Design or content; chicken or egg?

So, which does come first? In an ideal world, says Olav Bjørkøy in .net magazine, “you should never design anything before you have a clear grasp of the content”.

‘Design before content’ is listed in an article identifying the top 10 design mistakes that web designers make. Bjørkøy goes on to emphasise, “…design for your content; don’t insert content into the design as an afterthought”.

This makes perfect sense to me and links back to the relationship between information architecture, intuitive navigation and effective web design. In reality, however, apart from a vague idea of what information a site will contain, the content is usually the last thing to be signed off or delivered by a client.

Why? Because, like it or not, clients are often juggling many different projects, of which their website is just one. The article suggests that one way to avoid this is to provide rolling deadlines, such as “relative timescales for portions of a site build, rather than specific dates”.

I’ve seen this from both sides of the fence, as a client and as a copywriter for digital agencies. It may work for some businesses but for others, it makes no difference. Many clients underestimate how long it takes to gather information, produce text and sign it off internally, and finally how long it takes to upload and edit once on the site. Tweaks and changes are inevitable.

Design and development teams need to educate clients on the importance of the content from the start. Provide some good and bad examples on good-looking websites to show what a difference it can make. They need to emphasise that it shouldn’t take a back seat to the design, which it often does because many people perceive the ‘words’ to be the easy part.

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