Which comes first: Content or Design?


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Coming from a Content-Focused Past

Before I discovered my love for experience design, I spent two years as a copywriter/search engine optimization (SEO) specialist for a web design firm that served everything from start-ups to large manufacturers. The most exciting part of the copywriting process was when I received the live proof of a new website – a beautifully designed, 100% custom-developed WordPress website topped with visually appealing, full-width images. And all of that Lorem Ipsum sprinkled throughout the site? It was up to me to turn that placeholder text into a meaningful marketing message.

The Problem with Lorem Ipsum

My job was to fill the pre-approved design with the appropriate language – but only in designated areas. Though I had flexibility in formatting main body text with headers, breaks, and bullet points, I had to follow the designer’s vision when it was time to produce copy for the calls to action and the eye-catching messaging throughout the site. I had to tailor my writing for SEO, but I was challenged with the task of producing meaningful messages using the space that I was allotted, with font sizes that were pre-determined.

Though I enjoyed a good challenge, this process of fitting content into design was not the best way to approach any project. It created the illusion that content is secondary to design, when in reality, they should work hand in hand. Design alone can’t accomplish a website’s goals, and great content is only effective if users are drawn to read it.

How Words & Visuals Can Influence Behavior

As design trends shift to accommodate shorter attention spans, it’s important to format content into “sound bites” with breaks, headings, or imagery to help users digest information. When the message is clear and easy to understand, users will have a positive experience and be more likely to take action. Good design choices guide users to the next step and help keep them on your site longer.

Words and visuals should work together to create an emotional connection between your company (through your website or other marketing materials) and your users. Good design creates a short story of sorts that draws visitors in and engages them. Emotions compel humans to take action – so while words tell the story, visual imagery can encourage that connection.

How Content & Design Can Affect User Experience

Design is not just about color schemes, white space, fonts, and images – one of the most important pieces of a product’s design is the information architecture. Information architecture is the art and science of organizing and structuring content for optimal usability. In other words, it’s the act of laying out content so that the correct information is placed where the user would expect to see it. It determines the flow of your product, and can make or break its success. A strong information architecture caters to the user’s thought process and aims to be one step ahead of the user.

There’s a lot of tips that can help improve your website’s user experience. Here’s a few of our favorite design trends.

The Short Answer

So, what should come first – content or design? Although they are equal in value from a marketing perspective, it’s both smarter and easier to design a product with the content already in hand.

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