Design is a Part of Everything

Lessons From A Non-Designer’s Year At A Design Agency

Yeah, this might be long.

I’ve been lending my talents as a copywriter to organizations for. . . about a decade, I guess. In undergrad I worked on marketing pamphlets, podcasts and blog posts for an academic department. After undergrad I worked as a technical writer and then in public relations. I’ve written for podcasts, vodcasts, public radio, public television, magazines, trade newspapers, standard newspapers, blogs. . . for nonprofits, for-profits, people, animals, machines - LOL. I feel that in my short, yet varied career, I’ve done quite a bit. Or, a bit of the same, for a bunch of different people.

But never have I done design.

Markon and I never sought each other out. I was actually chasing another endeavor entirely when I was asked if I could help an agency in Vancouver transfer a blog from one website to another - oh! And since I have some copywriting experience, maybe I could spruce up what’s there?! And so I did. And what was supposed to be a three-day adventure has grown into a full year and a full-time job. Not too shabby, really.

Back to that bit about never doing design. I still don’t do design. At least, not in the graphic sense. Sure, I’ve played with Adobe’s Creative Suite products, but I am no designer. Rather, I am someone who can do just enough to create a “product” that someone else has to refine (and that’s taking a lot of credit on my part). (Technically speaking, anyway. I’m told my aesthetic is on point!)

Still, working in an environment in which design is the driving force behind all that we do has taught me quite a bit! I thought I’d share some of those lessons on this the occasion of my anniversary.

Design is a part of everything.

I never thought of what I do as being “design,” but in ways large and small, there is a design to it. Copywriting, is, after all, strategic, purposeful and buoyed by context - just like design. It’s dissemination requires even more thought. Where? When? Wrapped how? The voice and frame within which a brand’s message is presented is a delicate and critical task in this our age of many, many, many voices. I make all of those things happen by my own design.

Design shapes everything.

I remember working with designers in earlier times of my career and mandating to them how much content I’d provide, and how their design would accommodate that content. THAT WOULD NOT FLY HERE. I wouldn’t even dare try that. And. . . that is a good thing. I’ve had to get nimble - be less sloppy, less entitled to all the space I feel like (although I’m clearly taking liberties here). Learning to let design lead content is like learning how to compromise - everyone should do it.

Designers take a lot of flak.

When I craft a sentence for someone - even if they don’t love it - they thank me politely for it. If they love it, they sometimes profess their love for me, and in turn, I usually gain a new client - or a better relationship with a current client. When someone dislikes a design - when it doesn’t jive with them, the way they imagined it might - they can get nasty. And that is not okay.

I often wonder if it is because we have a more visceral reaction to imagery than text? Or, if, because design is often seen as an ability that a person innately possesses, that people make the assumption that designers can suss out the exact solution to whatever the client has described - you know, like telepaths.

Versatility is the chief code.

Everyone here contributes to nearly everything in some way or another. A thought about copy here, design-talents there, a thought on material, and then some programming there. When we work on projects together we know our strong suits, but no one is afraid to step to the plate to contribute out of their “area of expertise.” This is good, because working outside of your area is the best way to develop a holistic understanding of what it takes to execute a project.

All of that aside: working on project-based work for a whole slew of clients means you need to be a little ADD. (Or ADHD.) Which… is slightly brilliant. Oscillating from topic-to-topic, from brand-to-brand, from sector-to-sector, keeps us thriving.

In the end, it’s that final lesson about versatility that resonates the most. Getting out of your space and into your client’s space, out of your mind and into your client’s mind, does so much to broaden your own mind. I’ve written copy about everything from custom cupcakes to organic hygiene to aerospace engineering and I kind of love it. I hope I never specialize in one industry. Ever.

For now, I’m definitely still not a designer. Copywriter? Digital strategist? Social media afficionado? I’ll take those titles. I’ll add another one, too - a personal one - multipotentialite.