What comes first: the content or the design?

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Unlike the circular debate about which comes first, the chicken or the egg, the “which comes first, content or design” question has a clear answer:

NEITHER!

If you’re in marketing, communication or advertising, you’ve likely been on the receiving end of one or more of the following statements/questions:

  • “I need a brochure by the end of the week.”
  • “We need to create a new webpage for tomorrow.”
  • “Can you make an ad?”

If the statement is followed by something like, “Just start designing something and then we’ll give you the content later,” or “We can’t give you the content until we know what it’s going to look like,” just STOP!

That’s unless you’re ready to spend hours of your life going back and forth to deliver something that will likely disappoint you and your colleagues, and miss the mark with your target audience.

So where do you start if it’s not with crafting text or finding great imagery?

You begin by answering these four foundation-level questions before discussing any design or even messaging:

  1. Why you are designing something?
  2. Who needs to engage with message?
  3. What people should do or feel once they engage with the message?
  4. When and where (location, not platform or channel) people will experience what you are crafting?

With these answers, you can craft the basic message that you want to convey – I’m not talking great copywriting at this point; just defining in simplest terms what you want people to understand.

With the basic message identified, begin the conversation about the medium(s)/channel(s) that it will be delivered on.

You can now determine if you need something short and punchy for an ad on a search engine that people might see while researching. Or, maybe you realize that you need to provide more utility through a series of blog posts so you can begin to pull in new prospects. Whatever the medium or channel, the discussion on what you need to say and what it will look like is much easier when starting from a solid foundation, a foundation that is shared by the people you are working with.

Put a strong copywriter and creative director or designer together who both understand the answers to the four questions above, and you have the ingredients in place to deliver solid, and even amazing results.

The reality is, this process often has to take place in a matter of hours because of deadlines. But, it’s a process that can definitely make the final deliverable more effective, and at the same time, help you keep a little more sane.

What do you think? Share your perspective.

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