Chicken and egg photo

Why Content Should Come First

When asked what you envision for your website, what do you say? Is your first response a dynamic navigation or home page slider? Or does a full-screen landing page with beautiful photos and animation come to mind? And don’t you just love parallax scrolling?

The bells and whistles are exciting but meaningless without a clear message.

I’m always amazed, especially in this content-driven era, when a client asks to see “a rough design first, and then we’ll know what we need to say.” Or they’ll present a topic or theme but ask to “see something” before they provide body copy. If the theme is strong and triggers an immediate visual idea, I may provide one or two design concepts. Unfortunately, some themes are not inspiring at all and the creative light bulb doesn’t so much as flicker without intensive research and an understanding of the story design will support.

Copy writers and designers have argued for years about which should come first, design or copy. As a designer and a writer, I’ve always been on the side of copy first, simply because design usually begins with a thought or idea.

Few things are as powerful as the pen. One written word or phrase can change the way we respond to any given situation. It can create results that meet our expectations and surpass anything we could have imagined.

Writing inspires meaningful art; meaningful art inspires good copy. I believe that words and art are so entwined that one cannot perform well without the other. That’s why a design with just art and no text still speaks volumes, and the written description of a small town and its residents creates a picture that puts the reader right there—like James Joyce’s description of the neighborhood in his book The Dubliners:

North Richmond Street, being blind, was a quiet street except at the hour when the Christian Brothers’ School set the boys free. An uninhabited house of two storeys stood at the blind end, detached from its neighbours in a square ground. The other houses of the street, conscious of decent lives within them, gazed at one another with brown imperturbable faces.James Joyce, The Dubliners, Araby

“Story” is at the root of every successful design. Like chapters in a book, each step of the creative process reveals something else about your organization or business. It’s great to produce aesthetically pleasing graphics, but without a story and without clear, organized content, they’re just ornaments.

Before either artist (the designer or the word artist) takes pen to paper, try brainstorming together. I don’t subscribe to the cliché “content is king,” but content is powerful and provides a firm foundation for any creative endeavor.

Share Your Thoughts

What do you think comes first? Content or design?

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