Chicken, egg, design or content

The age old question about the chicken and the egg. It’s been discussed for decades with both camps equally confident they are right*. There is a similar posed question that comes up in what I do, designing. What comes first… design or content?

Designers have always been asked by both the client (and internal colleagues), more times than they care to count, to ‘design me’ a layout. This can be both for print and the web – this issue isn’t mutually exclusive to a certain medium unfortunately. The belief is that a designer can come up with a layout and tell the person writing it, how many words they’ve got to write. They are forgetting the key ingredient though… the story. What we actually want to say.

There is always a story to what you are trying to communicate. Whether you are trying to sell chickens to an egg producer, or cloud services to a large enterprise, the story should always come first. You can dress the chicken up in pretty bow to make it look appealing, but without actually knowing the story of the chicken, it’s just a chicken in a bow. The chicken might be ill. It might have stopped laying. You might be buying something you just don’t want. It’s the same for a designer. Without knowing what the story is about they stand no-chance of finding imagery or creating a layout that meets the brief. This means they are effectively doing their job twice. Laying out one design just to find out a word-count but then having to do it properly, again, when then actually know the content.

The same applies to finding imagery for a layout. Without knowing the story, first and foremost, you can not hope to find the imagery relating to it. Sometimes the content will change how a design is laid out. You could suddenly have nice quotes or statistics to add in. There might be something really important that you need to say – so you need to bring it out more with a striking image. But without that initial content there is no-knowing what will be going on the page.

I believe, contrary to what many designers will say, content is king. We can make anything look aesthetically pleasing – that is our skill, that is our craft – but that could just be a smoke-screen for a bad story. We can always add more pages, split content up or, at a last resort, reduce the font size. So before you ask your designer to lay something out, decide on the story first. The end result will be better, every time.

* In my humble opinion the chicken came first. It evolved to lay eggs, so the organism that eventually became the chicken, came first.

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