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The Principles Behind Web Design, Part V: Content Is King

I’ve discussed plentifully in the past the fact that creating content is usually not the web designer’s job — but working with the content creator is, and it’s a very important relationship. That’s because if you design a webpage with all of the principles laid out in the last four posts, and then your copywriter creates a giant splash of eyeball-straining sales copy without any consideration for what the page will look like, all of your efforts will be for naught.

To the point: web surfers don’t read promotional writing. They don’t read long paragraphs without any images. They don’t like excessive superlatives, bold or italics in the middle of paragraphs (especially without any apparent rhyme or reason, as in bolding SEO keywords.)

When a web surfer sees a website that is clearly ‘speaking business’ with it’s design, it had better keep speaking the same language with it’s copy. Don’t be cute or clever, don’t pay heed to the focus groups or the Marketing department, and for Zeus’ sake, no puns. Use the clearest possible language — for example, if you’re signing someone up for a service, “sign up” is the best language to use. It’s much better than “start here”, which is, in turn, much better than “explore our services.”

Content is King
Now, wait a minute. Didn’t I start this whole series by saying that ‘Usability is King’? Yes, yes I did — and to justify that, I pointed out that an unusable website is worthless, even if it’s filled with the best content in the world. What I kind of avoided saying is that the reverse is also true: without a message to deliver, the best designs in the universe are just art installations.

The truth is that content and usability have to work together. There shouldn’t ever, for example, be a necessity to have X number of words on a particular site — the amount of content should be dictated by the purpose and usability of the page. White space shouldn’t scare anybody; it’s a good way to reduce cognitive load. In short, keep the content — and the space allotted for said content — dictated by the purpose of the page and the rules we’ve discussed over the past few weeks.

Then, make certain that your content will be:

  • Organized, with a clear and consistent conceptual structure.
  • Economized, with the smallest possible amount of visual elements.
  • Presented properly, balancing legibility, readability, symbolism, typography, texture, and color.

That’s “contenting for your design”, and it should be a key skill in any content creator’s toolbox.

…and that’s the end of our short series on web design fundamentals. If you’ve enjoyed reading this just half as much as we’ve enjoyed writing it, we’ve enjoyed it twice as much as you. See you next time with something completely different!

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