Designing Around Content


December 13, 2010

Working with content is, unfortunately, too often considered a luxury in web design circles. In a perfect world, I would insist on deeply understanding a web site’s content before I even thought to sketch out a wireframe. In reality, however, content is often still being compiled as design gets underway.

So the question is: Does a designer really need to have all the content before they begin a successful design concept?”  In a perfect world, yes — but there are ways around it.

Clients & Mock Content

Often, a client will not have content ready at the beginning stage of the project. If the client does have some content, it’s typically nothing more then a mission statement from a brochure or a blurb of text from a previous website’s “About Us” section. The best I can hope for is that the client will write the content (or ask our PaperStreet writers to write it) in parallel with the website design.

The goal, then, is to get the client to review the design as the content is written, keeping in mind the length of the page and how the design expands to accommodate the copy.

Without any real content to work with, I will often rely on dummy text. Dummy text can actually be preferable during the initial wireframe process. It keeps the client from nitpicking the actual content, instead focusing on the layout and where content will be living.

But using too much dummy text can be problematic. When you use dummy text, you make an assumption that the communication problem has been solved. That it is just white noise to the “more important” issue of stylization. This can lead to your message becoming missed or lost by the user. It can also lead to nothing more than paragraph after paragraph missing opportunities for potential design elements and technology to organize and highlight important messages.

The True Meaning of “Content’

Now “Content” doesn’t necessarily mean, “having all the copy.””  Heck, content doesn’t even need to necessarily be the words. I define content as the story you want to tell the user. It means knowing:

  • What the website is all about;
  • What kind of information needs to be presented; and
  • Who the intended users visiting the website are.

This is the most important thing to keep in mind before starting a wireframe sketch. Clients should also be thinking about copy, videos, photos, quotes, and other visuals such as charts and/or graphs to make their site more visually appealing and unique.


To design a successful website, I do not need to have all the written content in hand. What I do need is a subject. I need to know both whom my client intends to reach and how they intend to reach them.

Successful communication requires understanding. The less you understand, the less likely you are to communicate successfully — both visually through design and through the content on your site.

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One Response to Designing Around Content

  1. web designer
    8:37 am on January 11th, 2011

    Hey Danny, yes totally agree here content is all important, but it has to be believable and knowledge worthy.

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