baddesignThere are a lot of bad Web designers out there.

Of course, that’s nothing against Web designers – there’s also a lot of atrocious Web copy out there, too. The difference is that everyone thinks they can write well, while most everyone believes they can’t draw. Moreover, the popular perception of good writing centers on clarity, whereas the popular perception of designcenters on creativity. All of which means bad design gets unleashed on the world, and goes un-optimized, more often than bad web copy.

Having dropped that turd in the punchbowl, let me admit that I’m no designer myself, with any knowledge I do have coming from self education.

Yet precisely because I am not a designer, I’ve always aimed my self-education at developing a knowledge of design fundamentals rather than of design tools.  And this has left me continually scratching my head when I consistently see those fundamental design principles violated by Web designers.

Sometimes I wondered if it was just me and my own deeply-ingrained Conversion-centric view of Web design, pounded into me by Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg.  But as it turns out, it ain’t just me…

Why does this matter to a copywriter?

Because your Web copy’s effectiveness will be dramatically affected by page design.

So what do I recommend if you’re a copywriter who is forced to work with a mediocre designer?  Educate yourself, learn to speak design, and force designers/clients to test disputed design decisions.

Here are 14 Starter Resources to Begin Your Design Education:

When you can articulate your objections to bad design more eloquently and professionally than the designer can advocate for his design, you’ll have a huge leg up.  And when that fails, you can always demand a split test between the simpler, cleaner design and whatever creative layout your designer has come up with.

So what about you?  What design resources have you found invaluable?  What do you recommend when working with a less-than-stellar Web designer?  Let me know in the comments!

P.S. The “Bad Design Kills” icon was created by Von Glitschka and used with permission.

P.P.S. Sorry for the lapse in posts.  Had some health issues and am just now feeling on the mend.


  1. Shane Arthur on 04.12.2010

    I’d also recommend Robin Williams “The Non-Designers Design Book.”

  2. Jeff on 04.12.2010

    Thanks, Shane. I’ve heard good things about that book, but have never read it yet, myself. I’ll have to check it out the next time I’m at the local bookstore.

    – Jeff

  3. Jeff on 04.12.2010

    Just saw this post over at The Future Buzz that has some excellent clean vs. cluttered Web design examples. Check it out:
    .-= Jeff´s last blog ..14 Design Resources for Copywriters =-.

  4. Colleen Wainwright on 04.13.2010

    What—no Tufte?!

    Seriously (and MAN, is that dude serious), Tufte is probably overkill, or at least, the advanced class. Yet his arguments for the rational, sane, non-decorative use of design are bulletproof. Probably b/c, you know, he uses design. And a lot of unapologetically brusque—yet clear!—language.

    Good post. Too many good writers out there get hoodwinked. Too many good people in general.
    .-= Colleen Wainwright´s last blog ..Book review: The Book of Awesome =-.

  5. william on 04.14.2010

    Good to have you back! Ive missed the posts!

  6. mark evertz on 04.16.2010

    Great article that helped me get a lay of the land quickly. Thanks a lot. Really appreciate the your suggestions and those from the people who commented.
    Always a big challenge, telling a designer why something isn’t working…when you’re not quite sure how to fix it. This will help.
    .-= mark evertz´s last blog ..Whine and the World Will Rain Down Upon You =-.

  7. Naomi Niles on 11.09.2010

    This makes sense. The only thing I don’t necessarily agree with is that people don’t think they can draw. Well, it’s true they don’t think they can draw, but they do think they know design. 🙂

    I can understand this coming from the perspective of a designer and would apply a lot of it in reverse.

    Many many of my clients have been totally unprepared on the content end or they supply copy that is sub-par. I’ve always preferred to work the site design around the copy, but that’s not very easy to do when the copy is crap or non-existent.

    I don’t consider myself a copywriter. I do most of my own writing for myself, but I’m aware that I will eventually need to hire a professional to get it done right.

    That said, I’m slowly learning more about it so that I can help clients better in that regard. I’m making my way through The Copywriter’s Handbook and also Persuasive Online Copywriting. Bryan and Jeffrey have something for everyone, right? 🙂
    .-= Naomi Niles´s last blog ..Improve Your Conversion Rate by Being Human =-.

  8. Jeff on 11.10.2010

    Hey, Naomi,

    Thanks for the comment. You are right of course, there is a lot of bad content/copy out there which I can imagine would make it a nightmare to design around. The biggest problem I think both good designers and copywriters have is keeping the project focused on messaging and keeping the messaging focused on the customer / business goals.

    We-we copy is to copywriting what confusing, non-usability-friendly design is to professional Website design.

    – Jeff
    .-= Jeff´s last blog ..To sell happiness- UNHAPPINESS has to be the default option =-.