Let me set the scene for you. You walk in and you see chaos everywhere, engineers typing away at their computers, designers huddled up together talking in hushed voices, product managers crying foul, support folk tackling angry customers, and the C-suite stomping about demanding answers for questions unknown. There’s a foul stench emanating from your product, copy oozing everywhere, and in the middle of all this, there's a copywriter, their pens (or keyboards) dripping with product blood.
So your product’s on the floor bloodied, the copywriter (or team) is found in the scene of the crime — murder weapon and all. It’s an open and shut case! Or is it?
There’s definitely more to this scene than meets the eye. It’s not that straight-forward oftentimes — there’s plenty of blame to go around. So it would be prudent to analyze the scene beyond the obvious and try to get to the bottom of this dastardly mystery.
Too many people with access
A murdered product could be literally anybody’s fault, or everybody’s. The management and the think tank that come up with the ideas and vision for the product could have taken the first stab, literally. The design team who visualized a possibly not-so-engaging product could have made a few deep cuts. What about the developers who give life to these visuals? They could’ve dug the dagger in deep with inefficient or sloppy code.
There could also be inanimate suspects. What about the overall processes? Could they have let the product slip through their gaping holes, letting it crash on a bed of knives? What about data? Could there have been too much or too little to hold the product firm preventing it from buckling under all those knife stabs?
Of course, it could have been the copywriter or the copy team after all. Sometimes the truth can be the obvious one that stares you in the face, without blinking. But best not to be quick to blame it all on them, but to take a deeper look at everything else.
Revisit Your Workflow
The inanimate suspects probably need to be eliminated first. Take a good hard look at how things are done. Is there too much going on? Are you and your colleagues stretched thin constantly? Is everything priority zero? Creating good products is all about controlled chaos. Is there too much chaos and too little control? Are you and others operating in your own worlds with nobody seeing the full picture? Try and find honest answers to all these questions and then some, and things will start to make a lot more sense.
Review Your Design Processes
Next, review the processes themselves. How do you go about thinking up stuff, drawing them out, and then actually creating them? Where does each member of the team fit in, and most importantly, where’s the copy team in all of this? Do they have all the context and visibility needed? Are they involved in the design process from the start? This is key because since the copywriter is a prime suspect, there needs to be clarity on motives.
It’s easy to go for a copy-first approach to solving any user problem. We need the users to behave this way here. Oh, that’s easy, let’s just add a warning or a notification here, or a modal with whatever we want to say and we’re good!
This couldn’t be farther from what’s optimal. Keep at it this way and you’ll end up with mountains of text on your product which will effectively kill the interaction with the user, along with their mood for the day — costly collateral damage. Copy exists to complement good design, not supplement it.
Be Willing to Iterate
Rome wasn’t built in a day. We all know this, but fail to apply this to our lives and the things we build, more often than not. It starts with being honest with yourself. Was your first idea the best one? Did that result in a killer unicorn-level product as it originally stood? Probably not.
When the idea for a great product itself is allowed to morph and evolve over time, adding and removing pieces as required, why not the product and consequently the design and copy? How is it fair to expect the copy or the design to be right in the first iteration? If you really do hit perfection, aren’t you out of a job, and hence the opportunity to learn and grow?
There’s also another side to this. As a owner, you can’t build a product in haste, keep adding layers to it as required, be happy with it the way it works for years, and then wake up one fine morning to realize it doesn’t work anymore as well as it used to and decide it’s all because of bad engineering, poor design or abysmal copy. It’s probably your fault for settling for whatever worked until that morning.
Give Everybody a Voice
I started out this post thinking I’d cover only issues pertaining to copy, but then very quickly realized that copywriters aren’t alone in such scenarios. That I need to talk for every single person on the Orient Express and help you see their side of things.
A product isn’t a result of one person’s work or brilliance. It’s a collective effort — the one child of the labor of a hundred souls who’re all invested in it just the same. They all need to have a say in the way their child grows and what it shapes into. And it’s not enough to just give them a voice — make sure they know they’ve been heard so that they’re encouraged to voice their thoughts more. When it comes to brainpower, a little is good, more is definitely better.
Give Them Some Credit
And finally, nobody wants to go out there and murder something beautiful — unless you’re Lord Voldemort or Jack the Ripper, you get the idea. So when crap hits the fan, when there are dead pieces of product strewn across your office floors, rather than hurling blames at everybody like an angry ape, sit them down and talk to them.
Pat them on their shoulder, tell them they did a good job which just didn’t yield the results expected. Tell them they can do better, show them how, walk the path with them, with each other. Dissect the dead product, examine the stab wounds together, without pride or prejudice, and learn everything you can about ways you can fail, so next time you won’t have to.
Show faith in them, root for them, and make it known that you’re in their corner. And believe in yourself and your abilities to help those around you. Believe that whatever emotion you feel, the others feel as well, at comparable magnitudes if not more.
In conclusion, whenever you feel wronged, or feel like it’s not your fault, keep calm, think, reason, dust yourself and other around you off, and get back to work. And when you think that’s not your job, remember: It takes a village to raise a child, and a train full of people to murder one person.
P.S: Gifs for the win coz I’m brown Chandler Bing!