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Who Came First - The Content or the Design

Who Came First - The Content or the Design

How to begin a web project is always up for debate. After the initial meetings are done and a price has been agreed upon, it often comes down to the designer to start things off. And designers tend to do what they do best, design. So already the project is starting on a rocky foundation. Why? Because content is king and and any design that is created before the written content cannot be a total success. Yet you cannot start writing content without knowing a few things first. So which is it?

Want a great website, close Photoshop, put away the sketchbook, and start planning.

For any web project, the ideal situation, is to have the content writer(s) sit down with the design lead, and build the foundation.

The Foundation

Before the wireframe and the architecture, you must determine the purpose. Why are you building this website? Might not be as simple as it seems, and even more problematic, the client might have different or conflicting ideas of what they need.

There is almost never just one purpose, so start with a list. Write down everything the website needs to achieve. Once you are happy with the list, rank each item. If possible, lump similar items together. With this list you are going to build your site architecture.

Site Architecture

The site architecture is more than a set of wireframe or a sitemap. This is your sites content in it’s most basic form. Take that purpose list from before and spell out each item in a way you are most comfortable with (on index cards, a whiteboard, written in paragraph form, a bulleted list, whatever).

    Where - Where is the content going to be located in the website?
  • What Content - What content is needed to fulfill the purpose?
  • Quantity - How much content is needed to fulfill the purpose?
  • Organization - How is the content going to be organized?
  • Reality - Not all this can get done within the budget and timetable. What are the keys that must happen and what would be nice to have?

It might only take a sentence or two for each, or it could be many paragraphs, depending on the complexity of the project, but trust me it is better to do it now, than to wait until the site is half built, and realize you’ve forgotten something major.

Wireframes and Site Map Diagrams

Now that you know the purpose of the website and generally what content will be needed, begin breaking that content down into it’s individual pages and page areas. I suggest starting with the site map diagrams. Once you have all the rough pages laid out, begin on the homepage wireframe and work your way down to the subpage wireframe.

After the initial wireframe and the site map diagrams are completed go back to your purpose list and make sure everything can be checked off. Circle anything that is getting overlooked or could use more attention. If the project comes in under budget, or you want to propose further work for the site you know the key areas that need it.
Write web content or design the website, which comes first?

Can I Design Now?

Now you can begin to write the content and design the website. So really, neither ones comes first. If you are doing both the writing and the design I would recommend at least writing the main paragraphs and tag lines for the homepage first A design filled with Lorem Ipsum is never going to be as good as something built with the actual content. And having some real copy allows for the designer to play around with typography and know how large each content area needs to be in order for the written copy to fit.

Do you have any tips or tricks for planning a website. Share them in the comments below.

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Couchable is a web design blog created by Tyler Herman. Not really updated anymore because I'm busy doing freelance design work and busy launching my little WordPress theme shop Real Theme Co. You can read a little more about my at my personal site