It’s time to take a stand

Like most of you, I subscribe to several industry newsletters. And like most of you, I don’t make time to read them. A select few, however, always get my attention—like this one from David C. Baker titled “Why No One Wants to Read Your Newsletters.”

One of David’s points hit me square in the face. Rather than generate “news” and “content” that people may not care about (or may ignore completely) provide insight that will cause them to reflect on your message, save it, or forward it.

Make people think. Take a stand. Articulate a viewpoint,” David says.

So here I go…about to take a stand. Articulate a viewpoint. Provide insight.

design before content is not design at all 

When I first started working in the creative field, I was a designer. I was tasked many times to create brochures and websites, and many times (almost every time) there was no copy for the project.

I quickly learned that waiting for the client to provide copy would significantly delay progress on the project, or sink it completely. This negatively affected my paycheck, so I expanded my skill set and learned to write and develop content. I have been wearing multiple hats ever since.

What I learned is you simply can’t design without content.

How would you know what colors to use? What kind of photographs to select? What typography to choose? What style to incorporate? How would you know how to make people feel?

My view is that designing without content is not designing at all. You’re simply doing a form of blind collage—putting pieces together without any sense of what the outcome should be. That might make for an interesting art project, but from a marketing perspective, it is a waste of time, talent and resources – not to mention the fact that it will not work.

“Can’t you just design a shell and we’ll drop in the content later?”

No, I can’t…or make that, No, I won’t.

Design—from imagery to color palette to typography and style, should reflect and support the content. You can’t make informed design decisions without knowing what the message is, the voice it uses, or the personality it takes on. Approaching design as a “shell” completely disregards the capacity for design to support, enhance and even amplify your message. 

“But how many words will we have space for?”

The right answer is, “As many as you need to effectively communicate the message to the intended audience.” No more, no less. Good design takes its form from whatever length of content is necessary (and effective), then supports that message visually. To approach it from the other direction–“How many words do we have space for?”–completely disregards the value of the message itself. You may as well just plop in some Lorem Ipsum text (that’s Latin placeholder content, for you non-designers).

form follows function

I’ve always believed that “form follows function,” which became a thing with 20th century modernist architecture. Design, no matter how pretty, is of little value to me if it is not functional. That is the ultimate challenge of design, is it not? To create something that is beautiful and also smart, purposeful and functional? Without function (in this case, content) smart, purposeful and functional design cannot happen. You’re just doing blind collage.

Comments are closed.