As a graphic designer, I’m sometimes put in the situation where I’m given terrible copy to work with. My client will provide me text for a web site, ad, brochure, or book cover that’s just weak. It’s wordy, has no punch or is just too blah to connect with the reader.
Most of us learned to write from high school and college essays. So we tend to fall into a very straightforward, linear mode of communicating. We never learned how to turn the story inside out or to get someone to look fresh at something that may be quite mundane. When the text is so plain, all the power of capturing viewers attention must be done with the graphic design. And while I certainly think there is great power in design, design always benefits from great copy.
You’ll create the most compelling message when the design and words echo each other and build upon the same themes.
A very simple example: Drive leisurely
This past weekend, I was camping at Winslow Park in Freeport, Maine. This park follows the usual design norms of campgrounds: wooden signs with chiseled letters to give directions. This is the sign you see when leaving the park.
They could have just had the the text read: Drive Slowly. But leisurely captures the idea of not just moving your car more slowly, but taking the emotional time to look around, enjoy your surroundings and appreciate where you are. By changing that one word they captured the feel of the campground experience: a laid back vacation.
From the design perspective they could have used a regular road sign like shown below. But that would have ruined the campground ambience. The feeling of getting away from it all.Using the campground aesthetic, even as you’re leaving the park, helps to continue your vacation feeling just a moment longer.
Now this is not to say that I think the design of the existing sign is anything exceptional. The kerning between letters is horrible. But, it is effective. It is clear and very legible. And it’s even a look a designer might pick up intentionally when building a brand. Maybe a logo for a wild game restaurant, or the interior design for a camping supply store.
The sign, especially with that word leisurely, just helps me relax.