Should Content or Design Come First?




We’ve discovered that one of the most common things to prevent a site going live on schedule is content, and it’s often the small things that trip people up; a testimonial at the side of a page, a feature box, captions for images in a slider.

The flip side of the coin is when a design prohibits certain content being used; a previously planned title will break onto two lines leaving a widow, there isn’t a consistent testimonials box across the whole of the site, or text reaches a long way down the page due to a narrow body container.

Worst of all, content is often seen as an afterthought and it really shouldn’t. Think about it, when was the last time you searched for “camera website with great web design”? I’d bet never. Instead, you searched for something like “Camera DSLR550D review“.

Once you are onto a webpage, the design and content should be working together. They should reassure you that you have come to the right place and offer up the expected product/service/information.

The difficulty in considering design or content separately is how closely they are intertwined. Content might call for a button which says “Go”, but how well would this fit into a call-to-action box that has been designed to be red?

Some people recommend creating all of the content first, before any design is to be done. There are some advantages to this; a website structure can be appropriately created with content categorisation being taken into account, and a visual design can be created that caters for the type of site (i.e. is this a copy heavy site or an image heavy site). This would mean a website can be designed with the exact knowledge of what is going to be present on the site.

There are also advantages to creating content after a site design. For a start, it can be easier to create by having the template in front of you in which the content should fit. There’s nothing worse than a blank page. What happens in 6 months time when new content is to be added and the design specifically catered for the content that was created on day one? A flexible site can cater for many additions but a rigid one does not.

What all the above ignores is the important part of any ongoing relationship – communication. Thinking about things separately is saying that a designer and writer cannot talk to each other.

If you write content, talk to the person doing the design. If you design websites, ask your content writer for any materials they already have.

If you are a client of website design services, here’s my advice to you:

  • Be inquisitive when being taken through the design process. For example, “How will a testimonial be displayed and how many will I need?”
  • Ask your designer for advice (a good one will give it to you even if you don’t ask) and remember, it’s not a case of the content ‘looking good’ but the content being right for the user.
  • If you have any previous promotional materials, hand them over. This will help with getting the tone of your design and your content synced.

This solves the problem. It is not content first, nor is it design first. Instead, it is side-by-side.