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Five reasons why designers and developers want you to put content first

Content comes first: three designers explain why

Whether content is king, queen or some other player, I believe that developing it should be your first move.

Too often, nonprofits treat content as an afterthought. Problems are created when the need for content is only acknowledged and addressed after design – and in the case of web projects – development.

Rather than share my potentially biased views on why content comes first, I reached out to get input from a few designers and developers I really respect:

Laura Wertkin, Intend Creative

Mike Mella, Be Like Water

Julia Reich, Stonesoup Creative

Of course, as these smart design pros pointed out, strategy is the very first element that must be addressed. For example, Laura mentioned:

“It’s really important to have a vision and some clear goals so that content can be created with those goals in mind. Once everyone is on the same page about the goals and target audience, content will come together much more easily.”

So with the assumption that a strategy is already in place, when it comes to content vs. design…

Here are five reasons designers believe content comes first:

1. Content is the thing that gets designed!

“Your content is not simply a replacement for placeholder text; it’s the thing that gets designed. One of the purposes of your website is to promote your organization’s work. Think of it as an advertisement for your nonprofit.

The next time you ride the subway or read a magazine, have a look at the ads; you’ll notice that the content is always part of the design, and with good reason. Imagine asking an ad firm to design a billboard ad without giving them any copy, messaging, or direction about what you’re promoting. How compelling could it really be?”

~Mike

2. Content helps you to plan a project properly

“It’s much simpler and clearer to create a pagination for an annual report or a sitemap for a website, for example, when the content is in place first. Everyone knows exactly what they are dealing with. How much copy do we need to account for? Do we have photos to work with or can we obtain photos? Are there statistics for infographics? Do we have any profiles to tell a story with?

When an organization knows what they are trying to say and why, the design team can then focus on organizing the information into an appropriate hierarchy so the most important messages come through loud and clear.

A design team can certainly propose strategies and messages if content isn’t in place first, but it takes longer to pitch ideas and gather content on the fly, not to mention it’s harder to budget for projects that change in scope.”

~Laura

5 reasons designers @mikemella @juliareich @IntendCreative want you to put your #nonprofit's content first #NPMC Click To Tweet

3. You’ll get meaningful design that makes sense for your content

“If the design comes first – or, similarly, the content comes first but the designer does not read the content! (yes, it happens) – then you run the real risk of the design merely appearing pretty. Eye candy.”

~Julia

“When you provide your designer with content up front, you give him more design options, because he has that much more material to work with. Remember that for every bit of content that you plan to have on your website, your designer needs to ask the question, “How will this be presented?” Provide your content early so that it doesn’t have to be strong-armed into an existing design whether it looks engaging that way or not, and allow your designer to present your content in a way that suits it.

~Mike

4. You’ll meet your project deadlines

“Putting content first means projects will be much more efficient. Too often designers face what’s known as ‘hurry up and wait’. Clients will tell us they need something right away, we’ll design a few iterations, they’ll choose the direction they want to move forward with, and then days turns into weeks as the design team waits for the final content to come together. Working on a project in this choppy fashion, means creatives have to re-acclimate themselves to that project again when it picks back up.”

~Laura

5. Putting design first is a rookie mistake

“I’ve worked on many brand new projects where neither the design nor the content has yet been developed and the client and I go round and round about whether I will show design first or get the draft text first, then show designs.

If the client wants to see design first, it’s kind of an indication that she hasn’t had much experience working with a designer. She’ll “know what she likes when she sees it”. Uh, no. The content sets the tone, the concept, the messages. A good designer knows how to translate those written ideas into visual images.”

~Julia

Whether content is king, queen or some other player, developing it should be your first move. #NPMC Click To Tweet

Do you believe that content comes first?

What are your experiences with putting content first and how did your projects benefit? Please share in the comments.

And if you know someone who would benefit from this article, please share it!

Posted May 31, 2016 / Filed under Content marketing, Nonprofit copywriting how-to / 2 Comments
  • My organization decided to change our website by looking at other sites we liked and organizations with a similar mission, then we went searching WordPress templates (our “designer”) We transferred a lot of the content we already had into the template we chose and worked on improving our messaging to donors. (forced content into design)

    Our website is still far from ideal and we have limited staff capacity and skill set to match our vision. But we wanted a CMS, not something a designer put together that needed them involved in adding or changing content over time. Content is a big challenge, working with templates and plug ins is frustrating, and I guess we’ll continue our rookie mistakes until we get past the learning curve. Or find funding to hire to fill our expertise gap and to take leadership of the project.

    • Thank you for sharing, Barbara! I totally understand doing the best with what you have available. And I understand wanting to work with a CMS to make ongoing content additions, changes and updates easy to do in house. For what it’s worth and when you’re ready, there are many talented web pros who can custom build a WordPress site that completely meets your nonprofit’s needs – including the designers listed above!