What Comes First: The Content or Design? - The Content Experiment
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What Comes First: The Content or Design?

The chicken or the egg? The cart or the horse? Thunder or lightning? It’s the antiquated question, always begging for an answer. Now, we add to it the question of content or design.

The Scenario

A business owner needs a new website—either a redesign of their current, outdated site or a new site for a new business. Typically, the first thing they do is seek out a website designer or developer to start putting together some design options.

This leads to excitement about the project and full-fledged development. The project’s ready to launch and…oops! The “finished” website is still filled with lorem ipsum. Filler text. No real content.

This is a common problem and I’ve been charged with filling in the holes of a developed website all too many times. It’s not ideal. It’s like trying to turn a bare-walled apartment into your own place, without being able to paint the walls or move in your own furniture. Or like painting a color-by-numbers piece. It’s all laid out for you, with no room for creativity.

[bctt tweet=”Design before content is like painting a color-by-numbers. There’s no room for creativity.”]

Always Content Before Design

As a copywriter, I may be biased. But to me, content should always come before design. Designing a beautiful website before exploring the content needed to sell the product or service is literally putting the cart before the horse. The horse (the content) drives the marketing while the cart (the design) is the vehicle that carries it through the Web. You can’t have one without the other, but the horse needs to come first.

Here’s a case in point: I had a client who came to me with a beautiful real estate website. It was about 18 pages of expensive images and high-tech add-ons. And it sat there with lorem ipsum for about eight months before he approached me to write the website content.

We went through my typical intake procedure (a meeting, a questionnaire, etc.) and I quickly realized that there was no need for about eight of those 18 pages. There simply wasn’t enough to say to fill out the website, and some of the pages needed to be grouped together differently. The result? I worked with the client and website developer to consolidate pages, costing the client even more money on his site. He was frustrated, and in the end he spent more than twice what he should have.

Best-Case Scenario

Copywriters are skilled at telling the story that will sell your product or service. We know what needs to be included in a website to ensure you make the most of your space. To be fair, a website developer does too. But they aren’t able to use the text needed to tell the rest of a story.

Authors who write picture books send their manuscript to the publisher. An illustrator takes the text and creates images that complement the words.

While the same process works in website development, an even better process is a collaboration between designer and copywriter. Where they work together to bring their common client a website that marries content and design for the best possible effect.

[bctt tweet=”Best case scenario: A collaboration between copywriter and website designer.”]

A website isn’t a one-size-fits-all product. It’s unique to every person and business. Honestly, that’s the fun in writing copy—I get to dive into the business, find my clients’ voice, make recommendations on what I envision the page looking like.

When you’re ready to develop a website or make changes to your existing site, talk to your developer about the content and how they can bring it to life. And if you’re not ready to provide the content for the site, be sure to seek our recommendations for a good copywriter that the developer has worked with in the past—someone who can form a true collaboration for the copy that matches your voice and your style.

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