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by Steve Dolan // Monday, June 12, 2017

There is an emerging fallacy in our industry recently. The idea that you cannot create good design without knowing your content.

You can create good experiences without knowing the content. What you can’t do is create good experiences without knowing your content structure. What is your content made from, not what your content is. An important distinction.

Designers have always been involved with content. We’re not just concerning ourselves with what is visual. So how can we help our clients understand that when we say:

"Content First!"

We don’t really mean:

"I’m going to sit on my hands right here unless you give me my content. Finalized, proofed and signed off. Thank you very much."

What we mean is:

"We’d really like to understand the type and structure of the content for this project. Don’t worry, you don’t have to write anything yet, just help us understand."

We can do this any number of ways, but recently I’ve found this broad process works for me:

  1. Talking. Post-it notes. Lock the door and talk about your website. Not the content (yet). As you’re talking, jot down words that resinate. Then after you’ve talked, stick all the words up on a wall and start to make connections between them.
  2. Clean Up. You should end up with a pile of loosely related words (not content at this point) about some stuff. This stuff is the very DNA of your website. The feel, the tone, the brand, the message through to the nitty gritty of content types, categories, tags and technology. Now, sort it all out.
  3. Iterate. At some point in that sorting, you will need to start tightening up the structure. Again, I’ve found doing this iteratively and collaboratively the most fruitful. Ask friends or even family if your organization of these thoughts makes sense to them.
  4. Structure. Now you should have some structure. At some point in step three, there will come a point when you will say: "Yes, but what is this?" when pointing at a word. At that point, you get into detail and start fleshing out what it is. This is defining the structure of your content. Now you've gained momentum - don't stop.
  5. Page tables. A page table is basically a form for your content. Fill it in. Use this one, because it’s brilliant. This tool can really help your client later in the "Whoa, I’ve got so much content to write and I don’t know where to start!" phase. It helps focus.


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