Three Ways to Make Content Part of Your Design Strategy

Written by: Leigh Bryant

You know what they say: It’s a content-driven world, and we’re all living in it. (Okay, maybe they don’t say that. But they should, because it’s true.) Content is the topic on everyone’s lips: What is “good” content? How do we produce good content? How can we get more eyeballs on the good content we produce? Do we need a content strategy? How do we create one? It’s never ending.

But for all the chatter about content, we spend shockingly little time thinking about it up front. When we’re designing the platforms and spaces that house the content itself we all but ignore it. Content is the reason those platforms and spaces exist at all, and yet we don’t think about it until the end. Any and all content considerations are left to the content management team(s) to sort out after the fact.

If you’re working in design, you’ve undoubtedly seen articles about the importance of UX writing. They say things like UX Writer is the most important emerging design role. Or that it’s crucial to include UX writing from the get-go. Or that UX Writing can literally save your product from ruin! And there is some validity to those statements. Eliminating Lorem Ipsum and using real words to fill out a design to give a true sense of what’s at hand is a good idea. But ultimately, it’s only one component of what needs to happen.

At the heart of the drive to add in real text at the earliest stages is the need to include real content as part of your design process. But it goes beyond words and what fits best. Content is a key component in the foundation of the design. Not just how it fits the spaces you give it, but how it can be repurposed, how it can be added to, altered, and adapted, and how it can influence the very core of what you’re creating. Content isn’t an afterthought, but for years we’ve treated it like one. And that has to stop.

How do we fix it?

It’s easy to take a stand and say things like “Content first is the only way!”, but it’s much harder to execute on it. If we’re serious about prioritizing our users, though, we need to be doing this. And we need to understand both sides of the content equation.

We need to understand the content consumer experience by digging into what is being consumed and how it’s being consumed. And we need to understand the content creation process by understanding how content is developed and deployed as part of the greater business strategy. Again, easier said than done.

So how do we bring content into the picture sooner? How can we build content considerations into the earliest part of the design process and keep them present throughout? Here are three essential actions to take to bring content into design from the start:

Colour-coded spreadsheets on a laptop screen

1 — Do a content audit

It can be a long, tedious process, but the first step in making content a part of your design work is to perform a content audit. If you’re working on an established system, like rebuilding a website or redesigning an app, you’ll have a fairly big task auditing it all. If you’re lucky, a content strategist or manager will have already done this (the dream!) or can at least help steer you in the right direction and support the effort. At the audit stage, you’ll need to determine two things: what kinds of content there are (articles, videos, images, interactive modules, and so on) and how much of each of those will be featured in the future.

A proper content audit requires you to document every piece of content that already exists, and then determine what (if anything) is evergreen and how you can maximize using those things. If you’ve got endless time and resources to dig into this, more power to you. Probably, however, you don’t. Unless there’s a content expert on staff able to provide the resources to you, you want to, at minimum, get all of the content types established and at least a general sense of which ones are most important to the business.

If you’re building something from scratch, your job is in some ways easier. There is no pre-existing content, so nothing to track. But it’s also harder, because you’ll need to determine what kinds of content could be used, and in what ways you’ll be using them. This could end up being a bit more of a “throwing darts at the board” exercise, but effective user research—something designers have a lot of experience with—should help guide you to make sensible decisions and keep you close to target.

2 — Determine the workflow

Now that you know what kinds of content you have on the horizon, you need to think about how that gets included in the product. What’s the chain of command? How many people need to be able to edit and add, and what’s the frequency of that need? Where does the content get pushed to and how does that happen? How does it get repurposed for various interfaces and uses?

This is the stage when working closely with developers is key. Building out a custom content management system (CMS) that enables and empowers content contributors/managers takes a hefty amount of technical know-how alongside an empathetic, intuitive design-centred approach. Content should be easy to work with, use, repurpose, and distribute and it requires a strong, collaborative effort from design and development to make it happen.

A laptop next to a piece of paper with a workflow being created by hand.

3 — Work with the content

This goes back to eliminating Lorem Ipsum. As you begin to build out the experience, use real content. By including the actual content, you can see how it fits, and understand how incorporating it works (or doesn’t, saving you big headaches down the line).

The same goes for images, videos, audio clips, entry fields and more. Work with real videos so you can experience how a screen take-over happens, use the real language you’re planning to use for buttons and test with real users to see if they can follow the user flow. You’ll get a much better sense of whether what you’ve built actually works, is enjoyable, and provides the experience you’re aiming for. When you test with dummy content, you run the risk of getting dummy results.


Content is an emerging field in many respects. Domain experts are still carving out their niches and the field itself is still being defined. But it’s long overdue for getting its proper due. We’ve always relied on content to engage users, sell products, provide information, and bolster our brands and entire departments now exist to manage content after the fact. We know it’s important, but we still leave it til the end? It makes no sense.

As device types proliferate and content delivery mechanisms multiply like rabbits, having a thought-through, content-forward design process is the only sensible option. We can’t claim to be creating anything like user-centred designs if we’re not thinking about the content the users interact with from the earliest stages of our work.

Like what you read? Be sure to 👏 , comment, and share. And if you’re interested in joining a team that wants to make better experiences for everyone, take a look at our open roles and apply today!