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Choosing Between Content and Design – Which Comes First?

Choosing Between Content and Design – Which Comes First?

If you do not have quality content, you are not being heard. Your website is simply a vessel without a lasting impression, which does not convert. 

Design is equally crucial since it draws people to your website. Therefore, the question facing both seasoned and newbie web designers is whether to prioritise content or design.

Content-First Approach

Content First Design Process

Content means all the videos, images, data, and words on your site. The content-first approach focuses on the importance of content while defining the layout or design of your site. 

This approach involves addressing the user's needs before finding the appropriate design for your site.

To move from content to design, you should start by defining what you want to accomplish. This should be based on your target audience. 

Next, identify the content that will support your goal and make ground rules for that content. Finally, it would help if you had a plan for how to create the content.

Bill Gates is known for the famous phrase, “content is king.” The meaning of this adage is that content is crucial to the success of your website. Web visitors determine the purpose of your website through the content posted therein. Therefore, without content, your website has no meaning. 

Although a website's visuals and aesthetics impress a person when they visit a site, the content determines whether they will convert and come back again.

Features of the Content-First Approach

The following are some features of the content-first approach.

1 – Focuses on User's Needs

content-first approach makes sure all content on your site makes the pages functional, reaches its target audience, and converts them. This means it puts your site visitors at the centre stage.

To determine if your website addresses your visitors' needs, establish whether your site will tell a consistent, cohesive, and well-developed story if you remove all the design elements. Additionally, you need to identify whether you convey your core message and if your visitors are hooked.

If the answers to these questions are no, you added your site content after the design. As a result, your design has dominated your message. Your goal is to revisit your website content planning strategy to ensure the design of your site displays the content in the correct order and answers the users’ questions.

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2 – Saves Time

Using the content-first approach makes sure design flows from the bottom up when designing your website. It prevents you from having to restructure your site as the content flow emerges. 

Additionally, you can easily do future content modifications without rebuilding the design of your website. When you have a clear content flow before designing your site, any content changes later do not compromise the site's structure, layout, and usability.

3 – Directs Layout

Websites support different media formats. Therefore, web designers should know the type of content they will use before designing their website. With the content-first approach, content provides directions for layout.

Content provides the direction of the tone, voice, and brand to web designers. Designers have difficulty creating a flow toward call-to-action buttons and customising colours and vectors without content. The content and tone used in your content help designers choose a user interface design style.

Pitfalls of the Content-First Approach

The content-first approach has numerous flaws. As a website owner, it is crucial to identify the weakness of this method to determine whether it is the best approach for you. Here are some of the pitfalls of the content-first method.

1 – Incompatible Content

Without seeing the design, you might not be able to determine the amount or type of content required for your website. Content creation is dependent on the amount of content on a given screen of navigation to the type of content required for a specific page. Therefore, creating content without factoring in design may result in problems.

2 – Visual Glitches

Adopting the content-first approach could create a different copy from the design. The content may be too big or too small for the design. Consequently, you will experience visual glitches.

For example, if the layout you designed can only accommodate 250 words on the home page, but your content has 400 words. You will have to edit your content since there is no room for an extra word count.

The Layout-First Approach

What Is A Prototype

The layout is all about the design of your website. The layout-first approach focuses on creating a sitemap and other site features before creating content. While content can turn your visitors into customers, a persuasive design can boost your site's conversion rate.

Visitors are drawn to your site because of the design layout. Most visitors to a website look at the navigational links or layout on a web page. If the layout is hard to use, the visitors will not return to your website.

The ideal design makes it easy for visitors to navigate your site. While researching your target audience will give you information about the language you should use on your site, it can help you choose its navigation path. 

Many visitors tend to trust a site's design more than its content. People believe in what they see more than what they are told.

Features of the Layout-First Approach

Here are some features of the layout-first approach.

1 – The Design Shapes the Content

Just like content shapes up layout, layout also shapes up content. The type and amount of content on your site depend on your site's layout. 

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Therefore, if your site's layout is five layers of headings on the homepage, a copywriter has to develop the required content for the headings instead of blindly writing content.

Setting the layout before creating the content informs copywriters about the amount of content required for your site. It prevents the creation of overlapping content that results in an untidy site.

2 – The Layout Design Provides Information Without Words

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Your website's design is the first impression you give your visitors before they read any content on your site. 

Visitors want a website that is easy to navigate and loads quickly. For example, they want to be able to find what they are searching for with ease.

The ideal design will grab the visitor's attention and communicate a story of trust regarding the products or services. Some visitors are content with the visual elements of your site and will not have to read the words to understand what you are all about.

