Lost in Translation: When Designers and Writers Work Together
The modern office is pretty much a second home for many people. The small difference is that in this home, we usually don’t choose the people we live with. Nevertheless, we still have to collaborate on projects on a daily basis, which can become pretty rocky–especially when your co-workers seem to speak a different language. This can be the case when you put a content writer and a designer in the same room. It can almost feel like trying to get an alien and a unicorn to understand each other. Here at Wix, these two diverse creatures are constantly working hand in hand to come up with all sorts of content, from whole projects like designing the Playground for professional creatives, to shaping social posts. Here are some tips and insights from our perspective on how we make it work (well, most of the time).
Being around people whose job is similar to yours is great, because help is always at hand. However, we find that results can be even better when mixing things up, rather than having a team of just designers or writers. When a designer, writer and product manager all sit together, they can combine their areas of expertise to create the best outcome. Plus, as their relationship grows stronger as a team, they get better at collaborating, understanding each other’s roles and respecting the value of what each team member contributes.
01. Sharing is caring
Sitting in the same office space is a great way of forming a relationship. Not all designers have cooties, so there’s really nothing to fear. Working side-by-side gives you the opportunity to get to know each other on a more personal level, as opposed to communication being centered mainly around professional issues and giving each other tasks. You may even end up reminiscing about childhood experiences together or sharing your favorite gluten-free vegan carob cake recipe. Okay, let’s not go overboard, but this newfound relationship could mean that work-related conversations are likely to be lighter and more pleasant.
02. Good old-fashioned communication methods
Remember the days when we used to make eye contact? Now, the closest thing to eye contact usually involves us staring blankly at the screen. And it’s a shame, as communication is the key to any happy relationship, especially when it happens face-to-face. We’ve become so accustomed to chatting via Messenger and other apps that it seems we’ve forgotten the meaning of real communication. Nothing beats a real-life conversation, complete with facial expressions, hand gestures, and intonations that just may help bring the point across clearly. This medieval tool is especially handy when both sides need to fully understand a certain concept. It’s happened too many times that a writer has received an image from a designer and been shocked to find that it’s not at all what they had in mind. This is no one’s fault–often, it just falls down to poor communication and the use of different jargon. After all, asking for an image to be “edgy” isn’t usually your best bet as a writer, seeing as this vague word can be interpreted in so many ways.
Many things can, of course, be clearly conveyed by email, but sometimes it’s worth getting out of your seat, setting up a meeting and sharing a screen with your fellow co-worker–just to make sure you’re on the same page. After all, you won’t find many people who are eager to do double the work because of a misunderstanding.
03. Patience is a virtue
There are three things in life that require patience: threading a needle, reaching nirvana, and waiting for just the right image from your designer team. It’s important to understand that producing quality results can be a lengthy process, both for designers and writers. Don’t expect that your colleague will be able to conjure up a final design in an instant or put all their meetings aside to focus on your needs. After all, designs don’t grow on trees and even a task that may seem easy could be more complex than you expect.
Other than trying our best to be nice, sensitive and all-round wonderful people (traits that generally come naturally, of course), what we find works for us is to create a schedule that both sides will stick to. Make sure to leave a generous amount of time for both the writers and the designers to complete their part of the job, while being realistic. Sticking to the deadlines is crucial, especially when you’re working cross-team and need to wait for the copy to finalize the design or vice versa. To help you with that, ensure your schedule takes each person’s other tasks into account, and consider the amount of time it takes to create a beautiful illustration or write a truly valuable blog post.
04. (Don’t) go with the flow
Playing it by ear is great when you’re on vacation in Thailand or want to spice up your daily routine, but spontaneity and office life don’t always go together hand in hand. Often, getting things done requires many people’s input, which is one of the reasons it’s important to have a schedule. As well as creating one that works for everyone, having a clear workflow is also essential. Each team will find a system that suits their needs, but there are certain tools that can be especially beneficial. Whether you’re working alone or in a group, a tool that we find useful is Trello. It allows you to create a schedule and easily move things around, adding links and comments. This way everyone in the group can be quickly updated and connected.
It’s useful to write down the workflow right at the beginning of a new project, to ensure everyone’s properly informed. Include guidelines for what order things should be done in and by whom. Determine what the timescales are and add in any other relevant information, like image dimensions and references. Just like Rome, these things don’t get done in a day – finding a system that works for everyone can take time. It could require a bit of trial and improvement until you find a good balance that will leave everyone as stress-free as possible.
05. Make your final words final
Letting go isn’t always easy, especially when you’re a perfectionist. But sometimes, you just have to know when to stop. As part of the workflow, decide at which stage the written content will be passed onto the designer. We’ve found that it’s beneficial for both sides to send the text when it’s as close to final as possible. Forget the “Can I just make one tiny change?” or the “Actually I want to change the text back to the original version” (Okay, maybe we’re being harsh, but keep these kinds of sentences to a minimum.) This will save a lot of frustration, as it can be challenging adapting the design to fit the new content. Designing a landing page, for example, can involve a lot of hard work, blood, sweat and tears. So when a writer decides to add extra text, ruining the alignment and meticulously placed elements, it can pretty much feel like the end of the world.
Of course, things do happen occasionally that are out of the everyone’s control, meaning that alterations need to be made last minute. This requires a drop of flexibility from both sides. How can you work your way around this? It seems that it just comes down to good old manners – ask nicely and show that you appreciate your colleagues’ time, as well as doing your best to form a good relationship with mutual respect.
A special thank you to Maya Ish Shalom, who created the beautiful illustration for this post.
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Dana Meir, Design Community Writer at Wix