There are millions of stories being told every day. A person is bombarded with words and images throughout their waking hours — status updates and shared articles on Facebook, a flyer or catalog received in the mail, ads that appear on every webpage, billboards seen on the daily commute, commercials during a favorite show. When we tell a story we need to find a way to get what we say to cut through the clutter and be noticed.
There are a lot of ways to tell a story. Sometimes a story is told in words, as in a radio program or novel. Sometimes it happens in pictures, as in a painting or photograph. However, most stories take advantage of both words and pictures.
Finding a good balance between words and design elements (photos, illustrations, graphics, charts, symbols, shapes and colors) is an art. It requires a new level of thinking that strips ideas down to their essence and makes them concrete enough to be easily understood. You don’t want the layout to be bogged down with text or the message to be diluted with images. Finding the middle ground is tough.
A powerful image with 3 tiny words has the potential to tell the entire story, like Nike’s classic “Just do it” campaign. In different circumstances, a longer narrative, maybe even comprising several paragraphs, with a compelling headline and a few supporting images does a better job at capturing the idea and delivering the message.
We have to give thought to the balance between copy and design on every project. The words and the images need to be strong on their own and each work to get the audience to respond to the call to action, and they also need to say the same thing, to strengthen each other, not compete for attention.
Different situations call for a different proportion of images to text. How complex is the product being sold? Will the call to action require an emotional or rational response from the audience? How much space do we have to tell the story we want? What medium are we using to tell this story? Who is our audience? How much do they already know about what we’re telling them? All these considerations go into the decision making process when finding the right form for a project.
There is no exact science to determine the mix of copy and design in making an ad. Because an ad isn’t just an ad — a good ad is a story. Developing that intuitive hunch about how to tell the story is the real art form. It takes time. It takes practice. It takes experience. And it takes confidence to go with your instincts.
One last thing to keep in mind when considering the balance between copy and design: less is more. The tried and true formula helps you distill your message to its core meaning. If that takes less words or less pictures or less of both, then so be it. The important thing is to communicate and make your story memorable.