Is Design More Valuable than Content?

Upside-down house

You are building your website upside down.

I bet first you produce the design, and only after you have all the mock-ups ready, you start thinking about content. It’s like building a house from the roof down to the basement. You wouldn’t do that for a house project, would you. It’s common sense. But many websites are (still) built like that.

When you ask a designer to design without the content that will be used for the final site you may as well be asking an architect to design a house without specifying the number of bedrooms, ensuites, kitchens and bathrooms.” – Justin Avery, Responsive Design

Many troubles arise when you leave the content as the last step in website creation. Troubles like the need to reframe the design according to final content, delays in website launch, mismatch between design and content style… The foundation of a website is the content. Not the other way round. The content of a website is not the “filler” as many businesses refer to it. You’ve heard it – or even said it – many times: Let’s fill with content the blank spaces left by the designer. Upside-down thinking. Building the house from the roof.

The first step in creating your business website should be the content strategy. What you want to communicate and in what form. And why you choose that message over another. Only after you define what you want your clients to get from your website, you should start looking at design. Weave in the two parts, content and design, like in a back and forth dance. Because design is communication. And if you don’t know what you want to communicate (that is: the content), how can you design it?

And actually many designers recommend to put priority on the content before designing your website. Take their word for it.

I’ve been contacted by various businesses that have the website design ready, and want to launch as soon as possible – when the “filling of the content” part gets done. A quick, (cheap!) last step that stands in their way before they can launch their perfect website. They have no idea that they have it backwards. That no content expert can do miracles with building the main floor once the roof is hanging on top.

Do yourself a favor and call the content expert first.

Treating content as a commodity, as a filler for the design, will get you nowhere, and your prospects out the door. Of course I’m biased, I’m a copywriter. But think about the last time when you purchased something based solely on the design of a website, with no textual or visual information to help you in your purchase decision.

People have been saying this since 2008:

“Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.” – Jeffrey Zeldman

Design performs best when it stays in the background and lets the content take the lead. To inspire, educate, inform and convince. Your prospects don’t come to your website to see pretty pictures and colorful icons. They visit in search for the information they need to make a purchase. To solve their problem. To fulfill their wish. Be it a plane ticket to Rome or a night at a hostel in Bangkok, the prospects come for the information.

So, when you’re ready to start creating your new website, start with content. It will save you time and money, and it will convert your prospects into clients more effectively.

Over to you: Have you built a website “from the roof down”? What problems did you face in taking this approach?

Photo credit: Flickr via Creative Commons.

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