The King is Dead
Web design as an industry has existed for about twenty years now, and websites have changed dramatically in that time. From simple, single page landing pages with some information marked up with HTML, tables and inline styles, to huge web based applications serving terabytes of information to millions of people worldwide with slick front ends with the latest semantic mark up and CSS.
The methods we use have evolved as well. Design and development have been joined by other steps, such as user research, information architecture and quality assurance testing, but one important aspect of the web hasn’t changed. The reason it was created; to publish and share information.
This information, or content, is something that has often ended up taking a back seat in the whole web design and development process. It is something that always seems to be left until last, despite encouragements to consider it from the earliest stages. After the stakeholder meetings, after the user research, persona creation and site maps, even after the design and development stages have started, someone then asks “When will we be getting content for this?” and a conversation about the content takes place.
The issue is, that whenever this conversation happens, it’s usually too late. The content ends up being created to fill the design, rather than the design being used to style and support the content. At Storm ID we are exploring how we can shift this mentality, both internally and with clients, so that websites can be designed with and for the content and not the other way round.
Long Live the King
To try and shift the emphasis of web design to focusing on the importance of the content (which isn’t only limited to the written word – media is also content), we are encouraging clients to create a content strategy, both to drive how content is dealt with internally, but also to help manage it better and use their web presence more effectively on an ongoing basis.
Content strategy refers to planning the creation, production and management of content in a project. It is not about copywriting per se, or workflow editorial processes, although some of those skills need to be understood. It should be a guide to assist anyone who is dealing with content in any way, make them aware of what content is available, what’s missing and having a clear understanding of who is responsible for developing it and curating it.
A content strategy should cover topics such as:
- Discovery of existing content
- Does any content need to be created?
- Why is the content being created?
- Who is responsible for creating the content?
- How does the content fit together?
- Does the content that has been created fit the client’s brand?
- What is the contents life cycle?
- What channels can be used for distributing content?
This is certainly not an exhaustive list, and topics may be added or removed based on how they perform. This is a new approach and as such, will not be perfect. The main thing is that it is being addressed, and that we are committed to helping our clients to create usable and useful content for their customers, based on user needs aligned with business goals.
Our drive to develop a content strategy has come from a number of different sources that have convinced us of its usefulness. It was initially brought to our attention through the excellent book ‘Content Strategy for the Web’ by Kristina Halvorson’ and, with our interest piqued, we attended an online webinar by Jeff Eaton hosted by the good folk at Gather Content. We will be continuing to explore as much as we can into this topic, as we believe it will be an influential part of our design and development process in the future.
With content perhaps having taken the back seat in the web design process for so long, creating and implementing a content strategy is not something that will happen overnight, and there is no right or wrong way to do it. What we hope will come from it is that content is given the proper position in the publishing process that it requires, and that websites are created with content, not content created to fill websites.