Planning to plug in some content after your new web design is finished? You might want to rethink that approach.
While “design first, content last” remains the standard order of operations for many a web project, it’s a strategy that can drastically reduce the effectiveness of the website in which you’re investing.Why? Because designing a website before thinking about content is like picking out a package before knowing what’s going inside it. Ultimately, you’re stuck with one of the following options:
Many people pick Number 2 as the most sensible, low-cost option. However, in the long run, it’s the absolute worst choice for users – and what’s bad for your users is really bad for your business.
Content must be a priority. To understand how saving content for last negatively impacts users, imagine you and a friend just arrived at dinner party.
Your hosts’ home is clean, tidy, and free from clutter. Fine china adorns each place setting. They even folded the napkins into nice little shapes. And dimmed the lighting.
Everything looks beautiful, but…
Nobody is happy with the food: a main of chicken and rice with chocolate cake for dessert. How could a meal so simple be so disappointing? Because out of five guests at the party, you and your friend are on low-carb diets (no potatoes or cake), two others are vegetarians (no chicken), and one is a vegan (no chicken, no cake).
Your hosts, it seems, planned a dinner party that emphasized atmosphere at the expense of substance. In so doing, they completely neglected the needs of guests.
Unfortunately, a similar scenario unfolds when you try to “squeeze” new content into a set of design parameters. With aesthetics a closed case, the content you ultimately publish will be subject to any limitations the design imposes, which makes it harder to publish the right content for your users
It’s like the dinner party, only worse. The party hosts can just apologize and take everybody out to a restaurant. But you? You’re stuck with chicken, rice, and chocolate cake (i.e. sub-par content) no matter what.
Your users will all go home hungry. And they probably won’t come back.
Now we know why “design first” is bad for users, but how can you make content play a more prominent role in your web project? Here some steps you should take before the creative team starts slinging mockups around:
Remember, you’re a publisher. Magazines don’t choose cover designs before knowing which articles they’re going to print, and you shouldn’t design your site before planning for its content.
As Bob Dylan advises, “know [your] song well before [you] start singing.” It’s a simple idea, but also a good lesson for organizations trying to get a handle on content and create exemplary experiences for users.
Adam Green writes copy, tells stories, and practices content strategy at Green Ink Creative. He’s freelance, although his clients rarely are. Send him love notes, hate mail, or attaboys over on Twitter.