Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Actually, let’s not go down that road. Applying it to a website scenario, which should come first, the content or the design?
Copywriters and designers will provide spirited arguments about whether you should start with the words or the look and feel. As a copywriter who’s had to ‘shoehorn’ content into a design on more occasions than I care to remember, here are my 3 reasons (sins) related to this:
You’ll cheese off your copywriter (putting it mildly)
We may have used the words “cheese” and “mild” within the heading, but if you want to kick up a Stilton-esque stink with your copywriter, tying one hand behind their back will do just that.
“You should write 28-30 characters in this box because the design has been approved”. That’s the kind of brief likely to send your copywriter running for the hills like they’re being chased by a rabid werewolf!
There are so many things wrong with this kind of scenario, it’s hard to know where to start. For example, maybe the copywriter has an incredibly powerful call to action up their sleeve that’s 45 characters long - shame they can’t use it.
Also, the subject matter may just be too complicated to condense into bite-sized chunks. Imagine being asked “could you just sum up the five step manufacturing process in 20 or so words?” Getting a copywriter involved at the outset means you can plan what content needs to go where and how much space is needed.
You’ll turn users into losers
Restricting the space for words into pre-defined limits is a dangerous game when it comes to User Experience (UX). Many products and services just can’t be explained in a couple of sentences. On the flipside, there’s nothing worse as a copywriter than being asked to “write more, just to fill up the space”.
Shoehorned content will usually fall into one of the two extremes mentioned above which means the user doesn’t get the information they want or need in the friendliest format.
One example that springs to mind was when I recommended a section of important information would have had more impact as a graphic rather than plain text. However, the design had been signed off by the client and there wasn’t any space, flexibility or available budget to create the graphic, even though it would have appealed more to the target market and likely have resulted in more conversions.
It’s illogical Captain!
It makes sense to plan the content first. If someone asked you to design and build a new house, would you just crack on with it if you had no knowledge who was going to stay there and what was needed inside?
Going ahead with the web design first can also be more costly. Again using the house analogy, what happens if you build a two bedroom house then find out there are six people going to live in it? You’ll have to go back and make lots of changes.
This principle applies to websites too. If you don’t know what the content is going to be when you start, how can the design accommodate it without additional changes being made later on?
Focusing on content first will ensure your content and design complement each other, deliver a better user experience and help make sure your clients get a higher return on investment.
Doing things in a certain way because they’ve always been done like that isn’t always the best idea.