In the Internet’s first few years of evolution, people were awed by the seemingly limitless design techniques that could be incorporated into a single website. Web designers implemented outrageous Flash introductions for sites and the sites themselves were crowded with the latest design tricks. Content took a back seat to the flashiness of the design. However, in the past few years, the design tide has turned.
How content-driven web design works
If you stop to think about it, most people rarely browse the Internet for cool website designs today. They are searching for specific information. Therefore, it makes sense that content is now driving the way sites are designed.
The goal of content driven web design is to create a visual representation of the information a designer wants to relay to the reader. Techniques such as navigational tools, white space and charts and graphs are examples of how design elements are used to create content-driven websites.
The pros and cons of a content-driven design
This switch in approach can be a difficult one for website designers in some cases. When a client approaches a designer about creating a website, quite often that designer will already have formed a concept in his or her head of how the site will turn out. Making content fit a preconceived design usually will not work when working with content driven designs. As sites designed before content is collected can sometimes turn into a “Frankensteinaesthetic.”
Content-driven design brings many positives to the table. It forces the designer to let the information drive the design so that the content is the most important part of the website. If done well, it will be more easily navigated and be clear and concise. Content-driven design departs from the decorative and toward the informative.
How to design a content-driven website
The designprocess itself has changed with the development of content-driven website design. The process of creating a website is no longer discovery, information architecture, design, templates, and development. Instead the process is more along the lines of content strategy, information architecture, web writing, content production, design, templates, and development. The focus on content has taken center stage in the development process.
The most important step in designing content-driven websites is research, which includes collecting information from the client or company. This seems like an obvious step but it is sometimes misunderstood. It’s not enough to just get an idea of the content that will be included on a site. A designer truly needs to read it and understand it to be able to design a site that represents the client or company accurately.
After the content is researched, collected and understood, the rest of the development process should fall into place. Designers should dissect the content they have collected and envision the best way to visually display the information. They should consider how the navigation on the site will work and how much white space (also known as negative space) should be worked into the design to complement the information.
Whitespace is not a new design theory, but it has drawn negative remarks in both print and web design over the years. However, in content driven website design, white space is a friend. It helps draw attention to and define important content to the reader.
How content user interfaces influence design
A website designer having trouble with content driven design should browse through the 14,000+ free themes available for download at WordPress.org. WordPress has done a tremendous job tailoring themes for content driven websites. Its interface encourages a focus on content and adds in search engine optimization tools. Also, the themes are customizable so that designers can use the framework of a chosen theme and still apply unique images, colors and content to meet a client’s needs. Even if a designer is wary of using an already-developed theme, the site is a great place to spark ideas for a brand new site.
While some designers may struggle at first when concentrating on content to design a site, the resulting website is usually informative, easily navigated and well-designed. Designers must remember that their main job is to visually display content. The rest will come naturally.
Guest Post by Ken Hattori
Ken Hattori is a technology writer
I think that letting content drive design needs to go well beyond themesooo. Here is some experimentation I did recently on testing web copy before designing a site: