Saturday, 3 May 2014

The 'content first' approach: use real content in your designs

Post-it note saying content
"What does 'content first' mean?" asked a user experience (UX) consultant recently, "I've heard it bandied around and I'm curious."

I explained: "It means creating some real content before you commission the design. It's so that web or app designers can work with real content instead of pasting in dummy text such as lorem ipsum."

Bye, bye, lorem ipsum  

The reason it's essential to use real content - text, video, audio,  images - is that it helps the designer create a usable, meaningful design.

If you ask a designer to use dummy text and images, they'll be working in the dark. You're effectively asking them to make editorial decisions, such as:

  • does this body text need a heading?
  • where should the heading be?
  • how much space should I leave for headings?
  • how much space should I leave for body text?
  • how many levels of heading does the body text need?

Whenever design meets editorial - whenever you need to answer questions like those above - you need input from a content editor.

'Content last' approach = big trouble

If you leave editorial decisions to designers (by making them use dummy content), you could end up with a design that doesn't fit your real content. If the designer doesn't leave enough space, an editor will find it hard to write meaningful headings, links or body text.

And if a designer leaves too much space, the body text will look too sparse.

And you won't know all this until you try and slot your real content into the design.

Design tweaks cost £££

So then the designer has to tweak the design or, in the worse case, redesign. And that takes time and costs money.

Involve content experts early

The solution is to involve content experts early to help you work out what editorial features you need - and which ones you don't.

Invite content experts to your initial project meeting, show them early prototypes of the design and they'll help you smooth out any wrinkles.

Designers and editors unite!

By the way, it's not just editors and writers who complain about dummy text. Scotland-based designer Bobby Anderson dislikes it too. In his blog Bobby advises designers to change focus and design 'content first'.

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