Content First Design: 3 Reasons Why Lorem Ipsum Isn't Enough

By Kelley McDonald, Senior UX Architect on Jun. 10, 2016 View Comments

UX Cover ImageThe web has always been about content. Sure, people visit websites and use apps to complete specific tasks or interact with others, but it's ultimately the content that facilitates those events.

And while elements like maps, infographics, and videos are considered content, the written word, “real” copy, comprises the great majority of what's actually consumed and exchanged online. Copy is the infrastructure on which digital content and user experience (UX) is built—the glue that holds it all together.

Today's digital leaders often deny that copy is a key tenant of web success, even though it can make or break UX. Stakeholders assume that only they can create copy that’s ready for primetime since they know their business best. So it goes on the back-burner during web design, with the assumption that it can be tackled just prior to launch, when they'll “fill in” the site or app that's been designed, developed, and deployed on a CMS.

The phrase “content migration” might imply that it's just a matter of transferring and adapting existing copy and other content to suit a new platform. But this is rarely the case. In reality, rethinking, editing, and creating new copy becomes a huge hurdle, and launching the product on time hinges on a few stalwart stakeholders performing a herculean task – developing endless copy at the last minute.

To reduce the level of content frenzy felt prior to a web launch, I recommend UX and content teams work together to push for real copy as early in design as possible. Here are three ways to drive a Content First design:

1. Approach Copy Strategically From Day 1

At Celerity, we start talking about copy on day one of our web design projects:

  • We conduct a thorough audit of existing copy.
  • We keep the focus on all content throughout user research and discovery activities.
  • We take the extra step of “modeling” copy based on what we’ve learned about our end users and what we understand they want to achieve. 

Our team also subscribes to “Content First Design." That means we start the design process by designing with words, not visual elements. Online interactions are mostly exchanges of text, so the first order of business is always to determine, for each of our audience personas, what text we need to develop for a person to not only achieve their goals on our site, but to do so in a natural and satisfying way. Words are the means by which we map out necessary dialogues with users so that the "partnership" between the business and users succeeds.

2. Use Real Copy to Drive UX Design

As a UX architect, it’s important for me to move back and forth between the “micro” page-level content details and the “macro” site map, which depicts the site architecture and how all pages relate to each other. This is where real copy becomes a must-have.

Prioritizing content elements, crafting them as realistically as possible, and thinking through how they'll be consumed in multiple device contexts naturally leads to thinking about the screen flow we're creating for our users. This, in turn, enables me to make larger decisions about site structure and navigation.

3. Just Say “No” to Empty Shells

Copy is still king (although sometimes forgotten in a rush to visual design), and web design doesn't exist without it. The more serious a project team takes copy, facing it head on and grappling with its intricacies, the better the final product will be. Anyone that tells you they can “save space” for content and copy in their designs—that lorem ipsum is “fine for now”—isn't thinking through the experience. They're only creating empty shells.

Empty shells aren't good enough anymore, and design teams that are adept at working with real copy produce the most engaging experiences—the kind that make a product stand out in a crowded marketplace.

Are you thinking with a Content First mindset?

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Posted in: Content Management