Why your design process should starts with content

Why your design process should starts with content

Content strategy has an important role to play in websites, products, and apps. But most teams are not incorporating a content-first methodology.

Find out why you should start your designs with content, or at least a little content planning.

More often than not, a content person is pulled in at the last minute to write microcopy for buttons that maybe should have been text or skipped altogether. Or clients are scrambling to pull together copy for a new website a few weeks before launch is scheduled. Everyone is unhappy and possibly annoyed with each other.


What is content-first design?

Content-first represents one of the major philosophical viewpoints on the design process. First advocated (in the world of web design) by A List Apart founder Jeff Zeldman back in 2008, it states that, in order to build the right design for any given project, you have to know what the content is before you start designing.

Makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, an editorial designer doesn’t start laying out a book before the book’s been written. And an architect doesn’t start drawing blueprints until they know what the building’s supposed to be for. For both of these professions, form has to follow function, and for most websites, function is achieved via content.

Benefits of content-first design

Taking a content-first approach offers several benefits that range from enabling a better overall design vision to catching problems in the design before they become problems.

Content-first design makes it easier to:

Build out a sensible information architecture: When you know what content you have and/or need, it’s easier to define your overall sitemap and build out a logical hierarchy.

Design to optimize the content: If you know your client’s bloggers use quotes a lot, you can design beautiful ways to showcase block quotes and callouts. If they’re fans of listicles, maybe a card or gallery-based design would work better than a long list of numbered headings?

Create consistency across the site (and lighten your code): If you know your site will have a blog, help center, and marketing pages, you can design your type hierarchy to work across all three areas. That’ll help create a more consistent (and thus, easy to learn) interface and keep you from having to create a bunch of messy combo classes.

Avoid endless rounds of iteration: All too often, when design kicks off without content, the development process devolves into an endless back-and-forth between designer and stakeholders. Which usually means lots of tiny, frustrating text changes that the designer has to update mocks with, then save.

Content Modeling

Content models express the relationships and properties of content types. They often involve a spreadsheet, which makes many people look away in horror. But there’s a better way: designers, content strategists, or project managers can get the content model out of the spreadsheet and into visual representation of the site or app. Better yet, the team can start with a subject domain model to determine where content fits in the universe of the user’s journey. This is a more objective way to assess content during the audit as previously discussed, and leads nicely into a content model as the team chooses which concepts and relationships to expose and create.

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