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  1. Shauna wrote on

    I don’t currently work with a copydeck but I’m in the process now of writing content for an entire website and I can really see the value – it makes sense to see how it looks as well as how it sounds. I do still write my copy in word because I’m pretty much just about the words but I do like to be able to see the page the words will be on so I have an idea of length, paragraphing etc and I think it’s something I’ll use more and more as I gain experience.

    1. Glenn Murray wrote on

      Hi Shauna. Thanks for your comment. Yeah, I still write most of my copy in Word. It’s heaps better for reviews. But the home page and any others with a non-standard layout, I do in a wireframe. There’s nothing like seeing your words ‘in context’ to figure out what they (and the context) need to say.

  2. Anna Butler wrote on

    Surely what works best for the client is more important than what works best for the agency.

    While I don’t use anything as sophisticated as wireframing for my content, I do sometimes use text boxes and other formatting options in Word to demonstrate how copy will sit on the page – especially for home page content.

    Context can be a very powerful tool to demonstrate how various sections of copy fit together on a page… and I’ve never had clients complain that it doesn’t work for them.

    1. Glenn Murray wrote on

      Absolutely. I’m with you, Anna. Although, to be fair, the nay-sayers agree that what works best for the client is most important. They just disagree on what that is.

  3. Doug Rotherham wrote on

    Hi Glenn,

    I’ve been using Balsamiq to present copy for the last 6 months or so…I think I stole the idea from Kate Toon.

    I provide both a ‘copy deck’ in Word together with a Balsamiq mock up. I’ve found it helps with the writing process. Plus, clients and designers love it. Best of all, it saves lots of time going back-and-forth and mucking about.

    Any required edits are simply made in the Word doc using track changes.

    As you point out, we don’t just write the words. We’ve got to have some understanding of design and usability to pull everything together.

    I don’t know why some people get so precious about this sort of stuff. Use whatever works I say.

    1. Glenn Murray wrote on

      Sounds almost identical to my process, mate. Perhaps the agency guys DO just write words?

  4. Gary Matthews wrote on

    Glenn, don’t these agency copywriters pictured above (including the one quoted) think of themselves as your competition? I once worked for an ad agency — not as a copywriter, but as a typesetter — and the competitive mindset was fierce.

    So if they really think you’re doing it wrong, and that you’re persuading others to follow your lead, should they not regard this as good news? Like when a football coach believes the opposing team is preparing a losing play?

    My gut says if your competition really thought you were making a mistake, they’d just smile knowingly and move along. Instead, their actual reaction suggests worry. Maybe they’re afraid you know something they don’t.

    1. Glenn Murray wrote on

      You could be right. Although I’ve met a few copywriters, over the years, who just can’t help themselves. They have to pipe up if they think someone’s talking out the hole in their head. Actually, I’m one of them!

  5. Kate Toon wrote on

    I”m an ex agency copywriter and I don’t give a shit how you present your copy to be quite frank. As long as the client is happy who cares?
    P.S. Agency copywriters don’t eat cheese.

    1. Glenn Murray wrote on

      Hi Kate. I know you care. Don’t pretend you don’t. Cheese-eater.

  6. Bill Harper wrote on

    The main reason I haven’t bothered with wireframes is I’m lousy at any form of design.

    Then again, I’m still trying to get my head around using copy decks.

    1. Glenn Murray wrote on

      I’m lousy at design, too, mate. Just ask Ian! He loves my wireframes, because they save him a lot of work, and give him a great guide. But finds them ugly. Ah well, you can’t win ’em all! ;-)

  7. Bek wrote on

    Having been on the client side, agency side and now as a freelancer it all comes down to three things and three things alone:
    1) Being able to present the info in a way that doesn’t intimidate or confuse the client
    2) Being able to track revisions effectively
    3) Product before process

    If you want to Agile it, Waterfall it, take the UCD approach, design around the content, write it on post-it notes, build a deck that can shoot bullets or pop it up at random as the mood takes you it doesn’t really matter.

    What matters is ensuring your client knows what the hell is going on, and not making yourself work in a process environment that stifles the creativity and the project’s intent.

    I’ve worked with people who have been scared of written copy decks and others who have been equally intimidated by thinking of wireframes.

    In all things, KISS and keep it flexible.

