It doesn’t matter if you’re designing a brand new app from scratch, working on a new feature or creating a landing page; design should start with the content first. There are many benefits to this. Ultimately you’ll end up creating better products or websites.
What exactly do I mean by content? I am mainly referring to written copy. However, content also includes call to actions, downloads, pictures, videos, audio and so on. But the focus is on the written word. That’s because most of our technology is consumed through reading.
Storytellers in movies and video games
Whether it’s a movie or a video game, these industries employ story designers/writers whose sole job is to figure out what is going to be the story told by the movie or video game. The bulk of their job is mostly performed in the infancy of the projects they are working on. Why? Because you can’t create a worthwhile experience for customers, in this case, movie goes or video gamers, without knowing what it is you’re going to be telling.
The same thing applies to web and app designs. Thinking through the story you want to share with your end-users will allow you and your team to better think through the whole thing you’re tasked with building.
Content first in design
Writing out the content of your designs will help you figure out a few things. First, what’s the bare minimum that’s needed for the page to be successful? Agreeing on the contents before drawing up any wireframes or pixels will make your life as a designer easier because it will force everybody to agree on the content and copy.
It’s a whole new world when you’re finally designing while knowing all the content involved. Second, it will allow you to figure out whether the contents of the said content is right for the project at hand. (This second point is a lot more important to the success of any design project than making your life as a designer a little easier.)
There are two scenarios to consider. Either way, the process of content first is the same, it’s just a matter of writing it yourself or editing what someone else provided you. The first scenario is when there is no copy or content provided. That’s your cue and opportunity to start writing. Treat this like UX or UI design meaning two things. One, ask a series of questions to set your content writing is going to be successful. Start by asking the same question you normally would of any design project: what pain points do the customers have? What outcome are the users looking for? Why would a visitor end up on this landing page? Speak with the target audience. Two, get feedback on what you come up with like you’d o your designs. Go through a few revisions and then have your team or client sign off on the content before moving on.
You’re going to have to ask these questions for the project anyway, ask them before crafting the content. Because just like with UX or UI design, you can’t design something without understanding it first albeit it pixels or words.
The second scenario is when the client or your team have provided all the content for you. If that happens, that’s great; now, make sure it’s good of good quality. Again, ask the same question you would if you were writing it yourself – what makes this client special, etc. But, also review the content provided. Are there missing pieces of the content? Does everything make sense? Is there a lot of content that should be divided into different pages maybe? Is the tone of voice right for the branding?
Just another step in the design process
I’ve just written about some questions to consider depending on whether or not you have to write the content yourself or edit someone else’s work. But let’s talk about how content fits into the overall story of the project you’re working on in more detail.
Any great content starts with a story. We all know this by now. As designers, we talk about the overall user experience and the story we want to tell the customers or visitors. The same applies to the content as it eventually becomes part of the design; treat it as such.
Ask yourself, what’s the story of this project or client? What problems are the users or visitors facing? What is the customer’s ideal outcome and so on?
Beginnings of the design structure
One, you have a good idea of what it is you’re supposed to tell, start writing or rewriting. Personally, I use a Google Docs. It’s easy to share and to make comments on. (It’s not the greatest at keeping track of revisions but it’s not too bad either.)
Start creating the content as you’d imagine it to be on the website – structure it. Each page or screen will have its own purpose, start with that. Then, within each page, there will be different sections. These sections too should have a defined purpose or goal. Next, write out what will be in those sections from the headlines to the last link. If you’ve been provided content by your client or another team member use these as you see appropriate in fitting with the overall narrative.
If you’re the one doing the writing, just use your own words. Either way, get feedback and edit till everyone is … content.
As you write out each page or screen, you will easily see what the website is starting to look like. The user flow will be obvious to everyone involved. On top of that, the more final the content structure, the more you’ll be able to assess if this is the right story you’ll be telling.
Incorporating it into design processes
If you’re part of a larger team you might have someone on staff who is a copywriter. Get them involved in the beginning of the project, as soon as possible. The whole point of this article is to get you to be comfortable with the content first approach. Be proactive. Take initiative to include your appropriate teammates. On the other hand, if you’re part of a small team with no copywriter or work by yourself, take it upon yourself to incorporate content before any visual design starts. It’s that simple.
Writing copy and thinking through the content ought to be the first step of any design process. If you’re not sure what to say, how to effectively communicate with users talk to them and you’ll know. But never leave the content, especially writing copy, till later in the project. This content first approach can only strengthen the final outcome of the projects you’re working on.