Why the best web designers want your content first

What comes first, content or design?

Content-first approach to web design

Bill Gates said that “content is King.”

Gary Vaynerchuk added that “Marketing is Queen and rules the household.”

So where does design fit in?

Design is the crown.

It’s the visual cue that allows the King and Queen to be instantly recognized. It tells the world who they are and gives observers information that they need to form a first impression.

But as important as the crown is, it doesn’t come first.

What is content-first design?

Content-first website design means knowing the purpose and goals of the site before putting a pixel in place. It recognizes that content is crucial, and that the purpose of design and layout is to communicate the content in the most efficient way.

The content-first approach assumes that the Queen (marketing/strategy) and King (content) are in place so that the crown (design) fits perfectly, is on-brand, and conveys the right message to the masses.

Strategy > Content > DesignUnderstanding your strategy and goals will help you to create the best possible website content. The content, in turn, will determine how the design can optimize conversions and improve the user experience.

But what happens when you flip the approach upside down and try to design first?

The trouble with the design-first approach

Imagine that you have a brilliant idea for an innovative new widget. You just know that this widget is going to change the world.

So, the first thing you do is design some cool and unique packaging that you’re sure will get noticed and increase sales.

Then you build the widget.

But guess what? The widget doesn’t fit in that cool and unique package because you designed it before you fully understood what would go inside.

Now you’re faced with the Widget Dilemma: do you toss out and redesign the package, rebuild the widget, or try to cram the widget into the existing package?

None of these are great choices, and all will end up costing you extra money in the long run.

With website design, it’s natural for a client to want to start by seeing what their website COULD look like. And we understand – choosing colors, typography, and layout can be the most exciting part of the entire process. But without a strategic plan and well thought-out content, the design is nothing more than a potentially ill-fitting package that must be tossed out in the end.

Preparation is essential

Remember that strategy feeds content, and strategy + content determine the best design and layout.

Define your strategy:

  1. What do you want to accomplish with your website?
  2. Who is your target audience?
  3. What action do you want the site visitor to take?

Prepare your content:

  1. Write down the pages that will be on your site. You can create a list or a sitemap diagram.
  2. Organize the information that you want to include on each page before you begin to write. Decide what information is most relevant for each page, and what the call to action will be.
  3. Write the website copy. Keep the tone conversational and easy to understand. Remember that most people will scan a site – they won’t read it – so use headlines and sub-headlines to highlight the most valuable information.

Need a little more help?

We understand that writing website copy can be tough, especially if you’re trying to write about yourself. Getting started is usually the hardest part, but remember that no one knows your business better than you do! And be sure to grab our free Website Copy Tip Sheet for some extra guidance!  
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Kristin Heffley

Kristin Heffley

Chief Executive Caffeinator at Caffeinated Design Studio
Kristin Heffley is founder and Chief Executive Caffeinator at Caffeinated Design Studio, a visual marketing agency based near Seattle, Washington. She loves coffee, her family, and helping clients create knock-their-socks-off brands, among other things. Her favorite caffeinated drink is a sugar-free vanilla Americano.
Kristin Heffley
Kristin Heffley
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