Website Content or Design: Which Should Come First?

by | Dec 17, 2023

When developing websites, one common question arises: should you start with content or design? This chicken-or-egg dilemma leaves many designers and developers needing clarification on the best approach.

Website Content or Design

In this post, I’ll argue why content should come first, leading to better outcomes for both users and site creators.

Users Come to Websites for Content, Not Design 

What Draws People to Websites

The reality is that users come to websites primarily for one reason: the information and services provided through content. Things like layouts, interactions, and visuals are secondary.

People visit sites mainly to fulfil needs met by consuming content. Understanding user intent should be the priority.

More than flawless design is needed to save weak content.

However, strong content presented clearly can still engage users even with basic design. Leading with content strategy ensures you give users what they want most.  

Website Content or Design: Which Should Come First?

Outline Content Strategy Before Design Work Begins

Provide Context for Design 

Beginning website planning by outlining goals for content allows designers to grasp user needs and site objectives. This content strategy then informs design work by providing necessary context on types of site content and functionality.  

It guides visual and UX decisions on optimal ways to present information and enable user actions. Defining content direction upfront prevents rework later on. 

Set Clear Goals and Requirements Upfront

Draft Detailed Guidelines

Part of the content strategy process is documenting what content will exist and what functional needs will be met. For instance, rules for content lengths, image requirements, and conditional display needs should be detailed.  

This gives designers concrete specifications when conceptualizing layouts and data displays. It accounts for variables like expanding content sizes and formatting adjustments.

Website Content or Design: Which Should Come First?

Website Content or Design: Which Should Come First?

Design Should Enhance and Streamline Content   

Improve the User Experience

With content requirements set, designers can focus on properly showcasing information in an easy-to-consume way.

This entails emphasizing hierarchy through visual weight and space, simplifying scans for key items, and spotlighting calls to action. 

The result is an experience where design elements fade away, allowing content to shine. Users engage seamlessly with what brought them. 

Leading With Design Causes Rework Down the Road 

Accommodate Content Needs  

Beginning with visual layouts before a content direction is defined often causes problems when the two merge. When actual content is introduced, new display needs emerge that approved designs can’t accommodate.

Significant rework is then required to retrofit interfaces for real content. This leads to wasted effort, delays, and costs that could have been avoided.  

Closing Thoughts

Approaching website creation with content strategy first establishes a solid basis for design work to follow. Outcomes tailored to user goals have more impact. Defining direction and specifications upfront allows teams to craft cohesive experiences that put content first. This enables websites to be built for long-term relevance and success.