As content floods the minds of casual and hardcore Internet users alike, competition for attention has become fierce. Google "productivity", "recipes", or "jewelry" and you will find literally thousands upon thousands of sites proffering their wares and wisdom, leading inevitably to the question of whom to trust.
With regards to trust, content has become king. With regards to eye-catching and effective expression of that information, design has seen a growing emphasis with sites conscious of this Internet arms race. But simply possessing one or the other is no longer sufficient to curry the favor of surfing eyes, nor is simply adding a dash of both. To an increasingly discerning audience, both content and design must play effectively to maximize the impact of content in its myriad forms.
Begin with content
At its core, the Internet is about content. Under the visual wrappers of the typical website lies countless lines of code comprising not only the structure of the web page but the substance too. Even the best looking website amounts to little more than color and lines without something to say, watch, or do. For this reason, it cannot be stressed enough that a good website focuses first on content.
Content includes any video, image, or text that delivers value or conveys a message to the visitor. This includes everything from the description of your website to the articles, products, videos, and photography you post. But what matters is not the format of the content specifically, but instead how and what you deliver. Content should make a difference in people's lives, no matter how large or small. Whether you provide financial tips, delicious recipes, quality products, or hilarious videos, it should contain substance and possess recognizable quality for the viewer.
We can all agree, however, that the impact of a well-crafted message depends on more than just the words or images presented. What delivers a message, what "packages" it for ingestion, is worth equal, even if secondary, consideration when creating a quality website.
Design to optimize
This is where design lends a hand. The aforementioned visual accoutrement of web design is equally deserving of consideration for the very reason mentioned: good design helps convey a message. But where confusion arises is in what design entails. In its broad scope, the concept encompasses all elements from the arrangement of content to the graphic trappings of headers and footers; any element that effects a user's experience during their visit.
Academically speaking, design is the study and craft of all components involved in human interaction with websites, products, buildings, places, and more. Design's greatest aspiration is to elegantly, minimally, and effectively resolve all elements of a product, place, or work that cause friction in human interaction. In the context of a web comprised of content, these points of friction manifest in readability, navigation, and clarity, each of which possessing the ability to assist or hinder the consumption of content.
Therein lies the need for consideration of both design and content. Without content, the web is nothing but layouts. Without effective web design, even well crafted thoughts and messages can go overlooked. The beauty of a good website exists in the effective interplay of both of these elements, each to the benefit of the other.
Never One without the Other
When applying design, one need consider what goes into an individual's interaction with content. Is the text readable? Are the colors too bright or too dark? Is the article hard to get to? If a user wanted to find more information, could they do so without frustration? Are the fonts used tiring to the eyes? Any and all potential issues involved in user interaction are worth a look.
Each type of content possesses specific design considerations like these. For text, paramount concerns include text size, contrast of font color and background color, font, and progression of a new viewer's eyes down the page through typography. For video and images, these include visual clutter around the viewing area, size of the viewing area, and, in the case of slideshows, intuitiveness of navigation. In each instance, elements of human interaction must be considered and addressed effectively and elegantly.
And this is truly how content and design interact. One provides the meat, the other provides the seasoning and, in so doing, neither is appreciable without the other. Good content is well thought out, of high writing quality, and in possession of real, definable value for your audience. Good design clears a path from your message to the psyche of your reader by effectively and painlessly displaying and communicating the information presented.
This is the greatest challenge of good web design: effectively melding the two elements together. Content design and visual design are both subjective practices with a measure of objective rationale. In this way, no solution presents a catchall and no solution is exclusively right. The key lies in dynamically assessing your audience needs, the message of your content, and any factors that may hinder fulfillment of either.
So when you design your website, remember to take these factors into account. Think about what you put on the page and what it delivers to your visitors. Once your content is nailed down, make every conceivable effort to render its consumption as easy and foolproof as possible. Through both concepts, you capture the attention of an audience and leave a positive lasting impression that can lead to reader retention, sales conversion, and, most importantly, a responsive and dynamic relationship with your viewers.