Content first design:
crafting a compelling story

Good design reinforces the message you convey online. It supports your story. Yet, in digital practice, visuals often precede the message. The website is ready, but the content still needs to be squeezed in, like hanging curtains without knowing who will live in the house. A missed opportunity! Content first design flips the script. This blog explains how it works and, more importantly, the benefits of this approach.

Design & branding
November 8, 2022
Koen Hachmang

Form follows function

Imagine a movie shot without a script, a poster designed without a brand message, or a novel layout without a manuscript. Unthinkable, right? In other industries, content first design is standard: the content is set before the design begins. This approach ensures your message is clear to your audience. Start with these questions:

  • What do we want to convey?
  • What is the story?
  • What actions should visitors be able to perform?

Instead of fitting content into a pre-designed layout, you design based on the content. First, decide what, then how.

"Design without content is just decoration"

The term "content first design" was coined by Jeff Zeldman, founder of A List Apart (also home to the concept of responsive design). According to Zeldman, you can only devise a good layout and structure if you first know the site's content. Prioritizing content ensures the message is effective on its own, even in its simplest form. The designer's job is to enhance the message's impact by adding context, focus, or ensuring a good user experience.

Moreover, much of a site or application's interface consists of words—menu options, call-to-action buttons, form fields, or thank-you pages. The right tone can significantly influence how your audience perceives your site and brand.

In short, working content first improves your overall User Experience (UX).

Part of your UX strategy

Make content part of your UX strategy, or at least start your content strategy alongside the UX design process. Many UX methods provide valuable insights for content creation. Techniques like empathy mapping, personas, and customer journey mapping offer deeper understanding of your audience, enabling more targeted service. By developing a sitemap or user flow, you can determine what content is needed at each stage of the customer journey.

When building a website or app, the content isn't always ready. Designers often use Lorem Ipsum text, but it lacks context. A "proto text," a rough draft of the content, works better and reveals potential issues early on—a win-win.

Opportunity for collaboration

Collaboration between content creators and designers is essential in a content first strategy. The content creator sets the framework, and the designer adds their expertise. Through collaboration and research, you achieve the best results without missing opportunities.

And the outcome? Satisfaction all around:

  • Content creators don't compromise for design.
  • Designers work with concrete content, reducing frustration from fewer post-design changes.
  • Clients see efficient budget use leading to higher ROI.


Content is essential for good design. A content first approach leads to an efficient process, clear and intuitive design, better user experience, and ultimately a product that benefits both clients and their audience. Who can say no to that?

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