Making it Simple: Copywriting and Iteration

Shortly after becoming a Fellow at 23 Design, I took charge of redesigning our website. One of the things I do at the studio is writing copy for English-language clients. Our website is in English. Straightforward.

Here’s what we had on the ‘people’ section of the website:

Here’s what I wrote to replace it:

A Fellowship of Designers
Instead of employees, job descriptions or long titles, we have Fellows. Diverse in-house critical thinkers who form teams around projects according to their skillset.

I’m a genius.

Peep that second line. ‘In house’ usually means technical skills but I’m using it about thinking. Innovation coming at you from all sides.

Here was the feedback: This doesn’t differentiate us? Is this section even necessary? Who is our user?

Here’s how I ignored the feedback:

A Fellowship of Designers
We care more about skills than job titles because no two problems are alike. By necessity, each of our Fellows is a critical thinker with a different background. And together the team is crafted to adapt and solve anything you can throw at us.

Here was the feedback: Can we make it simpler?

Me:

You know you’re having a terrible day when you identify with a Drake gif. By simpler, they surely meant more complex, right?

Here’s what I wrote. Angrily:

Understanding Expertise
As venture capitalists, economists, art curators, designers, filmmakers and business strategists we solved problems and founded companies. As Fellows at 23, we bring these experiences to every decision we make. From MBA to MFA, all Fellows have equal voice during the design process and we believe this helps us make better things.
We value asking the right questions until we understand your industry like seasoned experts — its opportunities and its traps. We build long-term relationships with clients who know this means we don’t pull our punches, even when that means saying ‘no.’

PEEP THE PUN THO! Like we have expertise at understanding and we understand what expertise is. Crafted. Curated. Confected. No one here actually has an MFA, but the comparison looks so much better than MA.

Here was the feedback: It doesn’t sound like our voice — we wouldn’t use ‘seasoned’ or ‘pull punches’

Here’s what I wrote. I even doubled-down on the pun:

Understanding Expertise
We’ve solved problems as venture capitalists, founders, economists, art curators, designers, product managers, engineers, filmmakers and business strategists. As Fellows at 23, these eclectic backgrounds help us ask the right questions and design the right products.
We are experts and understanding like experts.

Here was the feedback: Make it simpler.

Me:

But it’s fine. Everything is fine. I know how to sell. Don Draper of the copy game. Yeah, fuck yeah. I got this:

Experts at Understanding
This is 23. We used to be founders, venture capitalists, economists, art curators, marketing specialists, content creators, engineers, filmmakers and business strategists. Today, we are experts at being curious who believe diverse means better. We are a team of problem solvers with the courage to defend our work, without being defensive.

Look at that gleaming monument to simplicity. White marble on white onyx. Literally makes your eyes burn with its clarity. Hits you like a single snare drum in an empty theatre.

Here was the feedback: Make it simpler. And more exciting. And more punchy.

Fine:

We are former founders, venture capitalists, economists, art curators, marketing specialists, content creators, engineers, filmmakers and business strategists. Today, the diversity of our Fellows means multiplied understanding. It means expertise in curiosity. It means not rushing to conclusions. It means defending ideas without being defensive. It means building things that click with humans. It means an unstoppable pursuit of knowledge.
This is 23.

Mic. Drop. DEFENDING IDEAS WITHOUT BEING DEFENSIVE. Coach Carter levels of inspiration. I could feel the ghost of John Cage at my shoulder — giving me a standing flotation. PUNS FOR DAYS.

Here was the feedback: Make it simpler. And less bullshitty.

Me:

It was around this point that I came to terms with mortality. Good people die, good copy dies. And there is nothing you can do about it. Getting attached is a bad idea.

I felt invincible. Over and over again with every iteration. But, swashbuckling wordplay only gets you so far. Good copy can’t inflate your ego and serve the client at the same time. Sorry.

You can see how the paragraph ended up at here, but this isn’t a story about that. It’s about the process. And about what I learned: if it isn’t right, change it, delete it, kill it. It will only get better.