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Improve Your User Experience and Flow With Content-First Design

Improve Your User Experience and Flow With Content-First Design Blog Feature

Christine Austin

Creative Lead, 7+ Years of Web Design and Development Experience

February 22nd, 2016 min read

Content is one of the most important parts of your website.

It's what gives you a voice, tells your company's story, and emphasizes what you do and why your website visitors should work with you.

Yet for some reason, we still feel the need to put content at the end of our process. You wait until you get a nice set of designs that you approve, then proceed to build out content that may or may not even fit the layout.In reality, we should be using the website's content as the foundation of the design process. This allows your designers to gain insight into your company's personality so your design can be married with it.

This approach allows your UX to be much more fluid, reduces disconnects between content and design, and helps avoid later delays in the redesign process when the two don’t cooperate.

Your content is special, and it should be treated as so. To keep it that way, let's look at how a content-first approach is the best strategy you should use on your next website redesign.

Why “content-first” and not “design-first”

If the primary purpose of your website is to deliver a valuable experience based upon your content, then we should be utilizing it as your website's design base.

Putting content first truly allows us to analyze its opportunities, constraints, and the implications it could have on the design.

Waiting for designs to be completed first tends to create a flawed website redesign process.

What tends to happen is your designers create a set of beautiful pages that fit the style you envisioned for your brand based on the content you brainstormed.

Then, when it's time for your content to finally be incorporated into the design, you find places where it’s too long, containing improper formatting for the design, or not matching the imagery that was created.

This is where everything goes wrong. You may have to have the designer redesign the pages, or, you may have to have the content rewritten or shortened to fit into the layout.

Multiply this issue across multiple pages and deadlines start to become delayed, people start pointing faults at one another, and relationships start thinning out.

If you choose to force the content to work, you end up creating a disjointed experience and user flow. Visitors may not understand how to interact with certain areas of your site ultimately causing them to leave.

While content last certainly isn’t the end of the world, it helps keep it on your highest priority so your designers know exactly what they are working with before trying to create something that may not align with your brand.

Avoid lorem ipsum (dummy content)

One tactic many companies use when designing their website is temporarily using Lorem Ipsum, or any dummy filler text, as a substitute for content.

While this may appear ideal at first, it’s a lazy approach to delay content which still results in design and content inconsistencies.

By using dummy text, designers will feel compelled to rush through the designs throwing in whatever length they feel looks ok in the layout.

So while the three lines of text they put under each testimonial area may look nice, you may realize one of those testimonials is actually six lines long. If this doesn't look good, you are left having to get it redesigned so it fits.

To make matters worse, the content could change all together. The RSS feed of five blog articles that was designed in a unique manner may transform into a resources section.

Dummy text mockups end up wasting just as much time as designs without any content at all. Although, getting perfectly proofed content in a short period of time can be hard for companies with a lot on their plate.

If this is the case for you, try one of these solutions to allow both you and your designers to have something to work off of.

Design with proto-content

Since perfect content can be difficult to receive early on, we need something else that can act as a substitute, something better than dummy text.

This is where using proto-content comes in. Proto-content is content in a Google/Word document or text file that has a base outline of the content you hope to have on your site.

The goal of proto-content is for you to gauge the length of your content, it’s language, and voice early on so you have something to test within your mockups.

Your proto-content can be a set of bullet points that contain a general idea of what you want to say with mentions of the range of length.

Aside from helping your design process, using this technique also gives you a chance to test your new content in front of your target audience early on. This allows you time to edit it based on feedback and ideas.

In the event that this will still take too long to compile, you can always design using the sites current content.

This method won't be perfect, especially since you are probably going to be changing the content on your pages. To minimize content conflicts, use this tactic on pages that won't require a major content overhaul, such as your blog, company profile, and team page.

Can’t get content? Design using competitor's content

If you don’t currently have an existing site or are still afraid to use any of your own content on your redesign, why not try using what your competitors have?

You heard me right. Know a competitor whose site you also want to embody for your design? Stop by their site and analyze how they outline their content.

Maybe you are both cloud service companies offering similar services - try borrowing their service content and make some small tweak to it (if need be).

As long as you aren’t actually going live with it, there’s no harm in using your competitors as a basis for your own redesign. It gives you a chance to see how they position themselves, so you can pivot yourself appropriately to one-up them.

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