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Content & Design; content drives design

Colored pencils laid out in a spiral pattern, tips in

Occasionally I’ll get complete creative freedom on a project, room to do whatever I choose. Sounds amazing, right? A designer’s dream? In some ways, it is -- no color restraints, control over the typography, you get to make something really artistic and push creative boundaries.

That’s all well and good, until you begin to design. These “creative freedom” projects usually come along with absolutely no content. How do you choose a color scheme without first knowing what the mood should be? Should the project use a hand-drawn typeface? There are hundreds of questions that need to be answered before a single line is drawn.

The thing is, all of the these questions stem from the same questions a content strategist would ask. “Who is your audience?” and “What do you want them to do?” are the most important pieces for creating a content strategy, as well as creating the basis for a design. Until you know the goals and reasoning for a project, there’s no way to choose a direction. Sure you can throw something out there that’s “pretty,” but it isn’t truly a masterwork until it accomplishes its goal.

Because content relies on the same answers as design does, content is often the best place to start a design. Once you have the answers to the preliminary questions, you can then dive deeper into questions to ask yourself as a designer. “What tone do we need to meet those goals?” and “What content should be prioritized on the page?” give great indications for color, visual hierarchy, and typographic choices. When you think about who you’re speaking to and what they’re trying to do, you can empathize with them, and see what would appeal to them.

Content and design both impact audience behavior through messaging. Each is made more effective by the other. For example, a link that says “donate” in the middle of a large body of text will not be as effective as a bold, contrasting button set apart in a place of prominence. Without design, the content would be difficult to navigate and too dense for a reader to follow. Without content, a site wouldn’t have anything to say, so the page would just be wallpaper, and not achieve anything.

When you really start to understand your audience, whether that be website visitors, CEOs of companies, or even their children, you can convey a written message at a much deeper level. The design, when done well, should speak to the audience and support what has been written on the page, conveying the exact same tone and message in an emotional, even subliminal, root of your soul way.