New projects are exciting. After leaving a kickoff meeting with a client, it's impossible not to get amped about the work that is going to be created. The problem is that all the excitement propels my lizard brain to override anything strategic and necessary to ensure the project runs smoothly. This rarely happens because I have checklists and things of the like reference, but it happens.
Here is the number one thing I've learned this month from a design project: get ALL the copy finalized before handing off to a designer.
Before starting, it is completely my fault as the designer if I don't ask for all the necessary materials upfront to get the project moving and on track to be seamless. With that in mind, here is why it's important to get all the copy needed for a project upfront and ready to go:
Type rules the design
Because typography is the core of all graphic communication, if the verbiage changes, so does the design. For example, developing a series of covers for a magazine is going to be seamless if all of the titles have a similar structure (say a 1-2 word headline and a 3-5 word subhead). Easy to manage.
But if the headline length varies from 2-20 words, more thought will go into the initial strategy of making all the covers uniform.
Things fall through the cracks if not packaged succinctly
Hand a designer one word doc with final copy and the transition from ugly word doc to beautiful PDF is easy. Multiple docs with Frankenstein-like parts that need to be communicated in separate emails, things are bound to go haywire. Granted, things do change. But the point is to get as close as humanly possible to final copy before handing off to a designer.
This small shift of getting finalized copy will save you weeks on your next project, guaranteed. Whether you are a designer or someone working with a designer, everyone involved in the project will be happier with getting all copy before moving into design.
It's a common misconception that you have to be a designer to be a branding expert. False.
Branding is the art of making people feel a certain way about your business. Design is crafting with intention, be it in the physical space, digital, interior, whatever.
The point is that they are different skills. And while they do overlap within people, they are not the same. For example, if you know your values, who your customers are, and how you make them feel, you've got a solid understanding of your brand. But, it doesn't mean you've got the creative prowess to translate those emotions into a logo, a website, or any other marketing collateral. Likewise, you could be the best designer in the world and not know a damn thing about positioning, user profiles, deriving brand values, or even navigating the process of extracting them from a client.
Branding is king. If you had to forgo knowing your brand and being design-conscious, the brand is more important. But, that doesn't mean you can expect to achieve greatness without design. Why?
Because design turns something ordinary into something spectacular, makes complicated things, like a website, easy, and adds the spark of delight that makes a brand irreplaceable.
It's kinda like this: you want a significant other who is a good person and well-intended. Someone who is confident in themselves and has a spirit to match. That's the brand.
But it'd make it easy to start the conversation if they were attractive and well put together. That's design.
I'm currently working on a new website or San Diego Startup Week. Yesterday, the former director of the program looked at the new site and commented on how much it had improved from the previous rendition. Obviously, I was flattered. But at the same time, I felt a void within that work.
What is missing is personality, voice, and character. The cherries that make the entire sundae memorable. The new site works and has a streamlined flow to it. But it has no personality other than being well designed.
It's as if design has a brand in and of itself; sterile, refined, clean, simplistic, lots of white space, you get the picture. The next level is using design to communicate a unique feeling that reflects your company.
That's the difference between design and branding. Design is a set of principles that any creative wields as second nature. Using it to build a brand is the ability to bend those principles toward a personality.