Which Comes First - Content Or Design?
Posted 15 October 2007 - 06:46 AM
One of us says that it should be possible to create a fantastic design...and apply it to a site, regardless of the content.
This includes the general page layout/structure, position of various elements etc.
All you have to do then is include the "copy" to make the site whole.
Another one of us chirps up - you need to know the copy/content before you desig or even consider structuring the page/s, as you have no idea whether the content will fit, nor if certain structures are suitable.
So... how do you approach yours?
Do you start with a chicken, or with an egg... or with both?
(or with a frying pan and some bacon rashers )
Posted 15 October 2007 - 07:12 AM
Currently i am working on a site that has 100's of articles and also different gallaries for differnt topics, audio and video files. This is a lot of information so a lot more focus was placed on the layout of copy.
So the design brief was working from a content foundation. Example: we need articeles with a header date and place for the actual article - Below the article four other recent articles. When users views full article we will have recent articles on the right and above that any audio or video that is directly related to article... We need to clearly distinguish these section for this or that reason bla bla bla...
So now you have created the information architecture. Only then would I create design brief that works within the content framework.
Although it is funny becasue often ill pitch the general look and feel of a site before i start doing the site architecture. I guess the design just cant be way out and needs to stick to general usability guidelines.
So you want a contemporary African look but try stick to some web standards so people can brows the site easily. Decide colors and other things so on so fourth and a day.
So to me its a bit of both but having written this i guess id say content most of the time first and then design around that.
Content is what people come to your site for not a uber fancy design.
Edited by saschaeh, 15 October 2007 - 07:17 AM.
Posted 15 October 2007 - 07:15 AM
The goals of the site.
That dictates the content and then the design should be developed around how the content can be most effectively presented to accomplish that goal.
I think I voted twice.
Interesting question. I look forward to seeing the replies.
Posted 15 October 2007 - 07:30 AM
The goals of the site.
well once you have your goal what would it be content or design...??
but then i guess you said content first and then design around that.
Edited by saschaeh, 15 October 2007 - 07:31 AM.
Posted 15 October 2007 - 07:41 AM
Which is likely to give you some indication of perhaps not the exact content, but the type and amount of content used around the site.
Whether you're having multipage articles, or brief overviews of things will have an effect on the design of many sites.
Whether you're going to have 1 paragraph, or 2 paragraphs of text in some places matters little.
Having said that, I find a lot of designers create layouts with conviently sized pieces of content, that neatly fit into their design. in 100% of cases, you end up with other content, either shorter, or longer than used in the designs that makes it look a little odd, or makes the actual code a bit more fiddly, and the result is never quite as neat.
Posted 15 October 2007 - 07:56 AM
One of us says that it should be possible to create a fantastic design...and apply it to a site, regardless of the content. This includes the general page layout/structure, position of various elements etc.
All you have to do then is include the "copy" to make the site whole.
It is "possible," and frankly this is how most sites come into being. I have noticed this as the dominant trend in site design and call it content irrelevant design. Really it is the idea of site structure applied to site planning: separation of style from structure, content from layout, and everything from everything else.
You can now construct a site without a programmer, designer or client collaborating in any meaningful way, each confined to their own "cubical." Dilbertesque.
The design crux is looking at the result from content irrelevant design.
A business consultancy has a Flash header using the word and theme of balance. Yet not one word in the body copy relates what the business does to the idea presented in the header. What could have happened was copy would take up the theme, explaining what in business is out of balance and how what the business consultants do restores a crucial balance, and what positive benefits come from this. They could have talked about, for one example, balanced scorecards -- a well-known management tool.
The site never made mention of balance outside the header compartment. Perfect separation of everything from everything else. This turned what could have woven a common thread of meaning -- A.K.A. Branding -- to a superficial gimmick. This is how Flash becomes 99% bad, trivial, eyecandy. Another site uses a stock photograph of a tree on a grassy plain. Beautiful, but pointless.
I would not call this separation, I'd call it a schism. Then, so each element can't clash, each is made into generic, vague, lego-blocks ...colorful but toylike in its shallowness.
Okay, fine. What's the alternative? Jewelboxing. Graphics and copy refer to each other and explain each other.
Essentially what you're talking about is the most shallow kind of brochureware site. Programming is no different, as I've seen lots of four-page PHP/MySQL site with 500 words total and which will never see a fifth page. While this is commonly done by programmers to advertise their skill, such a site should automatically disqualify the programmer from ever rising higher than code monkey.
This also explains the truly huge number of sites built without any purpose except to have a site: Exhibit number one. That's who agrees with this philosophy. Liberated from the need to know what they want to accomplish, every direction is the right one.
When content is irrelevant, you can put generic boilerplate into a standard layout with stock photography of people who look good, but don't have anything to do with you or your business, and you're done.
One trivial point is the designer, the programmer, and even the copywriter can be replaced with automation. A layout generator, a random stock photography database, and scraper software can replace the design team, and despite protestations to the contrary get the same basic end result.
