Good Design Starts With Good Content

A web site’s design should not dictate how content appears on the page. Rather, the content should dictate the design.

Successful designs arrange content in a manner that effectively engages users. This is particularly important on the home page, which is really a gateway to key areas of content. That means that the first step in the design process is to determine what content is most beneficial in achieving the goals of the web site.

Let’s use a legal web site as an example. In this case, the most important areas of content may include the following:

  • Practice history
  • News and articles
  • Attorney biographies
  • Practice areas
  • Client testimonials

Most of the time, a web site will have many objectives so it’s also important to assign priorities to the identified content pieces. These priorities will ultimately help determine how that content is arranged and presented to the user. For example, on our legal site, we might set the following priorities:

  1. Client testimonials
  2. Attorney biographies
  3. Practice areas
  4. News and articles
  5. Practice history

Now that we’ve defined the key areas of content and their priorities, we can quickly and efficiently determine the optimal arrangement of the page by building a wire frame. The wire frame for our legal site might look something like this:

Homepage Wireframe Example

As you can see, the wire frame has laid out the content on the home page according to their priorities. As the design process moves forward, the wire frame will be used as the underlying structure of the home page design.

Site Structure

In addition to shaping the home page design, the content should also dictate the site’s page structure. Since we’ve identified the key content areas of the site, we can begin outlining the page structure by creating a Site Map. A very basic Site Map might look something like this:

  • Attorneys
  • Practice Areas
  • Case Studies
  • Testimonials
  • News and Articles
  • About the Firm
  • Contact

These represent the top-level pages of the site and will be displayed as links in the Primary Navigation bar shown in the wire frame. These links will appear on every page and play a key role in establishing the usability of the web site. If the site structure is straightforward and well organized, then the site will likely be easy to navigate and generate a positive user experience.

Engaging the User

By following the processes outlined above, we should be well on our way to driving users to the key areas of the web site, but once they arrive at those pages, we must also continue to engage them in order to complete our goals, whether our goal for the page is to get users to click a button, fill out a form, make a phone call, or just read the content.

Writing genuine, engaging content is the first step, but there are also some simple things that we can do in displaying that content that will help us attain our objectives.

  • Make use of headings and lists. Web users tend to avoid large blocks of copy, but by using headings and lists where appropriate, the content is more inviting and optimized for skimming.
  • Make use of “call outs.” We can draw attention to important quotes or statements by emphasizing that text in some way.
  • Insert relevant imagery. Many users are drawn to visuals more than written words. Adding photos, graphs, maps, or other imagery can help draw users into the content.
  • User alternative media. Many users are more inclined to watch a video or listen to audio than read a lengthy article. When considering posting video or audio on our web site, it’s important that we understand our audience before making the decision as it may not always be appropriate. We should also keep in mind that, for accessibility purposes, transcripts should always be made available.
  • Highlight related content. If we have engaged users with our content, we may be able to engage them further by providing easy access to similar pages.
  • Include a “call to action.” If we are looking for users to do more than simply read the content, we should make it obvious by including a “call to action” that encourages users to complete an action that helps us to achieve the objectives of the web site. The “call to action” may be a link to the Contact form, a link to your Twitter feed, or just your phone number.
On the web, content is king and successful web sites are those that present content to users in an effective manner.

2 thoughts on “Good Design Starts With Good Content

  1. Pingback: Time For a Redesign? Get to Know Your Users First. | Algonquin Studios Blog

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