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20th century boy (or girl)

Want to get ahead in web design? Are you a whizz with words but struggling to explain to clients why content really is king in the wonderful world of the web?

Take a tip from the 20th century – and think about how newspapers and magazines were produced (and still are).

In two sentences (yes, continuing to adhere to the blog concept but who’s to say for how long) that means:

  • we may be hurtling towards a paper-free news world but we can still learn from print design processes when it comes to website design
  • ‘content is king’ actually means that good content comes before design – or should do! – and that includes words, images and video or audio as well as social media and blogs

Now, back to those newspaper and magazine designers (I happen to know there are still some left) and their so-last-century methods.

Do they sit down and dream up a front page splash based on a long-held fondness for Franklin Gothic Condensed? Or allocate two pages for a feature just because they’ve got a rather lovely new colour combo to try out?

I can’t tell you what the news editor would say (it’s not printable and it’s not publishable online either) – but you’re safe to assume that the answer is a firm no.

That’s why, every day, at least twice a day, newspapers and magazine editors hold conference – to decide what stories are going into their publication and on what page.

See, it could be the same with your website – before it’s designed!

This is how it works. The production editor gets an invite to conference.  He’ll drink strong coffee and take note of some crucial basics on which to base his designs such as:

*what story goes on which page*

*what images are available*

*whether a story is a page lead or a short*

To sum up, the production journalist’s job (your 20th century equivalent, oh web designer) is to take the copy and make the page look great. It’s also to make the writer look clever by spotting typos and writing cracking headlines, but that’s another story.

I’d be the first to admit that writers usually have a very poor idea of what makes a page look great – but this way the content is pretty much a done deal before the design process starts.

Wouldn’t it be simpler if websites were designed along similar lines? Show me the designer who hasn’t waited and waited for the client to write the text, only to find they get the previous website’s words dumped on them (or words from a brochure) – and these weren’t much cop to start with. Oh yeah, and they don’t fit the design of the new site. In tone or length.

The newspaper method has been honed over two centuries of production, give or take, and it works.

Because this way the content creators work out what the audience wants to read – and you, the designer, help them present it in the most engaging, entertaining way possible. The design fits the content – voila. Is it me, or does that make sense?

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About Nancy Cavill

Journalist. Copywriter. Web content specialist. Social media addict. Internet strategist. Jargon-hater, coffee drinker... www.purpleandgreen.co.uk

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