Why Designers and Content Strategists Need to Work Together

Content creation, content strategy, content marketing–these are all trendy terms right now, but nothing that web designers need to worry about, right?

Wrong.

Design and content are two sides of coin. They are both necessary for an effective website.

Imagine yourself in a grocery store searching for a package of flour. On the shelf, side by side, are two bags. Both bags contain the identical type and amount of flour. Both bags cost the same amount of money. But one bag is beautifully designed with an eye-catching graphic. The other bag is plain beige and the only design element is the word “Flour” in a plain font.

Which bag would you be most likely to notice?

As designers, you probably realize that bag with the eye-catching graphic is more likely to catch a customer’s eye. The well-designed bag is probably also the package of flour you bought.

Web design is like product packaging. Good design determines whether the content reaches its intended audience. Bad design means the content is likely to be ignored.

In this post, we explain why content strategists and designers need to work together. We also share some tips to help you add content strategy to your design process.

If you liked this post, you may also like Why Writers and Designers Need Each Other.

design-content

What is Content?

There are a lot of different definitions of content out there, so it’s important to explain what we mean when we say content.

Many people think that content is just about writing blog posts or articles, but really the written word is just one type of content. Content is so much more. Content can also be:

  • Images
  • Videos
  • Podcasts
  • And more

The purpose of content is to convey information. That information can be either informative or entertaining, or both.

Web content can be as simple as a single home page to sell a product, or as complex as an online magazine complete complete with a user forum.

Like good web design, good content strategy requires lots of planning. That’s why it’s important to coordinate the web design and content plan for a site.

The Designer/Content Strategist Relationship

Designer-relationship

A strong relationship between a designer and the person responsible for content leads to more effective website, which is a good thing for everyone involved.

A web designer creates a place where content can be shared effectively. Without good web design, content is unlikely to get noticed–no matter how valuable or interesting it is.

In fact, with a single glance, web design sends a signal to the site’s user. The message sent by a professionally designed site is that the content here can be trusted. The message from a poorly designed site is that the content here is likely to be junk or spam.

That’s why it’s a good idea to think of content and design as two parts of a whole. It’s hard to have an effective content strategy without good design.

Yet many designers ignore content entirely, choosing to let someone else worry about it. This could be a big mistake. If you’re looking for a competitive edge, forging a relationship with a content specialist could put you ahead of your competition. Besides, many design clients want the option of getting content and design from the same source.

Why Work Together?

To create the most effective website for their clients, designers and content strategists need to know much of the same information. The best way to make sure that the web design and content strategy complement each other rather than clash with each other is for the content strategist and web designer to communicate regularly.

The sharing of information and ideas ultimately results in a better user experience.

Here are just a few of the questions that both content strategists and web designers both need to ask:

  • What audience is this website is trying to reach? Both the designer and the content strategist need an accurate profile of the intended user for the website. They should understand what the user needs from the website and how they will interact with the site. The more details you both know about the audience, the better. Both the content and the design should be targeted to the intended audience.
  • What is the primary message this website is trying to convey? The purpose the website is important to both the designer and the content strategist. Both need to know what the reader is supposed to take away after visiting the site. Working together, they make sure that message is clear.
  • What is the right tone for this website? The designer sets the tone for the website using color, fonts, and images. A content creator sets the tone for the website by choosing the media to deliver the message. If the design tone and the content tone don’t match, the content effectiveness can be damaged. For example, you wouldn’t design a pink and white website (with flowers) to provide financial advice to financial analysts and expect that site to be taken seriously. But a pink and white design might set the perfect tone for an online magazine targeted to pre-teen girls, such as Girls Life.

If the designer and the content strategist come up with different answers to these questions, the result could be an ineffective site.

Rather then sending the same (or similar) questions to the client from two different sources (and risk different answers, the designer and content specialist should work together and share the answers to a single set of questions.

While you might see the value of coordinating content creation and web design, it might seem like an impossible goal to accomplish. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Tips for Working Content into Your Process

content-process
The design process and content strategy can be integrated to create a more effective user experience. With a little planning, content strategy can easily become a part of your design process.

You can begin to incorporate content into your design process by:

  • Planning for content early in the process. Don’t wait until the last minute to think about content strategy. If your client doesn’t explain what type of content they plan to include on their site, ask them.
  • Collaborating with an expert. Design requires a specific skill set. So does content creation and management. While some designers have both skill sets, many do not. Don’t be afraid to reach out to and work with a content creation specialist.
  • Communicating with the content specialist regularly. Communication is an important part of the design process. Just as it’s important to communicate changes to your client, it’s also important to communicate change to your content specialist.

Are you looking for more ways to include content strategy? Here are two more ideas for integrating content into the design process:

Your Turn

Do you consider content in your web design process? Discuss your answer in the comments.

Published July 10th, 2013 by

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9 Responses

Comments are now closed on this post.

  • Jason Pelker, July 10, 2013

    I question your analogies and your thesis. For instance, if a bag only has the word “flour” on it, then it does not have a content strategy.

    As most sales-minded designers and marketers are beginning to truly understand, you design AROUND the content. I’m sorry, but sexy for sexy’s sake does not sell, and therefore, it has no design. Separating the content strategy from the “look” of a website does the entire industry a disservice.

    Honestly, there’s no need for the two disciplines to “work together” because if done correctly, they are one in the same. The content is the largest, first and most important element of the design. Stylizing a site (the flourish you’re referring to) is virtually meaningless in regards to conversions.

  • Daryl, July 11, 2013

    I think you’re absolutely right. I recently made a site for a client-a simple informative site-and while I’ve always struggled to obtain content from clients, I decided to not let it be a problem that ultimately slows me down…

    I’m not a big-time developer or anything. I’m just a self taught small-time designer/developer.

    So I took the reigns and imagined I was them, writing every last bit of content. The About Us page was completely made-up,, but the results were so impressive to them that they actually paid me extra as a bonus and it also motivated them to make the necessary changes so that it could be finished.

  • Alan Smith, July 11, 2013

    Design and content both are important for website ranking on SERP but before that we will have to decide our targeted users.

  • Laura Spencer, July 11, 2013

    Jason Pelker–I think many web designers are starting to work around content, but there are still many who don’t. (The bag with the word ‘flour’ written on it was the example of what not to do in the analogy.)

    Daryl, Great story. It’s good that you can write too, but not every designer has both skillsets. Plus, if a site had an ongoing need for fresh content, it might take you a lot of time to create.

    Alan Smith–You’re absolutely right.

  • Jared, July 13, 2013

    Completely agree, you look at a lot of sites today and they look fragmented as the design doesn’t match up with the content. When this happens there is no real flow to the site and it hurts the UI.

  • Rasel, July 14, 2013

    In my point of view , its like a Picture in a Photo Album. If the photo album is not looking nice then the photo will not too.

    So designer and content strategies relation is most important in both layout and search engine perspective.

  • Arelthia, July 15, 2013

    I am glad that you mentioned that content strategy needs to be addressed early in the planning phase of a website. A lot of time people spend a lot of time worrying about the design of a site and end up with a beautiful site with no content. Then you have to decide what type of content your going to use which may not fit the design.

    Thanks for the post

  • Web Design Malaysia, July 17, 2013

    a beautifully designed website with NO relevant content = junk.

  • Chris Blake Jones, July 20, 2013

    I couldn’t agree more, great post.