Copy Before or After Design?
Throughout my life as a web designer, I’ve purposefully crossed paths with as many creative types as possible. Whether they be professors, immediate superiors, peers, or conference speakers, the old adage about the website design process seems to hold fast: “You need copy before you can design!” This golden rule seems to be long-taught in many circles.
When the time came to take charge in my own career, I implemented it with the same stoic attitude. “No mockups without copy!” I’d say. I fought tooth and nail to maintain my stance, as if I were somehow winning a battle. Mostly, I just wanted to make sure that the people requesting work from me actually knew what they were trying to accomplish, which is why I felt I was somehow helping them figure things out in the long run.
After years of experience, I developed a new outlook on the issue and began to see things differently. When talented and knowledgeable copywriters and marketers are on your web design team, you begin to realize that maybe copy and design could go hand-in-hand. Perhaps, even, they could be developed in parallel? I then realized that the designer’s old retort of, “How am I supposed to design anything if I don’t have that something to design?” can be equally matched by a copywriter’s, “How am I supposed to write anything if I don’t know what areas I have to work with?” A perplexing issue indeed, and one that needs to be looked at from both side in order to understand.
Whether you subscribe to a content-first approach or not, there are pitfalls to each method. Designing without copy can lead to a beautiful piece that misses the mark completely in conveying the appropriate message. Composing copy without a design can lead to not enough words or too few words for particular areas of the page. In both cases, the user experience could suffer and potentially fall short of accomplishing its goal.
As a designer, not having any boundaries with types of content and content length can be a recipe for disaster. At the end of the day, I do need something to work with in order to make sure the correct message of information is being relayed. It is important to remember that content should always trump design. People are more likely to navigate to your site for its content, than they would be to navigate for design purpose, therefore the quality of content needs to be priority.
So which method do you prefer: copy first or design first? Let us know what your take is by leaving a comment below.