Content Creation for Web Use: Part Five
Build Your Content Before Your Design
Fact // Completed content informs design.
Many designers choose to build creative comps with placeholder text, often resulting in aesthetically engaging but ineffective communications products upon final iteration. This practice also sets a false standard that content and function are less important than look and feel.
It is significant to remember that users are not only seeking out good design but also cohesive content and clear instructions. In our opinion, the latter is equally crucial to successful user interface design. As we addressed in our previous post about successful design, a simple structure coupled with genuine, informative content is far superior to an aesthetically pleasing layout with low-quality or unclear content.
As such, design decisions should always be driven by content development. The entire page layout is created to support the content’s presentation. This relationship extends all the way down to the most discreet elements of site design such as the relationship of headline to sub-heads, sub-heads to body copy, body copy to on-page navigation links, etc.
This requirement places a high level of importance on having at least a draft of website content available to the designer for most pages on the site. Ideally this is before the pages are styled by the designer for review comps. Ultimately, the outcome is better, and the entire design process will be completed more rapidly to the satisfaction of the client. Less frequently discussed, this also usually means fewer revisions of design comps, and lower cost transferred to the client.
In most instances, this “content” includes the text, graphics, video and audio that make up a complete interactive experience. However, the majority of required content is written text. Seeing live body copy, headlines, sub-heads, navigation menu nomenclature, text links, metadata and image captions at an early prototype stage is key to determine as many design solution as possible to incorporate into the finished product.
That said, it is important to remember that website design is an iterative process. The first draft of content used during the design phase, in many cases, is not the last draft. Pre-launch revision stages will allow the end user to modify content prior to launch. Page development goals naturally incorporate this expectation. But it also means that page content development should begin early in the website design trajectory, not after design solutions have already been approved.
Furthermore, At Momenta we like to compare websites to adopting a new pet. The responsibility does not stop the day you bring your new friend home. If you neglect your new puppy half-starved for care and attention and chained in the yard, you will end up with a vicious cur for a pet. However, if you bring it inside, love it and train it, you will end up with a valuable family member you can rely on.
This is related to websites in what our team calls a “Constant Beta.” Web content creators should be in the habit of constantly assessing the efficacy of website content and revising it continually over time. They should be in the habit of assessing with an eye towards the needs of their end users. This habit begins in advance of launch and should continue throughout the use life of the platform. Frequent updates, and restructuring of content and pages for ongoing needs is a good housekeeping habit. It also keeps audiences coming back more frequently for information and updates.
Intrinsically linked to page design is the content and functional goals intended for the pages of a website. Trying to design a website with one but not the other complicates the process unnecessarily, and sometimes expensively. Additionally, remember that websites require maintenance. The work does not end the day you take you launch your new product. In fact, to wring the most value from your new communications tool, you need to engage in regular housekeeping. Having a plan in place to manage content updates can help create a smooth and effective process which will multiply the value and benefit of the new tool.