    1. Glenn Murray wrote on

      Yep. Completely agree. In fact, ease of review is the single criticism I’d make of the (my) wireframe approach. Balsamiq wireframes don’t allow the client to change or easily comment on the copy. But that’s where you supply the copy deck too.

  8. Mhajlo Naumovic wrote on

    Wireframe is not about aesthetic so much as it is about being ahead of the curve in terms of combining usability with the content/copy. Both from client’s needs perspective as well as from an agency point of view, having a clear vision of how text fits into the picture can save a lot of time and money therefore I don’t see how it can be a bad thing. Of course if the client/agency already has a starting point wireframe or design and they wish to adhere to then you should follow it but still be able to wireframe around their concept.

    1. Glenn Murray wrote on

      Yep, exactly right Mihajlo. Good to hear some agreement from someone in an agency-type context.

  9. Charles Cuninghame wrote on

    Basically what I think these agency peeps are saying is you should present the copy to the client in a rough approximation of what it will look like when it’s published.

    But since we humble direct client-servicing freelancers don’t have access to art directors and graphic designers, we mock it up in MS Word or Balsamiq.

    1. Glenn Murray wrote on

      Most web agencies I’ve worked with always present a wireframe before designing. It’s just commonsense. And how is a wireframe NOT better with actual copy in it, rather than latin?

  10. Tony Spencer wrote on

    I’m strangely honoured that you’ve made my comment the basis of a new post. But methinks you protest too much – surely you’re the defensive one in this scenario.

    This will be a long copy comment.

    For starters, I’m a freelancer like you. Not an agency type – although that’s where I got my start (and still work sometimes.) I did have cheese to garnish my dinner, a bowl of homemade chili.

    I’ve worked in just about every scenario and media in our industry over 20 years. Before all else, I’m a thinker dealing with ideas – often working closely with art directors or designers to come up with concepts. It sounds like you’re more of a solo act (I’ve done plenty of that too as well as journalistic stints.)

    Basically, you’re free to style things however you want. But there are severe limitations to your approach in a professional context.

    Pardon the background here but as a technical writer, I’m not sure you’re familiar with what passes for standard creative process in our industry and why it might be relevant (not that it’s definitive or can’t be improved upon by any means.)

    These days in agencies, design firms etc, concepts are presented at a high level of finish with colour boards, stock photography, typography etc. Gone are the days of tissue sessions.

    If it’s an ad campaign, any copy for print work is comped up by the AD or designer in a full presentation of ads with headlines, subheads and either lorem ipsum or full body copy. If it’s a brochure, it might be the cover with a spread etc. Creating this is primarily the role of the designer, although the writer certainly has input.

    I work this way — whether it’s with a full agency or teaming up with another independent designer.

    In the client presentation, the creative team shows the work in comp form so the client is seeing a very tight, almost final version of the ad.

    They also get a soft/hard copy of the deck.

    If the client nods to the idea, the copy deck then goes through as many revisions as it takes to get it right. That’s why it’s important to start off neutral — the deck needs to be able to change very quickly.

    Your approach doesn’t seem to allow for this revision stage and you even admit as such. The copy deck is passed back and forth between writer, agency and client – often using something like Word’s ‘Track Changes’ for revisions. It can get pretty messy but at the end of the process, you accept all the revisions and it’s a clean document once again – ready to hand off to the AD for dropping into the layout.

    In my world, there’s little point in showing a client a rough wireframe of an ad when they’re being presented with a comp that’s close to final.

    And how does your approach work for a 60-page web site copy deck? How does it work for listing a whole range of alt headlines and subheads? How are you tracking the docket numbers, version numbers, project title etc. on the header of the doc? What if you’re writing a billboard — do you just write a big headline? How do you sell the client on the visual side of the ad if you’re showing them a wall of copy? How easily can that same client make changes in that format? Wouldn’t it be instantly compromised?

    Yikes. That’s way too problematic for me. I’ll stick to making simple, elegant, streamlined copy decks where the writing, the words, are the focus. It takes a lot of craft to make it look simple.

    By all means, do your thing however you please. But when you publicly hold it up as some kind of writerly advance, you certainly deserve to be challenged as I’ve done here.

    Good luck though with wherever it takes you. There is no one right way.

    1. Glenn Murray wrote on

      G’day Tony. Thanks for replying. Much appreciated.

