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How to design a better experience in the absence of content

Designer sat at his desk with a coffee looking at a blank iphone screen

For the best possible experience, I would always encourage the content-first approach. The fundamental purpose of a website is to execute valuable content to an audience.

But we still often ignore the opportunity to validate our final designs with real content and real users—we often use ‘dummy text’ while we wait for the client to provide their content. As an experience designer, how can you design a solution when the content hasn’t been considered first?

It’s not unreasonable to say thousands of digital designers are all guilty of using the Lorem ipsum ‘dummy text’ in their designs – I am (not a proud moment) — but looking back it was that same excuse:

“It's not always possible to get content from the client in the timescales we have to deliver to the project.”

Under the intense pressure of your manager or client, I completely understand the panic of delivering on time, and ‘dummy text’ seems like the best solution. However, in the back of my mind, the possibilities, limitations and assumptions of the content have not been considered—it’s entirely centred around the ‘ideal’ visual appearance.

I am often sat there thinking… Does the text make sense there? Does it convey any message? Is there any value for the users that interact with it? Is that the ideal user flow?

In this article, I will talk over the content strategy I have applied to validate my designs and help you design better user experiences in the absence of content.

 

1. Write your own content

I honestly think you can’t impress a client with a design if the content is not impressive as well. The same applies to the user—no one will fill their time on something that has nothing relevant to offer.

I am not a born writer, but my designs don’t seamlessly flow without some form of content strategy—nobody knows better what goes well with your design than you. It has led me to believe; the designer should be writing their own copy. Don’t worry! It doesn’t need to be perfect as this can will get replaced eventually, but it will avoid wasting time restructuring the design later down the line.

“When designers use lorem ipsum, they make everything fit perfectly, but this is not realistic.”

I like to test my designs but ‘dummy text’ is misleading and counterproductive. The user is more bothered about the text being in ‘another language’ than the prototype. By adding your own content, it gives you the opportunity to test a ‘valuable’ prototype that makes sense to the end-user.

Related article: Mobile Content: If in Doubt, Leave It Out

 

2. Don’t ignore the old content

On several occasions, I have been asked to ‘re-design’ a website—I often question this until I have a valid answer since there could be a better solution to the client’s problem.

However, if you get tasked with a re-design, it is crucial to retain the old content and make adjustments. Getting a sense of the existing structure in a visual format will give you a good foundation of the layout, the promotional content and what the business tries to push.

By adjusting the old content, you can ensure that it is concise, easy to read and relevant to the user’s request. It may seem like a mundane task, but it will put you in a great position to identify which content gets reused, needs a refresh, and should get removed entirely.

Related article: 3 tips to ensure your next website redesign goes smoothly

 

3. See what their competitors are doing

If writing doesn’t come naturally to you and you feel doubtful, explore what your competitors do and see what they offer. It will give you an insight into how to design the layout, content and images. Of course, I don’t mean copy word for word but get inspired by how they differentiate themselves in the marketplace.

At first, it may seem like you are going above and beyond, but the client will appreciate your efforts to supply engaging, unique content a lot more than if you were to provide a design full of Latin ‘dummy text’. As a UX designer, you need to adapt by offering unparalleled services that your clients won’t find anywhere else.

 

Conclusion

I would advise you to be proactive. Don’t wait for signed-off content as you could be waiting for a very long time. A good design needs content—you can’t have one without the other.

If you are lucky enough to have a content team to rely on, get a copy of their work and update your designs as early as possible. If not, write your own—’Lorem Ipsum’ will not help the end-users experience because your designs are focused entirely on the ‘ideal’ visual appearance.

If you doubt your writing skills add clear disclaimers to communicate with key stakeholders and avoid any confusion. But don’t forget, both user experience and content strategy have the same end goal—it’s inevitable, you will create better experiences if you combine the two.

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