Posted 15 October 2007 - 08:49 AM
Take for example a recent site I've created for a client - very little content, very little of anything really. If I'd not seen that content beforehand I'd have probably assigned more space for the content and it would end up looking really bare. As it is we had to supersize the text to give it a more filled out look.
On the other hand, if a site has lots of content I'd possibly need 3 columns instead of my typical 2, so I'd need to know that first otherwise I'd not factor in the extra column originally causing me to have to re-edit the design.
I mean, it's obviously possible to put the content in around the design but not my preferred method.
Posted 15 October 2007 - 09:19 AM
As further clarification, I take Content as being lead by the goal (eg. the clietn should already have the information on their market and audeince etc. not my job - though I do advise they obtain such information).
I think you can get so far with design without the content... I get to the colours, general feel ad wanted image, emphasis on branding etc.... but no actual layouts.
Not untill I know what the page will be presenting and how it is to present it... then I can start developing strucutre... but only after the site structure
Once I know what the client wants to do, I figure out how to do it... and get a general idea as to the "size" of the site... rough idea as to the pages and sections... then I make up several possibly navigational scenarios.
The desing is then based around the content/navigation.
Nice to se that I'm not the only one who sees all these segregated pieces occuring during design.
Personally, it should all tie in - if there is no communication, then things are not likely to work... I view the whole idea of different "departments" handling their own parts with no liasion as flawed... it's meant to be something "entire", not made up of distinctly different parts.
Of course, jsut my opinion... if they all have a well laid out plan that governs the various aspect well enough - I think it is feasable that it could work (have to be a damn detailed plan, or departments that work very tightly).
As for the "content fitting"... thats one of my pet hates... aprticualrly for alot of these cheapy (and not so cheapy) template sites... they have little application for "real sites" as they are not able to handle expanded/contracted content.
Considering I build CMS sites... I find that aspect highly important... I have o real control, nor feel I should restrict, the content the clietns will provide... so those pretty little boxes need to be flexible... or at least enable some form of scrolling as an absolute last resort (and I mean absolute!).
So nice to see that the majority seems togo with designing around... and cross interaction... was worried I had the wrong end of the stick (then again, we all might be holdign the wrong end )
Posted 15 October 2007 - 10:34 AM
My vote is that you can design around content, or even work back and forth tweaking design and content so that they work together, but it would be crazy to make a completely independent design and "force" the content into it. If you want to design completely independent of content, you should be making templates! At least then they can be "chosen" to fit the content.
Posted 15 October 2007 - 06:13 PM
BRANDING, and I'm not talking about what you print on your business cards.
The tone of this post of Ammon's on branding was one of the reasons I registered and became active as a member @ Cre8asite.
Branding is how you show who you are. Before the making of the business card or logo or goodie bag or whatever carries the brand, there comes the persona of the business. Underlying the business's identity is business plan stuff, aka target market research.
Even the style of writing is effected by branding.
Posted 19 October 2007 - 04:41 AM
Company site , business site: content first.
Personal site, show: design first.
Posted 19 October 2007 - 08:51 AM
To me design is site structure, page layout and aesthetics - and in that order.
Coming before any of those design elements are the things mentioned in several posts above, the goals of the site, the audience etc etc
So not only does design come last, but if by 'design' you mean the aesthetics, it comes last within the tasks covered by 'design'
At the end of the day if you don't tick all the other boxes what is the point of nice aesthetics?
Posted 19 October 2007 - 10:22 AM
Okay... I'm so glad I asked this... as I feel much better personally (I was worried I'd approached the wrong way).
Still.... I've found it interestesting the definitions that we all have for different things, (to me, content is based on goals, design is the structure with paint applied etc.).
Just goes to show in future I will have to stipulate and expound very very very carefully to what I refer.
Thanks to all that posted... darn enlightening!
Posted 19 October 2007 - 02:36 PM
So content seems like the responsible choice here
Posted 21 October 2007 - 01:04 PM
After that, for us, it becomes a very iterative process. We decide on a design based on the function. This will have such things as header, navigation, number of columns, colour, etc. , but no copy. Once the client 'signs off' on the general design, we start adding copy. Then we start 'tweaking' the layout. Such things as column widths, fonts, graphics are in a constant state of flux as we add the copy.
So, to answer your question. Once you know the function, do the overall design. After a general design is approved - add the copy.
We learned the hard way, with our first major client, not to go too far into the process without getting the design approved by the client.
Posted 21 October 2007 - 01:21 PM
I'm somewhat perplexed regarding your approach though.
I myself get example content, then design around that. I do not make any real designs or apply any "theme/scheme" to the design until I kow what the typical content forms are going to be... otherwise I may end up discovering that I haveto make more than a few changes.
Yet you seem able to build the general design at least up til la certain point, without this.
Any chance you could point out how, as I may be missing a fundemental technique or approach... and I'm greedy inwanting to know others
Posted 21 October 2007 - 01:59 PM
Posted 21 October 2007 - 05:29 PM
Sometimes people are disconnected from what the Internet can do for them. Sometimes it's off the radar screen entirely: not their job. Helping them make the connection then becomes part of my job. Most of us like to talk about what we are good at. Getting people talking about their personality as a company will help me get ideas for their site. "What do you want the site to do" doesn't make as much sense if they don't know what a site *can* do.
