Content first: it's a great start but it might not be your goal

Content first: it's a great start but it might not be your goal

2 minute read

Content first: it's a great start but it might not be your goal

2 minute read

Content first: it's a great start but it might not be your goal

Chris Harding

Content Designer and Strategist

This is a great time to be a content designer. 

Thanks to the awesome Sarah Richards, we finally have a job title that suits what we do and puts us on equal footing with our more glamourous visual design colleagues.

And, most importantly, we get the chance to make our content early on in the production process.

It’s not been an easy journey to get here.

Where have we come from?

Does this look familiar?

A visualisation of an old process for content production.


It signifies the bad old days of content production. You’re brought into a project to change dummy copy into something that makes sense. Usually in boxes on a page. And, more often than not, through a CMS that is baffling to use.

It sucks!

Content producers in these scenarios are seen as the enemy. As you’ll have very little idea what you’re supposed to be writing so you’ll be forced to ask awkward, seemingly stupid questions.

And doing that while you’re holding the whole process up. 

When you finally get round to producing content your visual designers and developers often have to redo what they’ve spent ages carefully crafting—just because you need a bigger box.

If this is you now, change it or get out of there, fast.

You’ll never be taken seriously if you’re always the blocker. Obstructive and difficult doesn’t go down well with managers or teammates. 

You’ll never be involved in planning, strategy and research. And you’ll always be bought in as late as possible.

Content first

Shifting the process around to make content happen early on will get you away from some of that lorem ipsum horror

It might look something like this:

A visualisation of a content production process when content is considered early in a project.

You’ll have asked the important, strategic questions in your discovery period and planned how it’s developed. 

You’ll understand your audience and you can create something that’s not reliant on visual design.

Mic drop, you’re out.

But hang on a sec. 

What happens when your visual designer or your developers have a problem with your content? 

This change of process has just pushed the problems from the bad old days on to your colleagues.

Yes, you can reach back in and change your content to reach a happy conclusion—that’s never a problem for skilled digital content creators. But it’s a stilted, juddering process, especially if there are gaps between each phase of your project. 

There is a better, smoother way to get the best from your content and your team.

Content always

When you’re sharing understanding and working together with your team operating at the same cadence amazing things can happen.

Embedding content throughout a project means that you never let it go. You might write the first draft but move quickly into collaborative work with visual design and developers to get a prototype built.

It might look something like this:


A visualisation of a content always approach to content production.

As with content first, you’ll learn all you can about the business, audience and platform to get a solid wireframe together.

Messaging, page schemas and strawmen will flow naturally into the developing content and you can reinform the content strategy—if you need to.

The point is that you’re continually looking at and iterating the content in collaboration with your team. They’ll have different viewpoints which often provide valuable insights.

This always-on approach not only gets results but, because you’re working together, you’ll all learn more about each other’s jobs. That’s often really helpful when creating content that addresses your audience’s motivations and needs. You’ll be able to tell your teammates why you’re writing something in a certain way and what effect you’d like it to have.

Summary

As you can see, content first is a great step forward from content as an afterthought. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that turning up late to the match will mean you’re catching up.

But if you take content first too literally you’re just shifting the problem rather than solving it.

Content always should be your goal, your North star, your epiphany that makes everything work perfectly (or better at least). After all, who couldn’t benefit from always improving their content?

This is a great time to be a content designer. 

Thanks to the awesome Sarah Richards, we finally have a job title that suits what we do and puts us on equal footing with our more glamourous visual design colleagues.

And, most importantly, we get the chance to make our content early on in the production process.

It’s not been an easy journey to get here.

Where have we come from?

Does this look familiar?

A visualisation of an old process for content production.


It signifies the bad old days of content production. You’re brought into a project to change dummy copy into something that makes sense. Usually in boxes on a page. And, more often than not, through a CMS that is baffling to use.

It sucks!

Content producers in these scenarios are seen as the enemy. As you’ll have very little idea what you’re supposed to be writing so you’ll be forced to ask awkward, seemingly stupid questions.

And doing that while you’re holding the whole process up. 

When you finally get round to producing content your visual designers and developers often have to redo what they’ve spent ages carefully crafting—just because you need a bigger box.

If this is you now, change it or get out of there, fast.

You’ll never be taken seriously if you’re always the blocker. Obstructive and difficult doesn’t go down well with managers or teammates. 

You’ll never be involved in planning, strategy and research. And you’ll always be bought in as late as possible.

Content first

Shifting the process around to make content happen early on will get you away from some of that lorem ipsum horror

It might look something like this:

A visualisation of a content production process when content is considered early in a project.

You’ll have asked the important, strategic questions in your discovery period and planned how it’s developed. 

You’ll understand your audience and you can create something that’s not reliant on visual design.

Mic drop, you’re out.

But hang on a sec. 

What happens when your visual designer or your developers have a problem with your content? 

This change of process has just pushed the problems from the bad old days on to your colleagues.

Yes, you can reach back in and change your content to reach a happy conclusion—that’s never a problem for skilled digital content creators. But it’s a stilted, juddering process, especially if there are gaps between each phase of your project. 

There is a better, smoother way to get the best from your content and your team.

Content always

When you’re sharing understanding and working together with your team operating at the same cadence amazing things can happen.

Embedding content throughout a project means that you never let it go. You might write the first draft but move quickly into collaborative work with visual design and developers to get a prototype built.

It might look something like this:


A visualisation of a content always approach to content production.

As with content first, you’ll learn all you can about the business, audience and platform to get a solid wireframe together.

Messaging, page schemas and strawmen will flow naturally into the developing content and you can reinform the content strategy—if you need to.

The point is that you’re continually looking at and iterating the content in collaboration with your team. They’ll have different viewpoints which often provide valuable insights.

This always-on approach not only gets results but, because you’re working together, you’ll all learn more about each other’s jobs. That’s often really helpful when creating content that addresses your audience’s motivations and needs. You’ll be able to tell your teammates why you’re writing something in a certain way and what effect you’d like it to have.

Summary

As you can see, content first is a great step forward from content as an afterthought. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that turning up late to the match will mean you’re catching up.

But if you take content first too literally you’re just shifting the problem rather than solving it.

Content always should be your goal, your North star, your epiphany that makes everything work perfectly (or better at least). After all, who couldn’t benefit from always improving their content?

Webinar Recording

How to put content first in the design process

Practical advice to achieve a content-first approach to projects, with a new framework for a more effective and efficient design process.

September 12, 2019

4:00 pm

Register now

Webinar Recording

How to put content first in the design process

Practical advice to achieve a content-first approach to projects, with a new framework for a more effective and efficient design process.

September 12, 2019

4:00 pm

Watch now
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About the author

Chris Harding

Chris Harding's a content designer and strategist whose career spans decades (yes, he’s old). Although he always wanted to be a dancer when he was younger until a broken ankle forced him to pick up a pencil and paper and start writing instead.

He's worked in digital within businesses, agencies, charities and in the public sector—implementing content under the GDS guidelines. The bloke has lived through all sorts of content shenanigans and come out of it smiling. How? Don’t ask him, you won’t get a coherent answer.

He now runs his own content consultancy company AllJoinedUp. And is one of the co-organisers of CoDes—a meet up for content and design people in his hometown, Brighton. You can also find him on Twitter.

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