Should Designers Fix Client-Provided Content?

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December 13, 2010
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Should Designers Fix Client-Provided Content?

The project:
Design the packaging for a "classic" 12" 33 1/3 record album

The students:
Junior/Senior-level university typography class

The client:
A local musician

The problem:
Client-provided text content with misspellings and grammar mistakes

The other problem:
Students who think all client-provided content should be perfect upon arrival

Album cover design by Genny Salvatore
(Album and artist name temporarily redacted due to pre-launch agreement. Design by Genny Salvatore.)

To what extent do designers correct client-provided copy? From the students' limited perspective, the content should be ready to basically copy/paste from Word into the design. I was [mostly] amused at the shock they expressed at the realization that content text from clients can and will have mistakes and that it is the designer's responsibility to double-check the spelling and grammar before the piece is launched.

But, to what extent is a designer responsible for fixing the content? Certainly, some provided text will be ill-thought-out and unedited.

I decided to ask a few other professional designers their thoughts. The answer: As with most things in life, the answer lies in communication and balance, along with a desire on the part of the designer to produce quality. In addition, what always seems to be either discounted or forgotten is that the content text takes on a whole new level of meaning when it's placed into context, meaning into the design.

Decide roles and responsibilities with the client at the beginning of the project.

Bryan Gott, the VP, Director of MARS Environment Design Group at MARS Advertising, said "I suggest that it is clearly agreed upon up front what roles the client, the client's other agents and the designer will be responsible for" including copy writing and editing. According to Tim Walker, designer and principal at DOXA, "You do, indeed, have to clearly define roles and responsibilities at the beginning of the project, and we ultimately see our clients as responsible for signing off on content. But, we should always be looking out for our clients' best interests and doing our best to catch things they might not see."

According to Gott, "In some cases, such as advertising, grammar is suspended for style or impact reasons, but ultimately it must be consciously addressed and agreed upon." Additionally, changing content without the client's consent can cause troubles, so tread lightly.

Designers have the benefit of being the first to see the content in context within the design. "It's much easier to spot things like inconsistencies in style, for instance, when you're putting copy in a design context than it is to anticipate that while you're still working in Word," said Walker.

"In the end, the quality of the copy affects the integrity of the design and it's ability to clearly and effectively communicate as much as any other design or typographic elements. Why bother kerning or even choosing the correct font if there are basic spelling or grammar issues?" said Gott.

"I think our profession can get a little tunnel visioned sometimes and forget that we're not actually designing pages and screens, we're designing persuasion, motivation, aspiration, etc. If it looks good but reads poorly, it's for naught," said Walker.

Tom Hapgood

Tom Hapgood

Tom Hapgood is a designer in Northwest Arkansas, USA, who teaches in the Visual Design area of the University of Arkansas. He teaches motion design, typography, web design and animation. Before moving to Arkansas he lived in Boston, Arizona, Germany and Italy.

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