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Gimme Content : Part 1

April 10, 2014

Design Shapes Content

Similar to the common saying that "form follows function" or "form follows content,” design is the vessel for shaping content. This is why a majority of design decisions should always be framed by the content first, because without it, how can we evoke a meaningful experience, or give reason to our visual decisions? How can designers visualize, frame, or express the feeling of a story, idea, or personality without knowing what it's all about? How will designers create metaphorical vehicles that drive the user to an end-goal? Most of all, how can the designers create an awesome, fun, engaging, and unique experience? An intriguing design experience requires intriguing content.

Metaphorically speaking, how can you drink a glass of wine without the wine itself?

In reference to Beatrice Warde's famous “Crystal Goblet” essay, she asserts that design (glass) is the vessel for what shapes content (wine). People come to the party to enjoy that glass of wine, not the glass itself.

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Make Something Worthwhile

In support of this debate, Jeffrey Zeldman has also famously said, "Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it's decoration." There isn't anything necessarily wrong with having decoration, or having whimsical, detailed, or sleek interactive animations that delight users. But, it is important to have a justifiable purpose for every design decision, so they don't just exist superficially within a space or distract users from reaching their goals. Design serves to complement the content in a meaningful and visually conceptual way. Without valuable content, design integrity is lost and a project could be at risk in becoming another disorganized mess or generic commodity. Without valuable content, a designer is just mindlessly pushing pixels around all day to please the client's desires, rather than pleasing the end users who are utilizing their services.

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Make Something Real

Designs should always be based on actual content, rather than dummy text (a.k.a. "Lorem ipsum") because the content is what brings value/purpose to the whole experience. Dummy text results in unrealistic assumptions or impossible solutions that never get implemented. It also makes the overall design of a site feel more like another generic WordPress template from WooThemes, rather than a whole new custom experience that fits in with all your business goals, provides security, and stays up-to-date.

Eventually, if actual content ever does come in to replace dummy text, it sometimes breaks the design's original grid and either overflows into a hot mess, or leaves empty, hollow spaces. Such disasters are disheartening, and it makes all of the effort that was put into a design feel like a waste of time. Never-ending changes tend to occur if we don't gather the correct content ahead of time and ensure that it will be compatible within a space. By getting actual content ahead of time, you will help designers predict the flow and scale of the content’s space much more effectively in the initial prototypes, which will continue to drive the project towards a more successful completion.

Next Steps

So how can we possibly get some valuable content? Who is responsible for creating the content? And how do we make not only good, but timeless content, which may or may not be subject to future changes? How do we keep users continually engaged to come back for more? Stay tuned for the next blog post.



Original goblet images copyright to their respective sources: Lenox via Rakuten, Crystal Classics, and Metropolitan Museum of Art