How a content-first approach saves time and money

Content first approach

If you’re about to begin a digital transformation journey or simply planning for an upcoming website redesign then take note. Your content sits at the core of your digital presence but content creation often starts after design and development finishes. Klaxon alert, this could introduce delay and financial overspend to your project.  

The good news is that you can prevent this from happening by incorporating a sustainable content-first approach as our Content Lead at Manifesto explains.


What is content design?

Let’s start with the basic definition of content design: “Content design is the essential information that a user needs in order to solve a problem and complete a task.”

Content designers take care of both long form content creation and also the smaller but important UX content required to effectively help users solve problems. Without content designers, no-one is looking at the priority of information on a page or inconsistencies which could cause confusion, frustration and ultimately drop-outs within your target audience. 

Designer Scott Kubie highlights the problem well. Companies which “never slow down and think”, he explains, are just “going to create conceptual debt” which manifests itself in poor content design and in turn frustrates the user.



To avoid this “ass-backwards and upside-down” approach, content designers need a seat at the table.


Content-last approach

When content is an afterthought or a content designer is involved too late, it’s likely to pose the following challenges.

Teams work on visual designs before reviewing content – contextual understanding of an organisation, it’s content and users makes for better designs. Failure to explore this context before the design process leads to friction at the point of content population. This is typically when templates are pushed to their limits under the weight of real-world content but it can be avoided.

Potential delays at User Acceptance Testing (UAT) phase – real-world content in new designs exposes gaps that may require additional design, development or content creation time. It’s possible to unearth these nasty surprises sooner with a content-led approach.

Disposable content – content is cut and pasted or edited on the fly without following a correct workflow which leads to an expanding site structure that no-one knows how to navigate anymore. Content becomes disposable and de-valued and which risks leading to reputational damage and users losing trust in the organisation 

The majority of the friction is felt at the build and test phase with a content-last approach because the design process didn’t capture the context requirements. This can lead to delays, oversights and mistakes.  

A real-life example of a content-last approach is the Obama Care website, which housed an entire page of Latin placeholder text for 318 days. The page was titled ‘Health coverage when you need care’. Needless to say site visitors were none the wiser on this point for some time!


Project timeline


What a content-first approach looks like

Now, let’s look at a project that incorporates a content review at the start:

A top tower approach will keep you on budget. A content audit will help you to benchmark your current performance, to quantify how much new content you need and therefore allow you to create a realistic plan

Content operations to help sustainability of your content. Content operations are the people, processes and technology behind content, paired with a content strategy you can identify high and low value content and economise the maintenance cost to the business

The design triangle of love. content designers sit in the middle of the triangle between three key stakeholders – the user, the project team, and the client. The content designer learns from the user, educates the client and liaises with the project team, ensuring that any nasty surprises are surfaced early on.


Content design triangle


Forget Lorem Ipsum, content-led wireframes use real-life content – content-led wireframes, or priority guides, shows stakeholders, designers and developers how they could prioritise real-life information. They’re quick to create, update and easy to test with – what’s not to like?

Less is more. With an assigned content designer, you can ensure a persistent use of Plain English throughout your project. If you prioritise brevity, clients will expect less rather than more, prompting a commercially sound delivery approach. 

In the words of British advertising tycoon, David Ogilvy, who shared a piece called ‘How to write well’ in 1982:


David Ogilvy quote


Content as a cost

Think of it like this:

Every word, sentence or paragraph produces a maintenance cost so it’s one of your most expensive digital assets.

A content-led approach rightly prioritises the content, more importantly, the context which informs everything else. It surfaces complexity early on in the process and effectively informs the design and development team to make the right decisions. In turn this provides a far more comfortable digital transformation by reducing the chances of last minute overruns and aligning the design output with real-world information.

A content-led approach is sustainable. It creates healthy moments of pause to reflect on the fundamentals of how you communicate with your audience. It’s time to move away from reactive, deadline-driven so you can become intentional, strategic and more concerned about getting it right than just getting it done.

Leave a reply

You can use these tags:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Sign up for the Manifesto newsletter and exclusive event invites