Verbal Design: Attracting Audiences with Words + Visuals

The Writer's Creative Director Claire Falloon shares what it takes to create truly standout verbal design that works with and inspires seamless visuals

Anastasia Dyakovskaya


Claire Falloon is an award-winning brand strategist and advertising creative who started her career as a copywriter in Sydney, Australia before moving to New York City for a job with Interbrand. After seven years with the global branding giant, leading projects for clients like AT&T, Citibank, Microsoft, and Audi as Director of Verbal Identity, last spring she decided to try something new.

As Creative Director at The Writer, the world’s largest brand language agency, Claire’s expert eye and ear for words guide major companies across industries in their efforts to strengthen everything from tone of voice and brand identity to writing, naming, and training across content efforts.

“Coming from a writing perspective, one of the most interesting shifts that I’ve seen is in verbal design itself,” she says. “We’ve gone from a place where ‘design’ has traditionally revolved around all things visual, to a place where verbal design is a thing, and where clients and brands are much more aware of the importance of designing words, specifically.”

That starts with taking a long, hard look at your target audience and brand strategy before creating a tone and set of stylistic decisions that reflect your brand personality and apply across all your content to come. Read on for Claire’s valuable pointers on how to enhance your writing and formatting to attract and engage more readers, and why she thinks encouraging collaboration between writers and designers is a good idea.

Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash

— What are some best practices that you employ at The Writer to ensure audience engagement?

When it comes to getting people to engage with and read your content, there are a few simple things — the 101s of communication, from our perspective — which cover using your structure in a conscious and meaningful way. Some basics:

  • Lead with the most important point, getting that right up front in a headline that hooks people in
  • Think about your audience in terms of what interests them, what their questions will be, and their journey through a piece of content, and
  • Use subheads to tap into those points and guide people through your content in a way that they will find enjoyable and keep wanting to read on.

— “Wanting to read on” – that elusive impulse! How do you see long-form content fitting into the future of online publishing with today’s dwindling attention spans?

The absolute key to getting people to read long-form is making it relevant. Make the piece about something that the person on the other end is genuinely interested in. Turn the focus of the piece towards them — rather than on who you are and what you want to say — and your content will immediately be more attractive.

People have an enormous appetite for content. We love it. Brands are producing an absolute ton and people are eating it up — but they’re not going to if it’s not interesting to them, and if it’s not instantly catching their eye to start off with.

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Visuals tell stories, whether overtly with imagery, or implied through graphic elements. Verbal design gives visual designers something to really base that on.

Photo by NESA by Makers on Unsplash

— What’s a way to make words themselves stand out?

Something that people often don’t think about is the concept of rhythm. Visually, a piece can have rhythm. But when you’re writing a piece, creating a good rhythm is another way that you really make it a beautiful experience to read. It helps people get through it. Just varying your sentence length, using punchy subheads, a short statement, then a longer one; all of those things — being very conscious about those decisions — create a flow. They also really help people just enjoy their time reading a longer piece.

 — Where does visual design come in within verbal design efforts?

When design is happening at its absolute best, the words and visuals are very consciously put together, both aiming to create the same feel and experience, so that everything’s telling the same story. That doesn’t always happen, but that’s the dream. When brands are put together thoughtfully in this way, you’ll see their story woven into things like their logo and other design elements with colors or shapes. In that sense, the visuals can very much tell the story of the brand and accompany what the words are doing.

When we get to work directly with designers, we’re able to communicate the tone and intention so the team can create a very specific feel.

Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

 — What are the biggest advantages of giving writers and content creators the chance to work directly with designers?

Visuals tell stories, whether overtly with illustration or imagery, or more implied through the use of colors, particular shapes or other graphic elements. Giving visual designers something to really base that on is one thing that verbal design can help with. We can also design our words to work in harmony with the visuals.

It’s great when we have the opportunity to work directly with design agencies or in-house designers early in the process, because we can nail down the tone and intention of what we’re trying to create together, and then design the verbal and visual elements to play different but complementary roles in achieving the goal.

 — How does that kind of writer-designer collaboration actually play out?

It depends on when we’re brought into the process, but when we get the opportunity to work with designers, we’re able to communicate the tone of voice and intention so that the team can create a very specific feel. Designers don’t tend to start off from that point of view, but they always welcome it when you can come in and say: Here is the story of the brand, here are the messages that we want to put out into the world, here is the style and the feel and the tone that we’re trying to create, and here are some ways that we can imagine that it could come to life visually.

Consciously using every available element you have to tell the same story makes your brand come together so much more powerfully.

 — How have you seen this positively impact designers, along with other stakeholders or team members?

A visual designer can take that framework and really have a lot of fun with it. After a recent voice training session with one of our clients, an experience designer came up to me to say how helpful it was in sparking ideas. And really, it’s by consciously using every element you have available to you — from visuals, to words, to the materials you use in your retail fit-out — to produce the same feel, and tell the same story, that your brand will come together so much more powerfully.

 — Do you expect to see more of this kind of collaborative creative process moving forward?

These opportunities to collaborate as writers and designers are definitely the moments when you really see the work and brand start to sing. We are definitely seeing more clients just understanding that — that investing in these two elements is super important, and that doing the work to actually make it all come to life can produce really cool results.

What are your favorite examples of words and design working well together? Let us know @SetkaEditor on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

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Get “10 Insights on the State of Visual Storytelling in 2019” to read more from Claire and other industry leaders at Viacom, NewsCred, SAP, InVision and beyond.