      To make sure I hit each of your points, I’ll answer each separately (CAPS for headings, not for shouting)…

      AM I A SOLO ACT?

      Not really. My business partner in Divine Write is a designer: https://www.divinewrite.com.au/about/web-designer/. Also, I work with plenty of agencies (mostly web).

      AM I A TECHNICAL WRITER?

      I’ve been copywriting since 2002. I was a technical writer for 9 years before that. I still do the odd bit of techwriting, though.

      AM I UNFAMILIAR WITH THE STANDARD PROCESS?

      Not at all. I’ve worked for plenty of agencies.

      Perhaps we’re not comparing apples with apples here, though. Most of my work is web, and you’ll note that I’ve been talking specifically about web copy all along.

      I’ve never known a web firm to design concepts BEFORE creating wireframes. Usually one of 3 things happens:

      1) The designer designs the site, without a wireframe, using placeholder copy, and gets the client to approve the design. The client then writes the copy in-house, or engages a copywriter directly to do it for them. This usually happens with smaller design studios, but I’ve known big web firms to do it too. Often they recommend a copywriter.

      2) The designer, account manager or information architect creates a wireframe. The client then signs off on the wireframe, and the web agency starts designing. As per 1) above, they leave the copy to the client to organise and supply.

      3) The web agency creates a wireframe as per 2) above, then assigns a designer to the project and engages a freelance copywriter. The copywriter and designer work in parallel, but not always (rarely) in tandem.

      Unfortunately, the common thread here is that the copywriter is engaged to ‘fill in the blanks’. To write the body copy only. All the other information elements are finalised and approved by the time we come to the party. Calls to action (buttons, subscribe forms, etc.), menus, page structure… We can offer our opinion on it, but when the designer charges for every change or the design is already complete, our opinions rarely carry far.

      This process is far from ideal. The whole site should tell a single story, which means all the elements should work together. When the copywriter plays no part in the wireframing/design process, this usually doesn’t happen. (More on that story-telling in my interview with Balsamiq: http://blogs.balsamiq.com/champions/2013/10/08/glenn-murray/.)

      One final note: I still often work in wireframe format, even if I’m writing an ad (which I don’t do that often) or a brochure (which I do quite a bit). If I’m working direct with the client, and they plan to engage a designer afterwards, it helps the client picture how it will all come together. If I’m working with an agency, it helps ensure all the elements on the page tell the same story. They can then do what they want with the wireframe. If they want to prepare something flashier to show to the client, all the better! (When working with an agency, I ask if they’re happy with the wireframe approach first.)

      DO MY WIREFRAMES MAKE THE REVIEW PROCESS HARDER?

      From a technical standpoint, yes, they can. Balsamiq, at least, doesn’t have a Track Changes feature, like Word, and that can be inconvenient. But as previously mentioned, I usually present the wireframe as the Proof of Style, and instruct the client to provide feedback on the tone and style. So usually, it’s quite a short review process. Sometimes I send more pages through in wireframe format, but once the client has the idea about how I picture everything coming together, I switch to Word for the review process proper.

      HOW DOES MY APPROACH WORK FOR A 60-PAGE WEB SITE?

      As above.

      HOW DOES IT WORK FOR LISTING ALTERNATIVE HEADLINES & SUBHEADS?

      Balsamiq has some nice markup objects. You can add a sticky note or a callout box with an arrow, and discuss the alternatives there.

      HOW DOES IT WORK FOR VERSION NUMBERS, ETC?

      I use the filename to track this stuff. You could easily do it on the wireframe itself though.

      HOW DO YOU SELL THE CLIENT ON THE VISUAL SIDE OF THE AD?

      If the visual side of the ad is critical to the concept, then I’m up against it. If I’m working direct with the client, I’d just have to talk them through it. If I’m working with an agency, I’d hope they’d know to show the end-client something closer to the final product. But in either case, a wireframe illustrates the visual side far better than Word. So if I were using Word, I’d be even MORE up against it!

      HOW EASILY CAN THE CLIENT MAKE CHANGES?

      As above.

      DOES IT STILL TAKE A LOT OF CRAFT TO MAKE IT LOOK SIMPLE?

      Absolutely.

      DO I LIKE TO BE CHALLENGED?

      Yes, this is what keeps it interesting! :-)

      Thanks again for your comment and your time, Tony. I hope I’ve answered all your questions, and shed some light on the situation for you.

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