Which comes first: design or content?

Small yellow chicken with eggshell to represent the question 'which comes first: design or content'.

This is the ultimate ‘chicken or egg’ question for business owners and has likely been debated for just as long. The short answer is, of course, neither.

Many people immediately think of design when they’re looking to create a piece of communication such as a website, advertisement or e-newsletter. We’re visual creatures, and it’s far more satisfying to see a ‘before’ and ‘after’ image that is dramatically different, than a headline and paragraph changed to…another headline and paragraph.

So you’re forgiven for thinking that design is the first step in the process. But it’s a little more complicated than that. Here are some factors to consider before you go running blindly towards the pretty things:

Your team

Some graphic designers prefer copy that’s complete and approved before they’ll even consider starting work on the design. Others prefer to see the content while it’s still in the draft stage, so they can provide feedback as to what may not work visually.

In my experience, copywriters either prefer a clean slate to start writing, or a draft design or wireframe (the black and white layout of a website, before it’s filled in with colours and images) to give them an idea of the look and feel.

Talk to your team to find out how they usually work and make sure they agree on a process before they get started. It’s usually best for the designer and copywriter to work directly with each other while keeping you in the loop—they can speed up the process by talking shop, as well as iron out any concerns before they become a problem.

TIP: Ask your designer and copywriter how they prefer to work, so you can make the most of their skills. Click to tweet

 

Cost

Once your copy is approved or the design is created, it can be time-consuming to start making big changes or adding new thoughts or ideas. And when I say time-consuming, I mean costly.

There are usually a certain amount of changes you can make to the design or copy that’s included in the quote. These changes should be along the lines of adjusting elements, checking for errors or changing a word or headline.

You should try not to change designs that you’ve previously approved, or re-write sections of copy once it leaves the copy deck (the word or excel document your copywriter provides) and is inserted into the design.

Make sure you know exactly what you need and confirm that your copywriter and designer understand this before they start work. Yes, the briefing process is tedious and can take some time in the beginning, but it will save you money and frustration down the track.

TIP: Brief your designer or copywriter thoroughly, before they start work. It could save you expensive changes. Click to tweet

 

Deadlines

I cannot tell you how often I receive enquiries from people who have spent weeks or months working with a designer, then consider hiring a copywriter about five days before deadline.

Um, no.

It’s your hard-earned business we’re talking about here. Your brand. The Thing That Pays Your Bills. What you say is just as important as how it comes across. Good copy takes time—weeks and months, not days—so make sure you consider it at the start of the process, not the end.

TIP: Copy and design should work hand-in-hand. Don’t leave either to the last minute. Click to tweet

 

Which you do think should come first: design or content?

I'm an SEO copywriter and brand storyteller based in Sydney, who's besotted with words, good stories and hot chips. I'm currently studying a Master of Arts in Creative Writing at Macquarie University.

2 Comments

  • Reply July 29, 2014

    Alanah

    Sarah I absolutely love this article!!
    We are an agency that chooses to “design with purpose” guiding the user to a specific outcome. However we can only guide users to this outcome if we have some idea of content, but so often we hear “I just need to see the website so I can write the copy”! We work around this issue by creating the wireframe but also, working with a fabulous copywriter like yourself!

  • Reply July 29, 2014

    Sarah Morton

    Thanks so much Alanah, so glad you enjoyed it! I love working with the Redfox team :)

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