Copywriter thumbnails and how to draw them
Copywriter thumbnails? Draw them?
You’re thinking I’ve lost my mind, right? You’re scratching your head and saying, “Why would a copywriter have to draw a thumbnail?”
(Do people really scratch their head when they’re confused … or is that just something people do in old black and white movies?)
Okay, I’ll admit that I may be misleading you a little with the photo of the big thumb.
But if you’ve been in the copywriting business for a while, you know what I’m talking about. Other than using an opposable thumb to help hold a pencil, your thumbs have nothing to do with thumbnail sketches.
So what is a copywriter thumbnail? Very simply, it’s a sketch drawn by a copywriter to show how his or her copy should be designed.
It looks something like this. (Actually, it looks exactly like this. I don’t why people say that.)
This is an actual thumbnail I drew for a recent direct mail project. The agency that hired me wanted me to take the lead on the message strategy for a pharmacy gift card mailing. This included providing them with both the copy and how I visualized the copy in a layout.
As you can see, it’s not a work of art. It doesn’t have to be.
A thumbnail has two big benefits. First, it helps the designer “see” the copy and have a good starting point for the design. Second, it helps you, the copywriter, visualize what you’re writing. After all, you can’t just write whatever you want at any length or in any order.
A thumbnail shows you want bits of copy you need, how long they are, and where they go.
“But I thought the designer determined the design and did all the drawing. Don’t writers and designers work as a team?”
That’s true, sometimes. But not always. Often, you as the copywriter will be asked to take the lead on what to say and how it should be presented visually. And when that happens, you should know how to do a simple thumbnail.
It’s actually pretty simple:
1. Get a plain sheet of white paper and a pencil. You need a pencil because you’ll probably need to erase here and there.
2. Sketch each item you’re writing. I’ve shown you a sketch for a small direct mail package, but you may be writing a brochure, an online sales page, a print ad, or who knows what. Show the overall shape, folds, panels, everything. If you don’t know what something should look like, dive into your swipe file (all those samples you should be collecting) and find something with a design close to what you’re looking for.
3. Show the location and arrangement of major elements. This includes headlines, copy blocks, bullet lists, photos, illustrations, testimonials, guarantee, and any other element you include. If your little thumbnail is too small, sketch a larger version to fill in the details.
4. Label each component and copy element clearly. Make sure to use the same terminology that you use in your copy document. For example, my direct mail thumbnails show a 4-panel brochure. I refer to the inside as a “4-panel spread” and label each panel 1 through 4 in both the sketch and the copy document. It doesn’t matter what you call things. It’s just important that you are consistent. This saves a lot of confusion.
That’s it. When you submit your copy, submit the thumbnail along with it. Not only do designers like this, your boss or client will like this too. Some people have a hard time visualizing the final product when all they can see is words.
Now I know what you’re thinking. (I have a good supply of Gilligan’s mind-reading seeds.) You’re thinking, “Are you kidding? Seriously. I can’t draw.”
Relax. You don’t have to. Not really. Look at my sample thumbnail again. It’s a bunch of lines and squiggles. You can scratch some lines and squiggles on a piece of paper, right?
And don’t worry about a designer making fun of you. They don’t expect you to render a Mona Lisa and would be shocked if you did. Do the best you can and that will be good enough.
Talk your designer through your idea, but be open to suggestions. Unless you have significant design experience, the final layout won’t match your sketch exactly. I do have significant design experience, and the designers I work with almost always deliver something better than my original idea. That’s their job.
I’m curious. Do you do thumbnails? How often?
No related posts.