While everyone can write, to do it well is a skill that comes naturally to some more than others. Yet I’m starting to feel that as a web designer it’s an increasingly vital skill in my toolbox.
Over the past year especially I’ve worked on a number of projects where the ability to edit, refactor and in some instances author new content from scratch has been an integral part of the design process.
Let’s look at a few instances…
The previous website contained a lot of SEO optimised content that we really didn’t want to make huge changes to. Our goal was primarily to make the homepage look less text heavy compared to its predecessor as well as structure it in a more meaningful way. You can see the old homepage here.
This project mostly involved only slight editing to get a nice intro to work in our banner space as well as reworking a heading here or there. The biggest change and the reason for referencing Insurance Hero in this post is in how we altered the ‘How does it work’ section.
Here we pretty much scrapped the existing content, which wasn’t much, and brought in new content that not only better explained the process for new users but played on the Hero connection of Insurance Hero. This was an idea we looked to lean into more heavily through the redesign and this gave us the ideal opportunity to do this. It’s really only by writing the content concurrently whilst working on the design that we could figure out how best to express this idea. It would have been difficult to ask the client to author content for this as it would be problematic to communicate exactly what we were looking for.
The previous Paul Roffman website was a number of years old, with content that had been overly optimised for keywords and did little to invoke an emotional reaction from the reader. The entire content needed to be rewritten to better reflect who Paul is now and how he positions the services he offers.
The process of getting to the final content on the website was highly collaborative. In some instances we were authoring entire pages of content almost from scratch, bringing together some content from the old website as well as other materials to create a more evocative reading experience. But in some instances we were still reliant on the client to dig deep and bring us content where our understanding was lacking.
Whether written first by us or by the client we underwent a few rounds of discussing and editing each other’s content to ensure it met our individual goals as well as maintained a consistent tone of voice. Once completed and at instances through the process we also brought on others in the Bronco team to proof read the content to check we’d not made any mistakes or overused comma’s (my biggest problem when writing content).
It’s unusual for me to get so involved in writing content like this. To write so much content would normally require bringing in the content writers on the team. But something about the way the project progressed naturally led to me taking on the content writing for this project. It allowed me to sculpt the content to create dynamic layouts throughout all the pages of the website, and ultimately a more successful end product.
Clients can find writing content difficult for a number of reasons. Mostly they struggle in determining how much to write or how much detail they should provide. In other cases it can be difficult to visualise how the content will be presented as they stare at the blank page of Microsoft Word.
In the case of Netcullis, the client knew they didn’t want to overpopulate the website with content but what the client provided was a little short for what we had in mind.
To build an engaging design we needed more to build the design around. We could have padded things out with large imagery, but what would these elements do to benefit the user? Also as a Search Engine Optimisation agency we knew that more content was needed to maintain or improve the websites search rankings.
With the previous website also lacking detail we really needed to push the client to produce more content to a point where we were able to take over. With a little more content to work with we were able to take the ideas contained within and expand on them to create various sections along particular subjects and thankfully without turning it into pointless waffle.
The result is a more visually dynamic design that while containing more content than the client originally wrote does not appear overly text heavy. But at time of writing the website is not yet launched, so things could still change.
We all recognise content is important, but it can be easy to feel beholden to the content a client provides. To feel limited to what influence you can have on areas of the process not normally in your purview.
But if you feel capable of it, why not start tinkering with the content you’re integrating into your designs. It’s not the end of the world if the client doesn’t like the changes, maybe they’ll ask for you to reverse them or maybe they’ll send new content that takes on board some of the ideas you’ve included.
Of course big businesses and agencies will really pour over the content and finesse the s**t out of it before it ever hits the designers inbox. So in such instances the scope for tinkering is less, but in smaller agencies or with smaller client’s the content is an area that can suffer from a lack of attention. In these cases the designer can provide that little extra polish the content needs to work in harmony with their design and as a result elevate both.
Our job is to offer the best solution to our clients, if we believe changing the content does that then why wouldn’t we at least take a shot.
There’s an ongoing debate that designers should code (I do by the way… triple threat) but this isn’t a case of saying designers must write. If you feel confident in doing it and have the opportunity, go ahead. But if you don’t feel it’s a skill you have or isn’t something you want to improve, that’s fine; you do you and focus on the things you’re great at.