Designers and Content
What are a designer’s responsibilities when it comes to copy? Should designers make an effort to read, understand and offer suggestions on text? Should we at least be responsible for proper punctuation and grammar? Or should we only have to make sure the rag is pretty and there are no widows at the bottom of the paragraph?
For the past several months, I have been working on a large, Flash-based CD-ROM for a marketing/promotions company. They work with fairly high-profile clients (car manufacturers, airlines, etc.), and have a library of case study documents detailing past projects. One of my responsibilities is translating these into Flash.
Unfortunately, whoever originally wrote the case studies was not a trained writer by any standard. There are spelling mistakes, inconsistencies in tense, terrible use of punctuation and an overall feel of crap, hurried writing. As I have been going along, I have been correcting obvious grammatical errors. In a supreme effort to control the editing demon within, I have let less critical problems like poor sentence structure and irreverent use of the tired buzzwords “leverage” and “implement” go untouched.
But the situation got me thinking. What are a designer’s responsibilities when it comes to copy? What level of involvement is acceptable/desired?
Should designers make an effort to read, understand and offer suggestions on text? Should we at least be responsible for proper punctuation and grammar? (For instance, “they’re” as opposed to “there,” or “its” versus it’s.”) Or should we only have to make sure the rag is pretty and there are no widows at the bottom of the paragraph?
My guess is that most graphic artists fall somewhere between “Wait, days of the week are capitalized, I’d better fix that” and “I’m a designer, I can’t read.” In other words, a minimal level of involvement, but still enough to impress the client when you catch an error.
I often feel I have an advantage over other designers in that I have been an active writer my whole life, and even studied English for two years in college. (It was my original major, before I got sucked into the black void of visual arts like a porn star getting hooked on cocaine.) Because of this, I have a firm grasp of commas, and I understand the difference between en dashes and em dashes. While I adamantly pursue proper spelling and punctuation, much to the delight of my English-impaired customers, I have on occasion written light creative copy.
But by no means do I consider myself a professional writer. I only offer creative copy suggestions if the client asks. One client—who is a particularly terrible copywriter, I might add—actively seeks my advice on marketing material, and that has made me all the more valuable to his business. Most don’t bother to ask; after all, it’s not my job.
To sum up this rather drawn-out entry, it seems that strong English (or German, French, Zulu, whatever) skills are just another service a freelance designer can offer, which is never a bad thing. Some print designers can build websites. Some HTML wizards can do some nice Flash work. Some Flash guys can do some amazing video and 3D stuff. Some freelance designers, like me, can nitpick and obsess over typographic details like a monkey picking bugs off another monkey’s back. And how much better of an analogy is that?