Pitfalls With the Layout-First Design

Like the content-first approach, there are some weaknesses with the layout-first design. Identifying these flaws will help you determine whether to opt for the content-first approach.

1 – Inconsistency With the Content

Your website's layout should support the meaning of the content. However, it may be impossible to ensure your layout design matches your content if you start with the layout. Your layout will be inconsistent with the content. 

For example, you may find yourself in a situation where you are adding superfluous content to fill rigid design features like sidebars and boxes. Also, you may have to work with too many templates that you haphazardly built into your site.

Even though you know the content's type, volume, and delivery approach, it does not mean you should start designing without the actual content to be used on your site. Nevertheless, you should not have the full content before choosing a website design. 

Determining the actual meaning or objective of the content is enough to help you develop the appropriate website design.

2 – Unplanned Redesigns

When using the layout-first approach, you will be using standard filler texts called the ‘lorem ipsum.' These filler texts can mislead you into thinking that your layout matches the content.

The actual content will likely be disjointed from the web page. For example, the content may not fit into the design headers, or the space allocated for an image may be too small. This means you will have to redesign the site to accommodate the content. Consequently, you will have to invest in excessive redesigns.

Choosing Between Content or Design First Approach

Content And Design Tweet

When creating a website, both content and design first approaches are dependent on two factors: research findings and the type of website. 

When building a new site or redesigning an old one, you should ask your clients to allow you time for research. Research helps you identify the concerns of your client's target audience.

Talking to the target audience, customer interviews, and usability testing helps you spot usability issues, main motivations, and weaknesses. You also have time to look at competitor websites and identify ways to improve their content and design, so your client's website has an edge in the market.

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The type of website you build or redesign will also determine whether you go with the content or design-first approach. For example, a lead generation site is more concerned with how content is placed.

The content is meant to draw the target audience's attention and cause them to do something actionable, like provide their names and contact details. In this case, the content will come before the design since the design is meant to support the words. 

An e-commerce site is more concerned with design. In this case, the layout comes first, while content is created to fit the design.

Combined Effort Approach

Content And Design Strategy

Instead of putting either content or design first, a better approach is to let them work hand in hand. This means content writers and designers brainstorm ideas about solving customer problems and achieving business goals.

Features of Combined Effort Approach

Here are some features of this combined effort approach.

1 – Plan for Content Types Early

With the combined effort approach, content and design teams decide on the types of content you will include in the designs early on. As a result, designers have an idea of how content ideas will engage audiences. 

Since specific designs do not support some media types, knowing beforehand the media you will use in the websites enables the designer to use the appropriate layout.

2 – Saves Time and Resources

The meeting between content writers and designers can be time-consuming, especially if it is not initiated early. When content writers and designers share information early, there is a better chance of a fluid content-design discourse, leading to creative results.

How to Achieve Smooth Writer/Designer Collaboration

Marked 2 App For Writers

Many people do not believe you can do content creation and design in tandem. Many designers prefer one of these approaches to come first. Here are some tips on how to achieve smooth writer/designer collaboration.

1 – Consider What You Are Building as a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

Think of the time spent with both writing and designing teams as a way to understand a concept and start a minimum viable product. Make sure you leave some room for adjustments since the client may have their ideas.

2 – Begin With the Story

The story should inform both your content and design. Both teams should discuss how topics will be spread out to convey the client's message. Furthermore, the teams should identify ways to introduce new concepts to the user. As a result, the designer will know the best way to layout the web pages, affecting the content.

3 – Alone Time

Both content writers and designers should have some alone time to think and brainstorm. This makes it easier to come up with various creative options. As a result, both professionals will be able to agree on compatible content and designs.

4 – Flexibility

For the content creator and designer to work together, they should be open to possibilities. The writer will have their ideas of how the design should be, and the designer will also have content suggestions. Both professionals should be ready for discussion, disagreement, and compromise.

Wrapping It Up

When building a new site or redesigning an old one, you should put your clients' needs first. It would help if you also looked at competitor sites for ideas on content and layout. 

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Whether content or design should come first is similar to a chicken and egg scenario. Many people tend to prioritise content, while others prefer design. However, the correct order will depend on your specific situation and the right team of freelance writers

It is better to have both processes work hand in hand if in doubt. This way, you save time and money and end up with a beautiful and functional website.

Author Bio: Jade Bloom, the marketing director for the Content Panel, is an avid bibliophile who spends much of her time in bookstores, eagerly searching for the next bestseller to consume.

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Stuart Crawford

Stuart Crawford is an award-winning creative director and brand strategist with over 15 years of experience building memorable and influential brands. As Creative Director at Inkbot Design, a leading branding agency, Stuart oversees all creative projects and ensures each client receives a customised brand strategy and visual identity.

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