Hey! I'm Lew a Creative Digital Designer at Enjoy Digital with a dedicated attitude to creative mastery in all fields of design.
What should come first, the content or design?
As web designers we use our skills to ensure that our client’s messages are as engaging as possible to their users, regardless of device. However, for us to achieve such user-focused designs that work, it’s best to have content present and understood from the start of a project. The process I’m advocating is a term commonly known as content-first design.
In the same way that a print designer wouldn’t design the layout a brochure without a good idea of the content, the same principal should apply to website design without knowing what the content will be. By understanding the clients’ needs and their content at the start of the design process we can deliver a better user experience and it informs us on the purpose of what the design needs to achieve.
"A content first approach teaches us that visual design should always be based on actual content. Only with real content can we decide how best to present it to users.” - Rik Schennink
What do we mean by content?
Content is what your site should be designed and built around. From beautiful images of your products to the collection of words, it’s what explains your business, your products, what you stand for and your goals. It’s how you communicate to your users and pique their interest in what you're doing. It’s also the key aspect in driving users to your site.
We see content as two types, rich content and structural content:
Rich content is the lifeblood that your users come to your site for. It includes text, images, videos, animations, downloadable assets, even sound. It’s this content that is most important as it’s what we build the design around to engage with your users.
Structural content is borne from the initial stages of a project. It’s what we use to decide how each page will be structured by using information gained from a discovery phase into your brand or existing site. It comes in the form of the site maps and page structures that hold an information hierarchy that gives us designers an idea of the order in which the ‘Rich Content’ will appear on the page an how we might want to lay that out across the page. With this we can create rough wireframes to get start to visualise the websites structure.
Imagine it as a game of Tetris. Each new shape is a piece of rich content and you have to manipulate it to fit within the structure you have already laid down in the game. The aim is to fill a row of blocks, which clears it from the game, like great design; becomes transparent.
Why should design follow content?
Content is the key to a successful website but it also has a huge effect on design. From a design perspective, if we don’t know what’s going on the website, how can we even begin to design it?
What happens when a desktop site design allows for two lines for a page title and the CMS is eventually populated with four or five lines of rich content? You end up with an unbalanced section on that page and an incoherent design.
Having the content available, even in its early draft stages, enables us to make better-informed decisions on how we approach the design. The ability to understand your messaging and what your content needs to achieve allows for a more bespoke approach to how it is communicated to your visitors.
Creating content for your website after the design stage can also be a complicated process. You can find that the content will either be too long or short for the allocated text areas, or the composition of imagery won’t work in the designated area. This can break the design, and redesigning can be costly. However, when content is provided early in the process, it saves time and keeps the project within budget.
Form follows function
You might have big ideas for your website design, but overall content is far more important than bells and whistles. Your content IS the bells and whistles. By sticking to a content-first design process, we can provide our clients better working products that communicate properly with their visitors. We can give meaning to content. Consider what you want to say and how you want to say it.
It’s more than just making a good looking website – it's all about the content.