Why Design & Content Should Always Be The Same Stage. Always.

Web Design and content stages

You’re designing a website.

Whether you’re the owner of your business, the designer, copywriter or you hold another role one thing’s simple: you’re part of the design process. And you have one goal in mind.

Create an experience for your visitors that’s worth revisiting.

Here’s the thing. Everything you do in terms of building a website (whether you love it or not) involves both content and design.

Infact, your visitors’ experience usually boils down to two categories.

Website Experience

  • The message you’re telling them (content) and
  • How they absorb this message (design)

If you Google ‘web design process’ a number of articles will pop up with more or less the same steps to building a website:

  1. Planning
  2. Design
  3. Copy + Content Creation
  4. Development
  5. Testing
  6. Launch

Many of these lists will then loop back around to the beginning phase of planning.  

Now, don’t get me wrong, these are essential areas to cover when building your website. However, from my own experience, separating the design and content stages can only take away from the value you’re providing. Why is this?

Think about the purpose of your website. Is it to evoke action? Do you want your visitors to be engaged? Entertained? Amused?

Whether your main goal is to drive revenue, sell more stickers or keep your visitors coming back for more, charming your visitors will help with all these desired actions.  

For starters it builds long-term relationships between you and your visitors—something money really can’t buy. Think about the websites you frequent on a weekly basis. Why do you keep going back?

To entertain, amuse and inform your visitors right out of their socks, mastering these two actions will be essential:

  • You’ll want to provide a memorable and truly awesome experience for your audience
  • You’ll want your message (your content) to guide them right where you want them to be

In order to get these two actions right, it’s vital to marry the design and content creation stages.

This means keeping both the design process and content creation process in the same room at the same stage in your website production. Here’s why.

1. It allows you to understand the experience better.

Whether you’re a one-man show, a copywriter, designer or you’ve hired an agency or team of freelancers it’s essential you connect on what the goal of the whole experience is.

This is often easier said than done.  

Many times a meeting will create the illusion that people are on the same page. I’ve had many a sign-offs where we all agree to something and weeks later there’s confusion with what message will be stated where. That’s because discussions always leave room for interpretations.

This is no one’s fault. Luckily visuals clear this up. There are a few tools and easy steps you can use to get on the same page, quickly.

I like to start this step with a simple sitemap. Once design and content have agreed on the sitemap that’s the time to sketch out some very basic user flows based on each page. 

Basic User Flow

Then you can combine the user flows in a larger document for a more detailed experience.

This allows design and content to see the repeated actions, or the lack of necessary paths to a desired form or page. The less CTAs at this stage, the better. This way you have a clear path for your users without any overbought distractions.

2. It allows you to edit together, creating further value.

All writing and designing need sharp editing eyes.

Once you’ve collaborated on what the flow of the site will be this is your time to edit. Edit what initial messaging you’ve drafted, edit what the users see first, edit everything.

The best tool for editing, other than an extra pair of eyes, is distance.

You might think your copy completely makes sense in the moment. After a few days, though, it’ll have grown stale.

Edits from someone who might not necessarily have a background in design or content add real value to your work.

This is because they’ll look at your work as a visitor might. They’ll hardly know your intentions and will see things only as they appear. This is exactly how you want an editor to see your design or content.

By moving the scope of the experience up a few thousand feet you can really see what’s excessive and what’s imperative.

3. Design + content should always naturally complement each other.

When you have a better understanding of where the content will be placed and how it’ll be structured, you can better shape your designs to complement your content and vice versa.

The key here is to get the two to work with each other like a beat works with a melody. If executed correctly, the tone of the copy will match the tone and feel of the design. This will be the biggest indicator whether you’ve collaborated every step of the way, or if you’ve worked in silos.

Most advertising agencies have teams of writers and designers working together. When I worked as a copywriter at an ad agency, the teams were inseparable. They were briefed on the projects together, they pitched to the Creative Director together, and sometimes the best taglines came from the designer.

This is because the best projects happen when elements, style and creativity collide.  

To Sum Up

Website design boils down into two basic experiences:

  • The message you share with your visitors
  • How you share this message

The key is not to create in separate rooms or separate stages, but rather combine the content and design processes for the best value possible.

Did I miss something? We’d love to hear from you! Share your ideas below.

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