Content-First

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What is Content-First?

The content-first approach puts content ahead of design elements and aesthetics to create user-friendly products with content that is easy to find, read and understand.

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While content-first prioritizes content, it doesn't necessarily mean design is disregarded. On the contrary, the content-first strategy recognizes that design and content must work together seamlessly to create an effective website or app. It aims to ensure that your product's design approach aligns with its content and, thus, maximizes the impact of both. There are other approaches too, such as task-oriented design which focuses on task-completion.

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

Design considerations are still essential in the content-first design approach but are addressed from a user-centered perspective. With a focus on the user's needs and preferences, designers can create products that look good and enhance the user's experience. This means it is necessary to create page layouts and visual elements that complement the content and help users navigate the site quickly.

Advantages of the Content-First Approach for Digital Products

If you choose to adopt this strategy, it's important that you think about two key elements that will help you prioritize content over design:

  • Improves User Experience: When designers prioritize content, they improve the quality of the experience since users visit websites or use apps to find relevant information.

  • Promotes Content-Informed Design Decisions: When content is available, designers can design the experience accordingly. For example, they can choose tone, voice, language and message that complement and enhance the content. Effective UX writing is essential for this.

How to Implement a Content-First Approach in Your Design Process

To start a project with the content-first approach, it's essential to understand what you want to achieve with your website. To establish a strong foundation:

  1. Consider the purpose of your website or app (the “why”). Determine what you would like to communicate and how your content will help you achieve those goals. This step is crucial because when you prioritize content over design, the focus is on the effective delivery of the message.

  2. Think about the story you want to tell (the “what”). Consider how your content will convey a narrative that aligns with your brand's values and resonates with your audience. This will also help you create a product that engages users.

  3. Identify the actions you want users to take on your website or app (the “how”). Whether it's to make a purchase, fill out a form, or contact you directly, try understanding the expected user behavior from the outset.

A content-first approach in web or app design is simple, but requires some adjustments to your design process. Here are some steps you can take when adopting this method:

  1. Conduct a Content Audit: Start by auditing your website's existing content. Identify which pages and sections of the site are most important and analyze how the current content performs.

  2. Conduct Competitive Analysis: Investigate what your competition is doing regarding content; for example, what message do they communicate? What are the key features of their website or app? How do they use visual design to communicate brand values? Also, make a list of positive and negative aspects.

  3. Conduct User Research: While competitive analysis is good, you must not copy their mistakes! Moreover, your users may have different needs than your competitors. Do your field research and conduct interviews to understand your users better.

  4. Create a Site Map or a User Flow: A site map is a visual representation of all the pages on a site, and a user flow documents the steps users take to accomplish their tasks on an app. Both are valuable tools to identify what type of content your users prefer and help you check where the content would have more impact.

  5. Create a Content Inventory Document: This list features all the content on your website, such as text, images or documents. It helps you identify gaps in content and avoid duplicates or unnecessary items.

  6. Use Proto-Content to Avoid Unnecessary Design Iterations: Using proto-content, or low-fidelity content, instead of generic placeholder text like "Lorem Ipsum," is especially helpful when creating designs for localized content since it enables designers to understand how the design will look and feel with real content in different scenarios and languages.

  7. Create a Limited Number of Layouts: Standardizing formats for groups of pages can improve usability since consistency informs users about what to expect next, so ask yourself: how many pages should follow the same format? For large websites, experts recommend using 5–7 templates, fewer than that for smaller products. To help you visualize the layouts, create sketches of them.

Best Practices and Considerations for Using the Content-First Approach

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

The content-first approach is a great way to create effective websites and apps that deliver the message clearly and concisely. Here are some best practices and considerations to keep in mind when using this approach:

Use Clear, Concise Language

One of the main goals of the content-first approach is to make it easy for users to find and understand your content. To achieve this goal, you should use clear, concise, easy-to-read and easy-to-understand language. Avoid jargon or technical terms that may confuse your audience.

Prioritize Your Content

During your content creation process, make a note to prioritize your content based on its importance. This means placing the most critical information at the top of the page, so users can quickly find what they need. Use headings, subheadings, and bullet points to break up large blocks of text and make it easier for users to scan.

Consider Localization

If you're creating a website for a global audience, consider localization when developing your content strategy. This means translating your content into multiple languages and adapting it for different cultures. Remember that certain words or images may have different meanings in other parts of the world.

Test Your Content Strategy

Before launching your website or app, test your content strategy with real users to see how they interact. Conduct user testing sessions where participants perform tasks on your site while you observe their behavior. This will help you identify any issues with navigation or usability.

Collaborate with Stakeholders

Collaboration is key when using the content-first approach. Involve stakeholders from different departments in the design process, including marketing, sales, customer service and IT. This will help ensure that everyone's needs are being met and that the final product is effective.

Learn More about Content-First

Explore the benefits of using proto-content to improve your UX design.

Here's an overview of the content audit process, which involves analyzing and evaluating existing content on a website or app.

This article discusses the importance of creating a content inventory document or a comprehensive list of all the content on a website or app.

Literature on Content-First

Here’s the entire UX literature on Content-First by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Content-First

Take a deep dive into Content-First with our course Mobile UX Strategy: How to Build Successful Products .

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Interaction Design Foundation - IxDF. (2023, May 26). What is Content-First?. Interaction Design Foundation - IxDF.

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