Tales of a Graphic Designer: C-O-N-T-E-N-T is I-M-P-O-R-T-A-N-T


So I have a client that needs a website.  As I always do, I try and let the client know that I really need all their copy, graphs, pictures, slides, videos and whatever else they are planning to put on the website first.  Why do I do this?  Because too many times I have been commissioned to build a website, only to be looked at with a blank stare with the CONTENT doesn’t magically appear right then and there.  I am a graphic designer – not a fucking copywriter.  I take your CONTENT, organize it and make it look purty.  I also create all my own graphical buttons from scratch (I know, I know… but it’s kind of a dorky trademark), so it is important to get the organization of the CONTENT right so I don’t have to redo the buttons, which do take time.

Anyway – I get the big promise that I’ll get the copy ASAP.  This means three months later and a week before Christmas.  Ummm… okay.  Like I’m going to drop everything and work on it then when I still have to buy a billion fucking presents.  So, I kind of ignore it.  Then, I start getting emails: “When is the website going to be done?” 

The first thing I do is write up an org chart to show how I will organize the CONTENT based on what they have given me.  I send this to all the parties “in charge” of the website to get the OK on the organization.  The group agrees that it’s fine and I get to work.  This is when I realize that the CONTENT really sucks and I am missing about half of what I need.  I ask for the rest, but am not really getting anywhere.  I’m getting it in bits and pieces while all along getting emails about “seeing” the website.  How can you SEE the &$%#@! website when you haven’t given me all the CONTENT?!  So, I give them a mock-up of the main page, along with the handmade buttons showing the organization we already talked about so they can SEE what it WILL look like once I get the CONTENT and actually BUILD the pages.  I get “concerned” emails about: “Why don’t the buttons work and go anywhere?”

So now I kind of patch together pages with the CONTENT I do have, and put up blank pages where I am missing stuff so they can SEE what I am missing. (I came very close to putting up the little blinking Under Construction sign circa 1993, but I was afraid they’d like it.)   I completely hate putting up incomplete websites because there are always going to be typos, broken links, javascript that doesn’t work, etc.  It’s NOT DONE YET.

Anyway, eventually (literally months later) I get the rest of my content and I post it in the mock site and get no response.  We should be done, right?  I put the website up live on their domain.  This is where the fun begins.  The group starts making changes.  And not just small changes – but changing the names of products, services and even the nickname of the company!  This means I basically get to redo 85% of the graphic buttons I already created.  Then, I start getting the Comma/Dash Memos.  Almost every single page had some sort of comma or dash change.  This means changing things like Annoying, Headache and Xanax to Annoying, Headache, and Xanax or half wit to half-wit. Okay, I get it – we have a Strunk & White English major somewhere on the Committee, but my point is: Why wasn’t this stuff taken care of BEFORE they gave it to me?

Then, no lie, after I complete all the changes – I get another Comma/Dash Memo that basically changes all the previous changes back.  Then I get another memo to say to ignore the previous Dash Changes and Leave Them the Way They Were.  Then, while I am still deleting the all the Third Commas in the Lists of Three Things, I get a new memo that now we are Deleting All References to a Third Company, which is listed on pretty much every page and a few graphical buttons.  My head was literally spinning and I thought I was going to have a seizure of some sort.  Then,  I got a final memo changing all the graphical buttons on the main page.  The ones that have been in the org chart and mock-up since DAY FUCKING ONE.

What’s my point here, besides to bitch and moan?  Well, really it’s that there are some pointers to make your website better and your graphic designer happy, which is good for everyone.  You’ll get your nice new website in a few weeks instead of six months later, and your graphic designer can get back to, oh –  I don’t know, – maybe blogging or something.

  1. One person should be in charge of website content, not a committee.  This person should be in charge of gathering content, editing content, and making sure the content is complete before it gets to the designer.
  2. Know you company. You should figure out what the um, name of your company is and what your products are before it gets to the designer.
  3. One person should be in charge of writing copy. This keeps the style of the writing the same throughout so there will be less editing later.
  4.  Check the mock-up site.  Major edits and reorgs should be done before the site is live.
  5. Send all corrections at one time.  Sending edits onesy-twosy (there’s one of those damn-dashes again) as you see them is confusing for everyone.  
Yes, I know — I need a vacat… oh, wait.   *sigh*

4 thoughts on “Tales of a Graphic Designer: C-O-N-T-E-N-T is I-M-P-O-R-T-A-N-T

  1. I sometimes experience the flip side of the problem! I’m a marketing consultant, and will frequently write copy for my clients. It’s no different when a client asks me to write a two-page article for their yet-to-be designed newsletter. Hmm…will a page be 250 words? 500 words? 100 words? OK, so you want an 800-word article. Great, here you go. Uh-oh…now the designed page can only fit 200 words and you need me to cut the article in half? :eyeroll: So I feel your pain!

    One way I try to avoid the problem: Offering to work as project manager for the job (for a fee, of course), and coordinate the design and layout (with outside designers or a company’s in-house folks). It makes it much easier if I can be working hand-in-hand with the designer so we’re not causing headaches for each other! Maybe you could make life easy for you and your clients by offering to get a copywriter for the project? “The website will cost $XXX, or $XXX + $YYY if you’d like the copy written by a professional copywriter.”

    (FWIW, I do work with professional services companies…legal, accounting, business/management consulting, financial services, architecture, etc. If you ever have a client in those areas who needs some copywriting help, feel free to give me a shout!)

  2. PS: Just saw from your profile that you live outside Chicago. I live in the city…maybe we should talk! I have a handful of designers with whom I informally partner on projects, but am always looking to meet other talent people, particularly if there’s potential that we could send referrals to one another.

  3. Hi Jennifer

    Yes, I agree that working hand in hand with the designer & copywriter is the way to go. At my old corporate job we had a fantastic copywriter (for a very boring and technical subject) and he and I did all the projects together instead of him doing the copy first and then me “making it fit.”

    I will definitely keep you in mind if I run into something like this in the future. The main problem are my clients are normally very small to medium businesses, and they are usually on a pretty small budget. So, not only do they not have the money to pay for extra people, but they try and cut corners like having someone in-house do the copywriting when they are not a copywriter. It doesn’t work well most of the time!

    Thanks for reading my rant and the constructive comment.

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