Forget content first

Collaboration is king

Controversial opinion warning: forget “content first”.

In my opinion, content first is an overcorrection to the waterfall process of lorem ipsum. Designers used to bring containers to writers to fill and that’s not cool. Sometimes writers would be forced to create content to fill an oversized container when it was not in the users’ best interest; or they would not have the space to effectively communicate all of the information their users needed; or they would not be able to structure the content optimally because a container was set up for bullets or paragraphs or something else which was not the most effective structure for communicating the content. Lorem ipsum was bad and so content folks pushed back.

“Content first!” they cried from the rooftops.

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Let us craft the message first and then visual design can wrap itself around that. The most important part of the experience is the content, the information. Without content, design is decoration. We’ll provide the substance and design can dress it up to look nice.

Wrong.

The best user experience comes from fluid collaboration where visual and content design work together. The writer and designer should start at the same time and sync early and often, each communicating what they need until a synergy is reached. Where there are conflicting needs, it should be a discussion, where each explains the value of their ask and what’s at risk if they compromise, and together they should figure out the optimal way to balance all sides. That’s where the magic happens.

It helps if you sit together. When I sat with marketing writers instead of UX designers, the collaboration wasn’t half as strong.

It helps if you like each other. Hire with culture, not just skills, in mind. Eat lunch together, at least sometimes. Find common ground where you can feel an authentic bond.

It helps if you genuinely value each other’s contribution. Learn about the other’s fields: basic principles; best practices and how they came to be; case studies for success and failure; current industry conversations. Writers don’t need to become designers and designers don’t need to become writers, but if you understand more about the other’s potential to enhance the user experience, you’ll be as motivated to leverage the other’s contributions as your own.

UX writer specializing in complex products. Passionate about making tech accessible to mass markets. Also a proud em dash enthusiast.