05
Feb

Content-First Design-3 Steps To Effectively Implement It

Posted by Sandeep Sharma

Content First Design

Do you think that having a responsive and elegant website design is all that you need to enhance your visitor’s experience? Well, yes, but partially! Without the right content to flaunt your design, no matter how swift and smooth your website’s UI and UX experience is, it is bound to go wasted.

It is essential to have synchronization between the design and content such that design complements the words, and gives users a quick idea regarding what you’re trying to say even without reading the content fully. This is what a content-first design focuses on. Would you like to give this approach of design a try? Well, rest assured, the content-first approach would only bless your design process with significant visible improvements. All set? Let’s have a quick insight into it in detail.

I: What is Content-First Design?

Content is the uncrowned king of your website. It is the content that makes the users visit your site and subscribe to your newsletter and follow you on the social media. When content is so important, why should it be considered second? Consider, for example, you want to populate a slider. There are two approaches to achieve that: One, you write carefully thought taglines and then design the background with suitable images to complement the text. Second, you design the slider first as per your requirements and write the content accordingly.

Now, supposedly, you run an e-commerce business that sells women apparel. Following the second approach, you thought that the images of women skirts and tops on the slider background would look perfect. Indeed, they would! Now, it is the time to populate the content. Supposedly, the content head has thought of talking about 100% customer satisfaction and payment guarantee, but, now he would have to optimize his tagline as per the background image as well. This is nothing but the death of an idea! This is exactly what happens when you follow a design-first approach instead of a content-first approach.

For composing a story through design, you have to be aware of the message you intend to communicate through the content. Your visitors will be frustrated if they find discord between your content and design. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense to keep content on priority in the process of development.

Talking factually, Content-First design approach was founded by Jeff Zeldman in the year 2008. It emphasizes that content is to be determined ‘first’ before designing. For instance, any editorial designer starts working out only after the design book is written. Similarly, an architect draws a blueprint after knowing the function of the building. Following the same pattern, a web designer should determine the ‘content’ first before starting the designing. Briefly, the content-first design aims at knowing the purpose of design and how it can be achieved.

II: Effective Implementation of Content-First Approach

With all that being said, do you want to implement the content-first strategy and keep the processes under control without disarraying the whole development cycle? Well, here are a few tips to sort this out!

a) Prepare

The first and foremost step is to conduct an in-depth session with your client and enquire him about his requirements. If he already owns a website, talk with him regarding what he likes and dislikes about his current website. On the basis of the inputs so received, make a collection of all required contents whether they be plain text, rich text, image, video, link and so on.

It is highly recommended to keep everything well-organized and streamlined. Create proper spec sheets with a brief outline for each page along with the stipulated timelines in accordance with SEO inputs to make sure that everything is completed on time. However, to keep the processes on track right from the first step, it is highly recommended to hire SEO professionals who would help you in keeping site SEO optimized right from the beginning.

However, if you are working on a big portal, it would be logical to make the team work on home page first while you sort out other pages with the client just to ensure that production is not at halt at any point of time.

b) Create

Creating a model for your content is just as creating a site map. Your content first strategy should be such that, instead of focusing on pages, you give more attention to the types of content and their characteristics. It helps you in mapping out your content types, requirements and relationships among them. For eliminating gaps between content and design, start the design process keeping the conversion goals in mind. For defining the goals, evaluate the good and bad performers on your current website.

Complete a content audit for creating a content plan by asking the following questions:

  1. What are the actions that the users are likely to take while visiting your website?
  2. Which factors are more likely to encourage your visitors to take this action?

Your content first approach must appropriately answer these questions.

Once you have extracted all the answers, provide the required inputs to the writer, editor, and SEO experts.

Start the process by asking them to write content for header tags, calls to action, sidebars, and others. Make sure that the content is mobile-friendly too, in addition to the design. Content could be made responsive by writing briefly such that mobile website doesn’t look crowded.

Make the content prototype in a Word Document Text file or Google Doc. Get the prototype tested with your client to find out if you are speaking in their language so that they assimilate the very objective of the content presented before them. For the most effective prototype, you can Hire SEO Professionals such as content strategists and copywriters, who have adequate experience in working with a content-first approach similar to yours.

It is highly recommended to get the content approved in small chunks rather than sending all of it for approval. This would save your team’s efforts in rewriting all of it and would further help in designing accordingly.

c) Design and Develop

Now that all the content is ready, it is the right time to design and develop. Craft a design which would help visitors enliven the conversation, irrespective of the technology adopted. Bring into consideration your client’s design guidelines and select various design elements like typography, color, and images in accordance with the website’s theme. Further, it is highly recommended to place CTAs strategically in order to make sure that the website meets its objectives flawlessly.

The following are the challenges, which you should utilize as opportunities:

  1. Flexibility: For long headlines, a list view will work better. On the other hand, the legibility for texts on photos will improve with a shadow image or overlaid image.
  2. Content style guide: Add an entry to the style guide, backed by CMS functionality. You may use character count limit or may enforce a 3-words-for-button-copy rule. You may add help text for explaining the limitation.

III: Pros of Content-First Design

Needless to say, the content-first approach comes with an array of benefits that would surely boost the overall vision of your design. Here are a few pros for a quick look:

a) Higher quality content

With the adoption of content-first design, you need not ask your writer or client for cutting down extra lines just because the written text would overflow the already approved design. This further means that your writer won’t need to cut down his/her creativity.

b) Greater consistency and streamlined process

If you consider design and content differently of each other, something tends to be lost in the union. Under such situations, contents are cut, the story is told with inconsistency and designs are reshuffled. But by adopting the content-first strategy, both the content and designs are synchronized to work together, as a whole.

The present process followed by you may indicate to be effective and efficient. But, if you are not building the sites around the content, then you may have to be confronted with unexpected timeline and scopes, which is ruled out by the content-first approach.

c) Improved productivity and higher profit margin

Design-first web development leads to clashes between the stories narrated on the site. Besides, it leads to clashes between the team members because the content creator interprets the vision in some way and the designers in some other way. Instead of wasting time pursuing each other’s point, you can increase productivity with collaborative working on the story of your site.

If your customers are not satisfied with your website, you will be the ultimate sufferer by losing your margin of money. On the other hand, if you attend regularly to the complaints or revision requests made by your clients, adoption of content-first will reduce waste and will provide more time for you to create well tough-out websites.

IV: Cons of Content-First Design

But as it is said, everything comes with its own pros and cons. Let’s have a quick look at a few cons that this approach might have:

a) Restructuring process

Changing from design-first to content-first web development could mean a bigger change in an already triggered off project. This will affect time and money for restructuring. It will also affect the team members who are to be retrained.

b) Additional cost

In case, you do not have trusted content writers, this might prove to be an additional overhead, but at the end, it is worth it!

Over To You

Needless to say, the content-first approach offers impeccable benefits over design-first approach. Some things are best achieved when done in a particular order, and website development is no exception here. It is thus highly recommended to develop the content first before designing the layout of the website, and see the wonders happening!


Sandeep Sharma is a Project Manager with a prominent web design & development company TIS India since last 10 years. He loves to create aesthetically appealing websites & eye-popping user interfaces for international clients. Follow him on here