Why A Content-First Strategy Fuels Design Success

Good design is more than beautiful aesthetics. It’s a powerful foundation.

Two years ago, I stumbled upon an InVision blog article that deeply resonated with my content-first philosophy for effective web design. InVision captured the essence of that philosophy well when it wrote: “Design in the absence of content is just decoration.” In the years since first reading that post, my belief in a content-first approach has only grown, which is why I felt inspired to write a post to share my thoughts with you.

A modern website should be a living, breathing modality that grows and adapts to the changing needs of the business and audiences it serves. While beautiful design is desirable, beautiful design should serve as a minimum. To this day, however, I still see too many designers treating websites as if they were static entities, void of any life or adaptation. This is a deeply flawed approach that can cost clients greatly.

Design-first developers who use this strategy will often build websites using lorem ipsum text and boilerplate headings, graphics, and images, but those design elements are hard for the client to replicate and will often lead to undesirable website performance and search visibility. While the design-first approach may result in a “pretty site,” it will often not be capable of the adaptability needed to respond in purposeful or effective ways to the changing desires of both the client and their audiences. In contrast, I stress and use a content-first approach to leverage the tools we’ve got to create a modern website that‘s as versatile and dynamic as it is beautiful!

As a designer, being asked to create using boilerplate copy and placeholder content is far from ideal, as a lot of the user experience strategy depends on finding effective ways to organize and display content and copy in ways to make it engaging, effective, easy to navigate and browse while also focusing on ease of maintenance and editability into the future. 

Recently, I stumbled upon another article I also resonated with on Webflow’s blog. Webflow believes, 

“Content is what gives a website meaning. It draws people in and allows them to understand a site’s purpose and take action. It answers the potential customers’ questions.

Content is like an engine — without it, all you’ve got is an empty, useless shell.”

Beyond the reasons shared above, a content-first approach also plays most effectively into your search engine optimization strategy and my ability as a designer to develop your site architecture in a manner that makes it built for growth. Knowing what kinds of content we’d like to showcase and what you’d expect incorporating, we can create structural elements and templates that’ll save you time and reduce your reliance on custom design and development. This can translate into significant savings over time (possibly well into five figures or even greater).

For example, if you plan on investing heavily in your blog over time, we may find it helpful to create several post templates for different posts styles you’d like to incorporate. Your goals will dictate the structure and organization of your blog as was as provide opportunities to optimize your layouts so they’re adaptable in the future.

The absence of content makes it challenging to create a digital presence that’s future-proof (or, as much as is possible these days given how fast technology moves!), dynamic and goal-focused. Content elevates design and helps make design success a reality.  

So, how do you define “content” and where do you come in as a designer?

When I refer to content, I’m talking about copy, but also images, text, videos, stories, blog posts, galleries, and all other forms of text-based and visual elements that bring a site to life.

Does that mean I need this all figured out before we chat or even work together?

Absolutely not! My Digital Dynamite package includes research and content curation completed by me (or both of us, depending on how hands on you wish for our project to be!), questionnaires and a discovery session where we can chat about your website’s content strategy (among other important factors such as user experience, conversion optimization, etc.). I certainly don’t expect that all clients come with all content ready, and in fact, I love when I’m able to help offer my unique insights and expertise to influence that as I often have a lot of ideas and experiences to draw from and access to great resources to help you shine!

So, what do I need to bring for us to work together effectively?

If I could summarize it in one phrase: just the copy. I’m passionate about creative curation and research and find delight in seeking unique solutions to meet your goals, so leave the non-copy aspects of content to me if you’d like! 

If you have content that you‘d love to incorporate into the project, that’s just fine, too! You can bring as much or as little additional content beyond the copy into the project… 

My projects typically run on shortened timelines, so it’s imperative that you have an initial draft of just your copy ready early into our project timeline. While I won’t write the bulk of your copy for you, I will help you optimize it so it’s effective for the web. This may include shortening copy, changing its format for easier legibility, modifying calls-to-actions and other micro-copy elements and more. In fact, I’ve recently received a certificate in UX Writing from the UX Writers’ Collective which helps me offer great insights on how to enhance your copy. 

While I’d call my philosophy a content-first approach, if we want to get specific, I’d refer to myself as a “copy-first” designer and strategist. This means I’ve got you covered when it comes to everything but the writing process! You provide the copy. We create the magic! Feeling inspired? Let’s chat. 

How do you feel about a content or copy-first approach? Share your thoughts in the comments section below! I can’t wait to hear what you have to say. 

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