A lot of writers like to think that our work is the most important thing when it comes to business websites, brochures, emails, and other marketing materials.

A lot of designers think the same thing about their work.

Both are right—and neither are right. In fact, if you ever meet a writer who downplays the importance of design, you should run. And the same goes if you meet a designer who says the writing isn’t important: Run. Maybe even a little faster.

Great content doesn’t mean a thing without design that supports it, and beautiful design can fall flat if there’s nothing backing it up. Your business could have the best-written website in the world, but if it looks terrible, people probably aren’t going to read it. And a fantastic-looking site, or brochure, or email, won’t have much impact if the only thing it does right is look good.

Admit it—you’re judge-y

We all know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but we do. Every day. Think about the website you left after 10 seconds because there were ugly ads all over the place, or the brochure you threw away because it looked amateurish. Design draws people to your content, enticing them to dig deeper. Then the challenge becomes not only keeping them engaged, but reinforcing your brand and steering them toward what you want them to do. That’s where the content itself comes in.

Want clients to start using your new service? Better highlight the benefits clearly. Looking to make that trade-show investment worthwhile? Make your handouts compelling enough for people to keep them—and read them when they get home. Hoping to become a thought leader in your field? That white paper needs to have some well-articulated ideas.

(Cliché alert) It takes two to tango

To maximize the impact for your business, design and content simply have to work together. Here are three things you can do to make sure that happens:

  • If you start with a designer, get the writer involved as soon as possible (and vice versa). I have a lot of clients who come to me and say, “I’ve got a new website, and now I need content.” That’s like framing a house and only then deciding how many bedrooms you want. While you don’t have to start with the content, the earlier you bring the writer in, the better, because content can shape design decisions.
  • Introduce the writer and the designer, so they can work as a team. One reason I love working with Chalkbox is that they’re great collaborators. Say a client wants a trifold brochure, but they want to promote more stuff than would ever fit. I can go to Josh or Adam and explain the situation, listen to their input, and then go back to the client with options: Maybe we do a four-page brochure. Or limit service descriptions to two lines each. Or whatever. But figuring that out before I write the entire brochure saves time, frustration, and most important, money.
  • Ask for recommendations. Designers and writers typically know a lot of other designers and writers—so if you’re already working with someone on one side of the design-content equation, ask them about the other side. Who do they like? Who have they worked with before? Who would be a good fit for your project? We love recommending good people, because they make us look good, too.

Of course, I recommend Chalkbox every chance I get—and I’m not just saying that because I’m writing a guest blog for them, either. (For free. On a sunny, 80-degree Sunday afternoon. Just saying.) No, I recommend Josh and his team because as a writer, I know the impact of my work depends in large part on the design. And they recommend quality writers (ahem) because they know the reverse is true as well.

Mike Plaster is a writer and the owner of Plaster Consulting Group, which helps businesses of all sizes tell their stories through compelling content. Chalkbox has partnered with Mike on all sorts of projects for our clients. His sense of humor combined with his enthusiasm to produce the very best work for his clients and ours is why we love working with him.