Content is the fuel

My good pal Alex published a video today. He echoes the words of Jeffrey Zeldman in stressing that “content precedes design” — that design without reference to real content is simply self-serving. He’s right.

But as blanket statements, “content precedes design” and “content first” have long felt inappropriate to me. They counter my belief that it’s the relationship between content and design that result in the best responses. Not what comes first, but how they’re braided together.

Content is the domain of the designer. It is an element of the user experience, and therefore something designers must be aware of if we’re to produce responses that are appropriate. Believing we can deliver when message and form aren’t intimately bound betrays the promise of design as a communication practice.

How we handle the relationship between unwieldy or badly pitched content and overbearing or off-kilter design is what defines us. Our challenge as designers is to explore that relationship early, given what we understand about the intent and those it’s intended for.

Content is the fuel. Design is the vehicle. We’re better off because of the relationship that exists between them.