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Write-On Design : Copywriting for a Small Space

Space is usually at a premium when creating designs. Everything has to fit just right, and that includes the copy. If you have something to say, and not much room to say it in, here are some ideas on how to do it best.

Speech-bubble illustration by Cienpies Design

Get an idea of your space

It's discouraging to compose a thoughtful piece of copy for your design, only to realize it won't actually fit. Going back in and editing may save it, but it's not as rewarding as having it work the first time. So before you start typing away, try to get a solid understanding of the space you're writing for.

Choose your font and size and set the margins. Get an idea of the general layout, then just type some gibberish into the space. This will give you a chance to see how the copy will look, and to note how many lines and characters will fit.

Facts first

Before you start writing in earnest, nail down your message. If you're creating a caption, you'll deal more with hard facts, while a blurb or basic message for your own design can be more playful or artistic. Either way, it's always helpful to get your info together before you get creative.

Holi Celebrations by Intellistudies

Start writing!

Let's say you need to create a photo caption for an image promoting the Hindu celebration of Holi. After estimating the space, you decide you have approximately 20 words to work with. Once you have all your basic facts together, you can start writing with that limit in mind. For example:

A boy participates in a color fight during the Hindu festival of Holi in India, which took place on March 27 this year.

That caption is fine, but it can be improved. First, the sentence is a little long. Phrases like, "which took place on March 27 this year," are too wordy. We can trim that and save space. Second, the writing should be more engaging. We can see that the boy "participates in a color fight" — after all, he's a walking rainbow. Let's switch up the format, and capture more of the fun and excitement:

Spattered in festival colors, an Indian boy celebrates Holi, a Hindu holiday, on March 27.

We've cut down the sentence, added some colorful language (pun intended), and made sure to include all the major information from our first caption.

Colorful powder for Holi by TheFinalMiracle

Editing, more or less

One of the hardest parts about writing for a small space occurs after the writing process. While we may feel pretty confident our caption is well written, we won't know if it will work for sure until we set it in the design.

If your writing ends up being too long or too short, you can still make minor adjustments within your design while keeping your main message intact. Just don't forget to proofread for mistakes or misspellings — they can happen to the best of us, but it's nothing a good eye can't fix. In fact, it never hurts to get a second set of eyes on your work before it's finalized. After all, if its successful, there will be a lot more eyes on it after that.

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