“Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.” –Jeffrey Zeldman

We’re designers. We crave visual punch, new and innovative design techniques, layouts with the finest typography, and color palettes that blend with ease—many of us feel it’s our job to truly wow users with our beautiful aesthetics.

And then with looming deadlines, we slap some mediocre copy into our magnificent design, turn it in, and call it a day. After all it wasn’t our job to write the copy, was it?

Thus is the cycle of modern web design: meticulously crafted sites throughout the design and development phases with content added, almost mindlessly, as a mere afterthought.

But we’re doing it all wrong. If an entire structure is being designed and built FOR content, shouldn’t we instead be designing AROUND content?

Say Goodbye to Lorem Ipsum

Lorem Ipsum and other copy placeholders are being used to many a web design’s demise. Mockups contain filler text, sometimes all the way through the end of the development phase, creating unrealistic assumptions for content that is yet to exist. Once copy and graphics are finally added in, serious design flaws can occur if this content doesn’t meet the designer’s initial approximations. At this point in the process, one of two things will usually happen: either the designer will request additional content to help fill in the design blanks, or the layout will be modified to better suit the actual content that was provided.

Neither solution is necessarily the right one, but this all to common dilemma can be almost entirely prevented by simply having the content, or a good idea of the content, before the design phase ever begins.

Text, graphics, video, and audio are what make up a web experience—these are the reasons why users are visiting a site in the first place. The layout should support these vital elements—not the other way around.

Create for Users, not Fellow Designers

Designers spend hour upon hour painstakingly crafting award-winning designs, but, in most cases, users are coming for content, not the design. Of course good design is noticed, but on a much more intuitive level: things like sensible navigation, readability, color that makes sense to the subject, and ease of finding important information are the design staples that make or break an interface from a standard user’s perspective.

Generally far more trained in reading and writing than in visual design, users are much more likely to take notice of lazy copy—and to be far more forgiving toward a less-than-groundbreaking design.

Simply put, if a user can easily navigate a design and find the quality content they’re looking for, they’ll be left with a positive experience—and you, the designer, will have created a successful, functional design.

Implement a New Workflow

Maybe you’re a one man show constantly battling with clients to get copy turned in so that you can add it to your design. Or, maybe you’re part of a creative team that is used to having a “design first, content later” approach.

Regardless of your situation, getting everyone on board for a content-centric workflow will no doubt be a challenge, but it’s something worth striving for.

Those who focus on content first reap the benefits of fewer design iterations, more accurate mockups to provide to developers, and, most importantly, a creation that focuses on what the user wants most: the content.

About Shannon

Shannon Blaz, owner and operator of Blaz Design, is a Cleveland-based freelance web designer and developer, as well as a frequent contributor at designRoom Creative. Her collaboration on the design and development of GO Ortho and Regen Orthopedic’s websites helped to launch those brands. Shannon’s experience with UX & UI come together in well crafted and intuitive designs around content-centric websites.