What comes first, the design or the content?
That’s a question that many in the Web design and content development professions deal with every day.
Both sides of the debate are ultimately trying to meet the same goal: A well-designed website that looks good and fits well with the content.
But often the two sides have different ideas of how to get to that point. Each views their role as sacred, or the linchpin of any Web project. You can’t have a website without content; but you also can’t have a website without a designer.
Designers Want Content First
While both sides of the argument wish to believe that their craft is more important to the process and should come first, reality is not so clear-cut.
Russel Quadros, a designer with Jacksonville, Florida-based digital design agency nGen Works, said content writers often need designers to give them limits before they can create content. “To me, it’s easier to design when there’s actual content because it allows a designer to plan the most intuitive way to present and navigate the information,” he said.
Russel also explained that content providers can’t write without knowing their design constraints, so it can sometimes create conflict between the designer and the content writer.
Content Strategy Is Very Important
The “unknowns” of content development can delay site design. The Web designer and the content strategist need to have a good working relationship. The success of interactive content depends on both teams being in tune with the other.
Rohn Jay Miller, Partner at social content development agency Content & Social, wrote a post for the Social Media Today blog explaining that with interactive content, context is everything.
Eyes On The Prize
In website development and content production for a project, there are often many stakeholders.
Rick Allen, principal of ePublish Media LLC, a content strategy consultancy based in Boston, MA., wrote a post on the Content Marketing Institute blog about the importance of working with stakeholders.
In the post he emphasized that bringing stakeholders to the table is very important. Their advice is critical to defining their communication goals so they understand how the content they create supports their work along with larger business goals.
If fractures in the foundation grow, the entire project is at risk of delay. The delay could also cause the client to reject the product.
Laura Creekmore, president of content strategy consultancy Creek Content, wrote in a post on the User Experience blog FollowTheUXLeader.com, that the team working on the design and content may sometimes get confused about the goal and, sometimes, what qualifies as “content”.
She explained that often when there is disagreement about what content is, it’s because none of the stakeholders are “on board” with the overall business goal. Some may lose sight of the goal because they are so entrenched in their own problems with the project.
Design as a Communication Tool
Content is important because it communicates a brand’s values, beliefs and the benefits of its products. But to deliver on that promise, the content requires thoughtful Web design and architecture to fit around it.
When asked about the relationship between content and Web design, Shane Santiago, President & CEO of digital design and advertising agency SBS Studios said, “Aside from reinforcing over arching brand tenants, design’s main purpose is to communicate a message. Sure, being aesthetically pleasing is fine, but if the design makes the content confusing, or doesn’t match the contents tone, then it didn’t do an effective job did it?”
I thought that I would get a different view from a designer not working in an agency environment, so I put the same question to Judson Collier, a freelance web designer. Much to my surprise, he echoed Shane’s sentiments, “Design is just the means to communicate the message well — I can design a website and throw in irrelevant content later on, but it won’t communicate anything.”
The website may provide the platform for the message but it’s the content that communicates it. So is content more important than design? I couldn’t find anyone to answer definitively, so we may need to compromise.
How To Make It Work
When asked about if a ‘quick fix’ exists, nGen Works designer Russel Quadros explained that diagrams and wireframes can help the process.
He said, “Essentially, it’s page diagrams and/or wireframes that prioritize and explain what each page would have on it. They show blocks of content with descriptions of what it might be about as well as its preferred length. This allows the designer and content provider to work towards a mutual goal.”
Both sides play an important role developing a Web project. One can’t function without the other, which makes for a crowded kitchen when the clock is running to get a project completed on time.
But if it’s possible to do so, plan out the content first. Once the content has been laid out, approach the design team and get down to work.
What do you think should go first- the content, design, or a little bit of both? Let us know in the comments!