Should Your Design Inspire Your Content or Vice Versa?

July 20, 2017

Joey Hunt

The Content Process Comparison

The age-old question of any task, project or major undertaking: “Where in the world do I begin?” Website projects are not really any different in this regard. Whether you are starting completely from scratch with a brand that didn’t exist five minutes ago, or refocusing an existing entity to better meet your company’s goals or market to a completely different client base than previously targeted, you will inevitably be faced with the question of whether to establish the visual look and feel, or the voice and messaging first. While there can be potential for some specific advantages to jumping directly into the design phase as soon as signing for creative services, these advantages are most often observed when dealing with a brand that has no prior existence.

Here at LLT Group we’ve walked through the web design & development process with countless clients, among a wide variety of industries. We’ve had first hand opportunities to witness both the pros and the cons of commencing a project with the content creation and content strategy, versus an immediate focus on the visual aesthetics and design. Having navigated through numerous projects using each method and then comparing afterwards, we’ve come to a number of conclusions in favor of focusing first on the content strategy & creation:

  • A clearer vision of client goals for their new website
  • Expedited timelines for both design and development
  • Designs that mesh seamlessly with and capitalize on the site’s written content
  • Reduced need for post-design/development changes based on content that doesn’t fit with the section it was written for
  • Greater client satisfaction
  • Overall improved efficiency
  • Reduced turnaround times from completion of development to site launch

And while we know that like snowflakes, no two clients are going to be identical in the process and execution of their web project, we have experienced repeated circumstances of improved success for projects that commence with the content strategy and creation rather than designs. For the majority of projects in which an established brand has predetermined goals (or the infrastructure to accommodate determining such goals) neglect to focus on content first most often results in extensive delays to the completion of the project and a noticeable drop in enthusiasm once designs had been finalized. There are still specific cases in which a company’s brand may not yet be established prior to the web project’s completion and allowing the visual aesthetics to dictate or inspire their brand is much more beneficial than trying to sort everything out prior to design. However, it should also be noted that with such projects we also often see a considerable extension in the amount of time required for project completion.

Building a new website should essentially be a straightforward, step-by-step process. Unfortunately, without having clearly defined goals that drive your project towards completion, such an undertaking can often degenerate into an overwhelming situation. When faced with determining whether you should:

  1. Commission graphics and a sleek look that builds directly upon and continues to advance your brand’s primary goals, or
  2. Develop your informational content, messaging, and overall voice based on the visuals that have been established during design

It seems clear that just as you wouldn’t start construction on a new house without first having considered how many bedrooms or bathrooms you’ll need, you shouldn’t begin building the framework of your new site without first determining what thoughts, ideas, and messaging is most crucial to convey to your intended audience. The ultimate advancement of your brand in the online marketing is entirely dependent on both the messaging and the visuals coming together in perfect unison. We’re not saying it is necessary to have thought of every single sentence that might be needed. There is always room for adjustments to be made. But without this first critical step of establishing your informational goals and objectives, it can be difficult to succeed in conveying them to potential clients or customers.

Abraham Lincoln has been famously quoted: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Just as Lincoln understood the value of planning for a project as well as cultivating the tools needed to efficiently and effectively complete a project, it is important with your web project to first plan out the nitty gritty, sometimes even the seemingly mundane task of mapping out what pages and content are necessary for the success of your new site. Pushing this planning and mapping phase towards the later stages of any website project can often result in launch delays, not to mention the inevitable need for previously designed, developed, and approved sections to be adjusted to work with the now established content voice. And while we’ve launched successful projects that focused on design first, more often than not, they result in an overall less cohesive marriage of design & content.

You could have experience with either of these scenarios and strategies, or perhaps the web design/development world is a completely new and unfamiliar venue. Either way we’re here to guide you through the whole process and help you reach the next level of success you’re looking to achieve with both the voice and the look of your new website. We don’t expect clients to have planned out every last detail prior to the projects commencement. We offer a variety of tools with the goal of helping guide you and your team in determining what is most important focus with every page, section, and headline.

As you begin to consider the question of what to focus on first for your next web project, the design or the messaging, just remember that planning your objectives after you’ve finished gathering the necessary tools and resources has rarely yielded noteworthy results.