The Value of Content Before Website Design
The website design should be crafted around the user, their needs, and the desired outcome of a website visit. It should be focused on the user’s challenges and the website’s ability to solve these issues.
“Strong website design extends past colors, fonts, and layout boxes.
The strong design focuses on the user.”
Design Trends Come and Go, But a Focus on the User Should Not
I’ll receive emails from people discussing their website design requirements and many times these lists will be focusing on specific project criteria like infinite scroll, hamburger menus, hero images, video backgrounds, and motion. Rarely do people approach a design firm and present data based on their visitors, the user’s needs, and the ultimate goals of a website visit. Website owners get caught up in design trends, their competitors’ websites, and what they believe are modern and current design elements. In doing so, they lose track of the actual website visitor. The reason this occurs is this process follows the path of purchase, design, development, and finally content. That path is in the wrong order. The process is going backward and it leads to frustration.
Content First Leads to Educated Design Decisions
Documenting your desired user flow, visitor paths, and call to action is something that is typically done after the graphic design is completed. Unfortunately, that’s the wrong approach because it forces you into matching content to the website theme or design. It should be just the opposite. Before you find yourself falling in love with a competitor website, coveting a stock WordPress template, or reaching out to a graphic designer, you need to think through the goals and objectives of your website or blog. You need to document your user personas, their individual challenges, your solution offering, and the paths you’d like these visitors to take within the website. While graphic design is very important, it must take place at the right time within the project to truly allow you to showcases the website, content, and offering in the best light possible.
Messaging and content are the building blocks and foundation of the website. This means they should be carefully thought through and documented well before any colors, fonts, and layouts are considered. The design elements should complement, highlight, and showcase the key messaging and most important content.
Focus on the Right Content
While I am saying you should have content written before beginning design, I’m not saying that you have to have all your content written. That would be a difficult task to accomplish for most website owners and businesses. I encourage clients to focus on core website sections and pages. During the sales process, I usually go through their website and look for areas I think would benefit from custom design templates. These will vary based on the client, industry, and target demographic.
Sometimes I’ll suggest just a few custom design templates and other times I’ll suggest fifteen to twenty. It really depends on the complexity of the content and the variations in the content flow and calls to action. As we progress into a project with a client, we like to have as much information as possible on core elements and how these might be altered based on different areas of the website.
Not all situations will allow content before the website design approach. You have to find balance and you have to pick and choose your battles. If this approach is going to be difficult, I suggest starting with universal elements such as navigation, SEO, and call to action. Then begin to narrow down the focus by reviewing user personas and their visitor’s paths.
Focus on known elements and weave these into the design by starting with the home page and then allow the design to build from its central hub. While moving through this process, stay focused on the visitor, what they need, and what action you ultimately want them to take. The process can seem overwhelming, but like anything in life, you need to break it into chunks and evaluate the large list bit by bit.