How to Incorporate Content First Approach in Design?

Irfan ahmed
By Irfan Ahmad Jan 30, 2020
How to incorporate content first approach in design?

What do people visit your website for?
Download your apps for?
Purchase your subscriptions for?


There is a lot that goes into creating a perfect website than just enticing looks, smooth interface and plausible optimization. As crucial as those factors are, the crux of any successful website is its content. Take, for example, this advertisement created by an employer with the help of a deceptively simple idea.

Despite not being the most ingenious aesthetically, this ad is bound to have a stronger hold on your memory as compared to its fine-tuned, color-complementing and elementarily composed counterparts. This further goes on to prove that principally web is just a giant platform to share ideas, exchange messages and tell stories. At the end of the day, it’s the story that outshines any medium (vector design, animation etc.) that is conveying it.

That being said, in this piece, we take a look at how we can mold words as wireframes to structure our design around. We’ll first start by learning what content first design approach is and how we can create a better design with the content first approach.

What is content first design approach?

I guess the term is self-explanatory, but I will dwell a little deeper to provide a better understanding of the concept.

Humans, for the most part, are visual creatures, and it is no rocket science that how your website looks prima facie will have a significant influence on a visitor’s perception. It is only after we see things, we comprehend and react to them.

However, even if you manage to design the most beautiful website in the world, it will do no good to your product without engaging content. It will just be like expecting the actors with the most appealing looks to land multimillion roles without having enacted or portrayed compelling character previously.

Your content should have a prominent spot on the landing page, which makes it easy for the users to navigate and interact with it or else they will leave, confused and irked.

As Biz Sanford of Shopify’s content team, puts it:

“Words are essential for helping users accomplish their tasks, and by thinking about them while you sketch, you’ll uncover problems early and be able to move faster later.”

So next time before hiring a website designer and asking for layouts, think about hiring a professional content writer first so that you don’t have to chop and change the content of your website to fit the layout; instead you can come up with a layout that embodies your content.

What content first looks like?

Content first design approach can prove to be the deal-breaker between a well thought after, budget abiding website experience or it’s laboring, unorganized and heavy on your wallet counterpart.

Credits: Clockwork News

Take, for example, the above website layout. On the left you see a precisely organized layout of a web page with perfectly clipped Lorem Ipsum put on to make up for the real copy. (And if the use of an Ipsum is must, go for one of the more interesting ones. I have a liking for Hipster Ipsum.) A stark contrast on the right, we see how the entire symphony of the web page is plagued due to mismanagement of the content. The spacing is off the mark, multiple lines are too narrow, and the content alignment is severely hit.

Now, the UX Designer, Content writer and Architect will have to go head over heels once again to come up with a solution. Irrespective of who you think is to blame here, this mishap was totally avoidable. There certainly could have been a better outcome for time and money wasted here.

Now imagine if same folks had collaborated in the first place. If they had laid down their preliminary ideas, expectations and dependencies on each other with the vision of the end product, it would have been a different scenario altogether. Which raises the question – Why use this approach?

Here is what using the content first design approach provides you:

  1. Efficiency: As laid out in the afore-mentioned example, using the actual or proto-content (existing or likely content the client already has) in designs and prototypes, you’ll come across challenges and address them immediately instead of them going unnoticed for weeks or months, and sometimes years down the line. The duration of concurrent brainstorming seasons will be reduced as designers, and content writers will have already worked together on layouts and other design elements.
  2. Collaboration: This approach will smoothen up collaboration channels amongst all involved in a project. UX designers, when working closely with copy writers, will understand and respect the limitations of a content writer in a better way and vice versa. This close collaboration across verticals for issues redressal will also breed consistency, get everyone on the same page right from the start and reduce unnecessary back and forth logs.
  3. Reusability: Instead of quantifying digital experiences in terms of website elements and webpages, coming together of writers and designers can break them down as collection of parts which can be combined, recombined, and remixed as the need arises. This increases the longevity of the content and eliminates the time needed to produce proto-content and their relevant design layout for every single project.
  4. Zero Stockpiling: As I’ve mentioned earlier, collaboration across verticals promotes the flow of insights between people across different disciplines. This will ensure that more meetings are held, and the right conversations are being made with people before it’s too late. In other words, if you don’t do CONTENT FIRST, then you must prepare yourself in regards to both time and money to re-do it later.
Things you must consider before opting for content first design approach.

I am sure by this point, you must be swayed by the benefits of this approach and must be formulating plans to create better design with this methodology. But just like all that is gold, in theory, may not be so in practice, this approach has its fair share of challenges too. Here, I’ve listed a few:

  1. Work Schedule: Project managers may be left scratching their heads to accommodate employees across various work disciplines and work shifts in the meeting that needs to be conducted before commencing work on the content design continuum for an upcoming project.
  2. Budget: Inter departmental meetups and brainstorming sessions are time-consuming, and at instances, it may agitate clients given the slowness of work on their projects, at least during the budding stages. Also, as this approach opens the window for more revision, workforce accumulation and review process, you may have to allot a higher budget to accommodate their working hours.
  3. Process Conflicts: Brace yourself if you already have a content development and designing methodology in place. It will never be easy for you to get your partners/ clients/ investors/ managers on board the content first express prima facie. Also, your employees may get irked with increased working hours, especially during the transition phase from your previous editorial process to this current one. You will have to steer the ship during these times vehemently.

The content first design approach, just like any worthwhile pursuit, will have its fair share of successes and challenges. Incorporating this approach will be a labor of endurance and patience but trust me; IT IS WORTH IT.

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