Learning Center

Making Better Designs With a Content-First Approach

When working with any marketing company (such as Prime Design Solutions) for a new print or web design, the ultimate goal is to end up with a great-looking product. And there is a lot to be said for something that looks compelling, well-designed, and professional. One element that can often be neglected, however, is content.

When content is given top priority in a project, your design can be not only great-looking, but a powerful marketing tool — one where every element works towards a common goal.

contentfirstgraphic

Why don’t we design content-first for every project?

Content can be a major bottleneck in a design project. Oftentimes projects can be put on hold for weeks or even months as content is generated, perfected, passed around to different individuals within an organization, and then perfected again. Sometimes the person assigned to content generation simply doesn’t have the time to work on it, or hasn’t given it as much priority as other duties. When you’re a small or mid-sized business, team members may be wearing several hats, and copywriting is oftentimes not their highest concern.

Because designers know this reality from years of experience, processes have been developed to keep content generation from delaying designs. Dummy text, sometimes called Lorem Ipsum, is commonly used to replicate actual content on a brochure, booklet or website.

What is Lorem Ipsum?

Despite what it looks like, Lorem Ipsum is not entirely gibberish. This text, which started out as a printing and letter-setting tool and has roots in Latin literature, has been used by designers for ages in place of actual content (when none is available). It produces the look of a real words and sentences, without creating the distraction of readable text, allowing the viewer to focus on the layout. Using Lorem Ipsum keeps projects from being delayed, or in some cases, never getting started.

Using dummy text is not a bad approach. It’s often a necessary one. We use it ourselves in many projects, and the end result is almost always something I can be proud of. But using a content-first approach, I believe we can make great designs even better and more focused.

Things that delay content generation

  • There is no goal for the project: In a previous podcast, we talked about how setting a clearly-defined goal can help you create a more focused web design. This is also an important step in content generation for any type of project, including print as well as digital. Setting a goal can help kick-start the copywriting process by giving you something concrete to work toward. Not having a goal can oftentimes leave you feeling overwhelmed, and not knowing what direction to take or where to start.
  • Overthinking the text: When you’re not a seasoned copywriter you may question whether or not your writing is good enough. It is easy to get focused on the quality of the writing, rather than thinking about the message you want to get across. If the message is strong, the language and style can be improved as the project develops.
  • Unable to determine what is necessary content: Sometimes there is so much to be said on a topic, it is hard to trim it down to a reasonable amount of content for your project. Certain types of projects, especially print, have clear space limitations. Writing is challenging — and it’s even more challenging to write concisely.

When we start with content, we can develop a better understanding of what your company does. This can lead to better decisions about color, typography, and countless other design elements.

What are the advantages to designing content-first?

  • It creates understanding for the designer: Many times in my design career I have found myself realizing how many things I know nothing about. While we as designers have read all the books on typography and color theory, we may know absolutely nothing about your business or area of expertise. When we start with content, we can develop a better understanding of what your company does. This can lead to better decisions about color, typography, and countless other design elements.
  • It saves time by reducing the need for revisions: When content comes first, projects require fewer revisions, saving time — and allowing the entire project to be completed faster. For example, a when a brochure that was designed with dummy text suddenly needs to include several more paragraphs, major layout changes may have to be made. The design will be stronger if it is created to accommodate the text, rather than having to be revised to squeeze everything in.
  • It produces a more clear and concise end result: When your design is shaped by content, everything in that design should support the overall goal. A design flourish that was put in for visual interest can be replaced with something more meaningful, such as a diagram or graph that reinforces your content.

How you can start using a content-first approach

  • Start with content from a previous design: If you’re working on a new website and don’t know where to start with your content, an old brochure or website might be a great starting point. Maybe it’s not exactly what you want to say, but it’s certainly more meaningful than dummy text. Revising existing copy is generally easier than writing from scratch.
  • Assign content generation to a single person, and keep their schedule clear: When content has to go through countless people in a company or organization it can create major headaches. People may have differing opinions, or a piece of content can get stuck in a CEO’s inbox, waiting for review. Assign a trusted, skilled writer to the content, and trust their instincts and judgment. Keep that person’s schedule clear, and make content generation a top priority.
  • Outsource your content generation: If you don’t have the skills or the time to write great content, outsource it. Prime Design Solutions, along with many other marketing agencies, has skilled marketing staff that can interview you to get a good understanding of your business, and then create quality, custom content.