There will be mess: Don't quarantine design from content

In the content strategy world, “lorem ipsum” is almost as dirty a phrase as “FAQs”. We all know that when we create design artefacts, whether they’re wireframes, mockups or prototypes, we should be using real content, not fake Latin.

The classic rationale for using lorem ipsum (or another kind of placeholder text) was to have clients or stakeholders evaluate the design without getting “distracted” by content. But from a content strategist’s point of view, that’s nuts. It’s like a fashion designer sending her clothes down the runway on broomsticks, lest the audience get “distracted” by people wearing them.

Lorem ipsum doesn't reflect your information hierarchy, so you don’t know whether the most important content is prominent enough. It allows designers to design for best-case scenarios, so you don’t know what’s going to happen when that super-long title spills over three lines. Most importantly, lorem ipsum doesn’t convey voice, so you have no idea whether the design will fit the personality of your content.

So at Weave, like other content-centred web agencies, we get it. We use real content in our designs. If we don’t have final content (which we never do, if only because content is never final), we draft a plausible simulation. And there’s no doubt, at least in my mind, that this makes our designs better.

But I wonder how many web professionals have thought about how this changes the design process — especially the part where show our designs to clients or stakeholders and ask for feedback?

Even though we’ve stopped using lorem ipsum, are we still secretly hoping that clients won’t get “distracted” by the content?

Design meetings and their discontents

Here’s a quick test: hands up if a member of your team has said one of these things during a design presentation:

“Don’t look at the content. This is a design meeting, can you just focus on the look and feel?”

“All the content can be changed in the CMS, so don’t worry about it.”

“I don’t know, that’s a content question.”

When we react like this after a client queries the number of items in a menu, or the wording of a positioning statement, or a category label that doesn’t seem quite right, we’re doing exactly what we always say we shouldn’t: treating content and design as separate things.

If we’re serious about design and content intertwining, we have to accept that client discussions about design and content will intertwine too. We can’t get annoyed when clients get “distracted” from design by talking about content, even when the person they’re talking to is a “designer”.

In Weave’s case, that means we always try to have our content strategists attend design meetings, and we simply accept that some of the questions that come up will be about content. Actually, we don’t just accept it: we welcome it, because it means our clients “get” the link between content and design. They understand that they can’t evaluate a design if they don’t know what’s going on with the content.

If we truly believe that design must be informed by content, then we have to accept that our discussions about design will get messy. In fact, we should embrace the mess.

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