Why content should shape your design

Stephen Hay explains why design is not the same as decoration, and content is key to success.

I can't stress enough how important it is, especially when doing web-based design comps, to have real content as early as possible in the design process.

It doesn't have to be the actual copy that will be used in the final result, but it needs to be representative of the content that is to come.

Stephen Hay

The idea is to know as much as you can about the content, so you can avoid surprises.

In a recent project, when the small number of navigation items suddenly went from three to seven, we had to rethink navigation entirely – keeping it at the top of the page on small screens, and placed horizontally on wider screens was no longer a feasible option.

It's a simple example, but a lot of these little issues can be avoided when you get content first.

The shape of content

Another advantage to having content early is that you get to know the 'shape' of the content and can design appropriately.

  • Are there five buttons in this app or 10?
  • Are these things we could use icons for, or are we using text?

These choices greatly impact your UI, and you can only account for them when you have content from the very beginning.

Some people don't like thinking about content first, preferring that the designer create a pretty container into which they can pour their content. But that's decoration, not design.

Knowing your content is thinking before doing. It's a smart way to design, and will save everyone a lot of headaches.

Words: Stephen Hay

Stephen Hay has been designing and developing for the web for 20 years. This article was originally published in net magazine.

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