Content First: What Makes or Breaks a Design

Written by Adaptix on September 30, 2020

At the beginning of every project our first step as designers is to audit the client. This mostly consists of going through their content but can also include an “emotional audit.” As the creative problems solvers, we need to figure out what our clients are all about. We need to pick their brains and get them to talk passionately about their product, service, or company.

This process is like mining for gold. The more we dig, the more “good stuff” we find. If we’re lucky we’ll get them to explain their brand in ways that we never could because, let’s face it, they understand it more than we ever will. Out of this we may get a few impactful one-liners we can use for promotional materials or even above-the-fold content on webpages. We may get a grasp on the terminology they use and, afterwards, feel more comfortable speaking in their “lingo.” Most importantly, hearing them speak about what it is that they do will make doing what it is that we do way easier. 

A brand is more than just a logo, wordmark, or name — a brand is the feeling people get when they hear that name.By prying the passion out of our clients we get that feeling and designing things that give users/customers that same feeling will feel more natural.

Not only does getting the content before starting a design make the design look and feel better, it makes it work better too. When fleshing out a website or printed materials designers will often use Greek text as placeholder content. When we do this we can make the design work exactly the way we want, using the perfect number of lines and consistently short names like Joe Schmoe or Jane Doe. This is not ideal. We want to build something around the client’s content, that way it is a perfect home, as opposed to building a house that may not be the right fit and having to jam the content in later. This is especially crucial for websites. 

Designing content-first makes the end product look better, feel better, and function better because, during the process, there is no backtracking to fix bugs and “duct tape” things together. It becomes seamless, from beginning to end. If we have all of the content up front we can focus on the details as we move along. Not only does this result in a better end product but it saves time and money. By getting the content at the end of a project we may realize that we need to completely rework a website template or a section of a pamphlet, adding more time and more money to the project scope.

Even worse, getting the content at the end of a project, instead of at the beginning, could mean that we designed the entire product based on the wrong ideas and for the wrong audience resulting in something that completely misses the mark.

Overall, content-first is not only best practice in our industry but crucial for the best product in any industry. As designers we have a responsibility to obtain the proper materials before we build anything so, we take the time at the start of every project to brainstorm and strategize.

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