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Why Content Needs to Come Before Design

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Adam Davies

In the ever-evolving world of web and graphic design, the content-first design approach has gained prominence as a game-changer, and it’s how I approach every design project. This methodology focuses on prioritizing content as the foundation of the design process, ensuring that the user experience is not only visually appealing but also informative and engaging. In this post, we’ll delve into what content-first design is, why it matters, and how to implement it effectively.

Understanding Content-First Design

Content-first design is a strategic approach to designing websites, apps, or any visual communication that places the content at the forefront of the creative process. Instead of first deciding on the layout, aesthetics or design treatments, we begin by understanding the content that needs to be communicated. This approach acknowledges that content is king and that design should support and enhance the content, not the other way around.

Imagine you want to build your dream house and you’ve found an architect you love. At your first meeting, you ask the architect to start building the house and then you’ll tell them how many bathrooms you want, how big the bedrooms need to be, or how you want the house to flow so it meets your needs. Well, that house has a pretty small chance of meeting your needs, right? Same with a website.

Successful design is more than just aesthetics; it supports and delivers your content in a more effective and engaging way, and it and helps you and the viewer both get what you need from the website. Want some more specifics? Read on!

Why Content-First Design Matters

1. User-Centric Approach: Content-first design prioritizes the needs of the user. By understanding the content and its purpose, designers can create experiences that are user-centric, delivering the right information to the right audience.

2. Improved Communication: Content is the primary vehicle for conveying information, and by focusing on it first, we can ensure your message is clear and effective and that design doesn’t get in the way. Then, when we eventually develop design that supports the content, it results in better communication with your target audience.

3. Responsive Design: Content-first design is particularly well-suited for responsive and mobile-first design approaches. It ensures that content remains accessible and engaging on various devices and screen sizes. Today’s web viewing behavior is more about “skimming” than ever before. By planning for this, we can structure and optimize your content for the smallest devices.

4. SEO Benefits: Prioritizing content aids search engine optimization (SEO). When content is central to the design process, it’s more likely to be structured and presented in a way that search engines can understand, leading to better search rankings.

5. Consistency: A content-first approach helps maintain design consistency, as the design elements are created to complement and showcase the content. This consistency contributes to a polished and professional look.

6. Flexibility: It allows for greater flexibility in design decisions. When we know what we’re working with, we can make design choices that support and enhance your content.

Implementing Content-First Design Effectively

While the specific steps of the process might differ based on your particular project, a content-first process generally goes like this:

1. Content Audit: If we’re starting with an existing website, we begin by conducting a thorough content audit. We’ll decide what to keep, delete, add or update to make the new website more effective.

2. Content Strategy: Crucially, it’s time to develop a content strategy that outlines the goals, target audience, key messages, and tone for your content. This strategy serves as a blueprint for the design process, and helps form the basis of your site map.

3. Copy Deck: We’ll then draft, edit and finalize all the content for your website in a streamlined text document—independent of any design work—to ensure we get the “story” right while following the best practices of UX and copywriting.

3. Sketching/Wireframing: This phase involves creating sketches or wireframes that outline the content structure and hierarchy. This is a cost-effective way of exploring options that optimize the layout of your content on the page.

4. Mockups: Once the content structure is established, it’s time to craft high-fidelity design layouts that bring your brand’s colors, fonts, design elements, imagery and interactive elements to life. Each of these design choices should enhance the content and support the content strategy.

5. Responsive Design: As we begin to build your website, Davies Branding + Design will ensure the design is responsive and adapts to various devices and screen sizes while maintaining the integrity of the content.

6. Iteration: Content-first design is an iterative process. We can continuously assess and refine the design to ensure it serves the content and meets the user’s needs.

By making content the star of your website, we can create experiences that are more effective, user-friendly, and visually engaging. This approach ensures that design serves your content, and that your website helps meets your clients’ needs and your goals.

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