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What is a 'design prompt', and why do you need one?

As far as I know, when most copywriters deliver words to their clients, they usually send a Word doc full of text – and that's about it.

That's certainly the impression I get from my own clients when they bring me in to tidy up work that other freelance copywriters have done.

In some cases, your copywriter might also give you a rough wireframe and maybe a bit of a suggestion of what should go where.

But in terms of how the page might actually look, you're pretty much on your own.

That's because many copywriters are completely removed from the design process and don't have a clue about how it works.

And yet, in many case, copywriters are in a better position than anyone to contemplate the reader journey and explain how this could work on a page.

If your copywriter truly believes in the power of their words to guide people from one bit of copy to the next – or to a different part of your website, as needed – then why not tell you what they are thinking?

But most don't. They're just not wired that way.

Here's the good news if you work with me, though: when you hire me as your freelance copywriter, I'll send you something that turns a block of written text into something much more powerful.

I'll send you one of my patented (not actually patented) 'design prompts'.

Children scribbling in a book
Not (quite) one of my 'design prompts', yesterday

A design what?

Look, I'm not going to put up any images here that show what my design prompts look like. There are two reasons for that:

1/ Real designers would have a field day picking apart the rather unsophisticated way in which I put these together on Canva. (They would, however, be missing the point – more of which in a second).

2/ I'm not keen on giving away one of my best USPs to other copywriters.

Over the past 25 years, I've briefed designers hundreds of times on what to do in order to make a page or a website 'work'. Sketching things out is in my blood.

Don't get me wrong – many designers are awesome. But if they've not been sweating over the copy for days like I have, how can they have any real idea of my intent?

For a business owner working with a freelance copywriter and a freelance designer separately, this disconnect between the two parties poses a real problem. In most cases, your copywriter will not expect to brief your designer – and may not feel comfortable doing so.

So it's left to you to act as a go-between, basically becoming an editor overnight to match up the talents on one side of the table (the writer) with those of the person on the other side of the table (the designer).

In many cases, this is a recipe for disaster.

Why my solution works for everyone

When I deliver my copy with a detailed set of design prompts, it helps both the business owner and the designer.

Sure, my Canva PDFs are not going to win any design awards – the word 'prompts' being the clue here – but they mean that business owners have something tangible to take to their designer so they can embark on the next steps.

The goal is not for the designer to follow what I've done to the letter – far from it! It's to work their arty magic on the idea.

All I am doing is providing a framework to get things rolling.

A good design prompt (God, I need a new term for this, clearly) can:

  • Show the hierarchy of different elements on the page.

  • Suggest ways in which blocks of copy can be illustrated for maximum effect.

  • Present a logical order to proceedings so that the UX is as seamless as possible.

  • Stop designers getting carried away with 'nice' but utterly wrong designs that do you no favours whatsoever.

  • Stop your copywriter from getting carried away writing copy that is just too long (some copywriters will give you far too much copy, convinced that if it is rammed with keywords, they have done a great job).

  • Demonstrate the best places to put your CTAs.

And more! No, really – a sketch from your copywriter can you a much fuller and clearer idea of how your copy could work.

And that will put you in a much better place to get your project off to a flying start.

Want to see some examples? Drop me a line.

Unless you're another freelance copywriter, that is. If you are, just keep on doing what you're doing. Nothing to see here...


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