A recent post on Content Management Connection's blog made a lot of sense. In it, the online community for technology practitioners, software companies and end users, discussed the need to be content first, design second.
Their point is that you wouldn't buy a suit for a stranger without first having her trying it on, so why design websites around content that doesn't exist yet. It's an interesting concept, but not as simple as it sounds.
While it's true that when projects are started and designers are tasked with putting together comps of possible designs, the actual content for a site is usually just a gleam in the project manager's eye. Rarely do design projects start with the final copy. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Simple Design, Fewer Words?
As we've learned time and again, there are a lot of words being used -- too many, in fact -- to describe actions that don't mean anything. A good simple design may require fewer words.
While designers aren't copy editors, and don't pretend to be, we work with words more than you think we do. When copy is presented to us, it's never merely just words, it's also layout. Once stripped of indents and creative character spacing, designers can design around, with, over and under the words. Most times we don't use all the words; they are not all necessary.
Content & Design: A Symbiotic Relationship
Content Management Connection says that "the aim is to separate and maintain a clear division between content and its target representations." Yet, it's a symbiotic relationship between words and design that we seek. Design should complement the words, and words should seamlessly integrate within the design.
An Evolution of Content and Design
It's true that their Content First strategy serves the greater good and is not a malicious attempt to undermine good design. Yet by claiming that "design is an iterative and horizontal endeavour. It’s done when its done." implies that unlike words, design can't evolve.
But design is constantly evolving, especially web design, to embrace new media, social marketing and advertising. Good content management, as we know, is one that lets content change over time without having to start over. It lets us edit, manage and share our content. Web development and design is no different.
In the end, CMC and designers are working towards the same goal and agree that "content folks and creative team need to work much more closely together."