What a site *can* do for *that*particular*entity* goes back to the persona of the entity.
Edited by AbleReach, 21 October 2007 - 05:29 PM.
Posted 22 October 2007 - 08:15 PM
Understanding the clients message and getting a design and structure that will best deliver that message works best for us.
Most of the time the client doesn't have any copy written, or what copy they do have doesn't work well on a website. Copy and the final selection of images are only done once we have an overall design framework.
It works for us -- it obviuously doesn't work for everyone.
Posted 23 October 2007 - 03:29 AM
Posted 21 December 2007 - 01:23 PM
The presentation of a unique product (service), aided by great design, can carry the promotional message; the iPhone serving as a prime example. But, if uniqueness isn't part of the equation, then copy content will have to shoulder the load. For example:
The existence today of template-design web sites. We've all seen then - sites that look as if the were cranked out of a 'cookie-cutter' assembly line production shop... somewhere. Such design is prevalent in the IT services and hosted applications industry. So then, the question begs: What makes 'XYZ' shop uniquely more qualified to handle my IT services needs than the 'ABC' shop? With similar graphic design presentation, as de facto, the only way a prospective customer has in making a decision is to weigh the content of the copy message.
'Pretty pictures' will go only so far in influencing site visitors, but after awhile, boredom sets in. Therefore, I say copy - in most situations - rules the roost. Of course, where both copy and design work in harmony to form the overall visual message and design, then the promotional challenge is won - especially when masterful typography enters the scene, thus allowing both the copy message, and its typographic presentation, to work as a cohesive design element.
Posted 21 December 2007 - 02:05 PM
1. Should I write the bulk of the content for the site first, then bring in a designer?
2. should I bring in a designer to set the look and feel for the site, with pseudo latin sitting in the design as text, then develop the content to replace the pseudo latin?
In the vast majority of the cases, #1 is the more effective method. The exception would be cases where the objectives have such mission-critical visual objectives that the visuals will dominate copy. Common examples would be sites promoting fashion products or graphic design services.
My experience is that with #1 the project trudges along in a fairly boring but painless way and the end result gets done relatively on time, on budget, and on target. There may not be that much excitement with the finished product, but it works great for years and years.
With #2 the project begins with a surge of excitement, and then there are all sorts of painful decisions and cumbersome workarounds about staying true to the design that everyone is excited about while the content is created and poured into the design. Meanwhile the project goes over budget and past deadlines. The end result is like a fabulous outfit one pulled off the rack that required lots of expensive, time-consuming tailoring and still doesn't fit right. After awhile the excitement wears off, the discomfort sets in, and the process starts over.
Posted 21 December 2007 - 02:15 PM
Some things never change, do they?
Posted 21 December 2007 - 02:30 PM
Can't believe this has revived, but it was worth it for those two insightful posts.
It really is a chicken/egg scenario... but to my mind, it is the objectives, therefore the content that is the most prominent, in most cases (As you pointed out).
Of course, having a genreal feel for things and a few pretty conceptions in mind doesn't hurt... to me, it's when people wnat a very specific visual and then try to make the content fit that it gets ugly, and often unworkable, fast.
Posted 21 December 2007 - 02:58 PM
Here's something for you to sit back and observe. (Assuming you're fairly new to the game.)
Time and again, I have been in on concept sessions where, close to the time the session got underway, 'someone' would come forth with a truly creative idea; either design-wise, or copy-wise. In fact, a damned good idea.
Of course, the Major Domo in charge of the session, knocks down the idea, and moves on to other universes.
The session drags on for one, two hours, or maybe longer... usually chewing into lunch time.
Finally, because too many bladders have begun acting up and session participants excuse themselves with increasing frequency, the Major Domo 'suddenly' comes up with THE idea! And, if any of you have gone through one of these sessions, you've already guessed: Major Domo's brilliant idea resembles (nearly 100%) the idea that was thrown away at the beginning of the session. And, of course, those of us who have had to suffer through the ordeal, all - and enthusiastically, I stress - affirm the leader's flash of brilliance just to get the hell out of the room.
Posted 22 December 2007 - 09:31 AM
But if it is a non-business/commercial site then (my personal opinion) it is not that important which comes first.
The most important thing when designing a website, is to separate content from layout/design, I mean everything which has nothing to do with content should be put in CSS.
When I am developing a website I don't use tables or other terrible elements in the HTML, everything goes into CSS (using a lot of 'DIV's').
When using this designing method, it doesn't matter how the content is organized. I can change the look & feel of a website by only using a different CSS and don't have to reorganize the content or navigation in the HTML pages, have a look at 'csszengarden', then you know what I mean.
Especially for designers who are building (prototyping) the website together with the client, the above method is a great way to do. Using CSS web design makes it very easy to change colors, fonts, background images, headers, footers, position of the navigation and content etc. without reorganizing the content.
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