Michael Georgiou
Michael Georgiou 19 July 2016

Web Design 101: Content vs Design - Which Comes First and Why?

Is this the mother of the chicken and egg situation or what! When designing a website, there’s one major quandary designers run into again and again: Should you create a compelling design and then see where content fits? Or should you create content and design around it?

Yes, content is important, and yes, design can determine whether people leave your site in a jiffy or stay back for a leisurely stroll. User experience, after all, is a key component determining the long-term success of a website.

While there is no doubt both design and content are important, where should you put your focus in the beginning stages of your website? Poor design can squander great content and bad content can make a good design look foolish. All style, no substance.

Let’s see if we can help you with the decision.

From a design point of view

The purpose of content is to bring greater traffic to a website. Unless people discover you organically or via your own marketing, what are the chances of your website receiving high amounts of traffic month after month?

It can be argued that the greatest design in the world will not save a website that is populated with poor content. After all, it is what you have to say (or sell) that matters the most.

Take Craigslist, for example. The site is not much to look at, but some of us cannot imagine our lives without it!

It is a perfunctory place, which works well for the purpose. They do not employ many of website best practices. It isn’t lean, it isn’t a mix of visuals and text, it certainly isn’t colourful – and yet it does the job because of the content. People know what to expect from Craigslist when they log in and it meets their expectations.

There are many such websites, in fact, that seem to be flying in the face of common sense when it comes to design.

So does that mean that you could pull it off, too?

Yes. As far as possibilities are concerned, you might.

But it’s not very probable.

A business can only get away with a “bad” design if it sells something no one else does, or if it offers a service not to be found in many other places.

In other words, you’d have to offer something extraordinary to get away with a bad design.

The takeaway – Start thinking of the website design as seriously as you would the architecture of your dream house. But if, and this is a big if, your content is top-notch, you might just get away with a less-than-stellar design (though this approach is not recommended.)

From the content point of view

Having said that, it is equally important for you to understand the role of content in your marketing strategy and how and where to fit it.

By content we refer to all the content that could be found on a website.

Videos, for example. Are you going to be using them extensively? Because if the answer is yes, you would need to design a website on a template built for video. If you are going to choose a WordPress theme, you’d go for one that allows you to customize the website with as many videos and plugins as you would want. And you’d also have to hire a hosting service provider that would be able to support the resources need to make this possible.

Similarly, if you are going to be largely text-based, you’d choose a theme or design a website accordingly.

What this means is that while content and design are both important, which one you start with depends on what you aim to accomplish with the website.

For design agencies, their design would be the content. The website itself would be their greatest and most persuasive PR official. In that case, the design should and would take precedence over what we typically think of as content.

Similarly, for an ecommerce website design would be of paramount importance. You know what you are going to be selling. And you would want to put a spotlight on that in a way that it appears irresistible to the users.

Design can help you do that. It can highlight certain parts of the website that you would want to draw the attention of the users. is a fabulous website. It’s a personal favorite and a tremendous resource for anyone in the business of content marketing.

Why does it work?

Because of its super quality content.

For the longest time their website had a rather plain look. Some might call it non-intrusive, so the focus lay where it should, i.e. on the content itself.

That worked beautifully for them. They recently gave the website a facelift and it now looks trendy, slick, and very professional. Great design and superior content? That’s a winning combination. But Problogger got all the way to the top with not much of a design to propel it. It began as a personal blog and had its heart in the right place – to help others figure out blogging as a way of living.

It has been a success.

What does all this mean for a new business?

Most small businesses must recognize both the design as well as the content are important elements of a website and strive to strike a balance between the two. Here are some steps to help:

  1. Start with a very clear idea of what you want the website to be about. What is going to sell? Whom do you want it to attract? What message would it send out for your business?
  2. Flesh out the idea until you begin to see it visually and then consider the content that would help you accomplish this the best (there will likely be a lot of experimentation involved at this stage.) Would that be videos? A dedicated blog? Text-based articles? Infographics?
  3. Once you have figured out what the website would stand for and the ideal content that would make this possible, find a design that places the emphasis where it should be, so as to make the content shine.

There are a lot of sites that can help you determine the trendiest and easiest web design trends to help you get started. Likewise, many agencies and freelance professionals can help give you head start on content. Do your research and develop a website that encapsulates your company’s vision – chicken, egg, and all!

Michael Georgiou
Michael Georgiou

Thanks, Sophia! Glad you enjoyed it!

Sophia Skinbjerg
Sophia Skinbjerg

Fantastic article!

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