This is quite a common request that I get and I am sure I am not alone. “I need a new website but I don’t have any content or data yet”. At this point, what should happen is that us developers / designers should articulate that content is required for a website, and without it, well the processes leading up to and including the build are close to pointless.
“I have a logo and some ideas of what I want it to look like, but I am struggling to write content, can we just change that later?”
No. This is basically the same as saying you want a builder to build you a house. You know that you want walls, but other than that you aren’t really sure. So, it could be a 1 bedroom bungalow on a tiny plot of land, or a mansion of epic proportions with acres of land. Would the builder start the job with so little information? Not a chance. Nobody in their right mind would think of building a house with such a ludicrously vague set of demands. So why is a digital project any different? Hey, guess what, it’s not!
Without the content and knowing how that will all be mapped and interlinked, the design is basically just a pretty picture. With content the design can be tackled in a way that is insightful and appropriate for the solution.
I’m not saying all content is required and should locked down before the design process starts. This is not realistic for 90% of clients. What I am saying is that when you have no content whatsoever, the design becomes very tricky indeed. Imagine designing a poster without content, you just couldn’t. You need subject matter for any marketing materials and a website is no different.
We know that UX design is an important part of any project, regardless of scale. UX design without structure or a fairly solid brief is just creating something that works for the sake of it. You can justify it to yourself or your team any which way you like, but unless you know the proposed structure of content and the desired purpose of the tool you are making, you are just merely guessing. After all, us developers aren’t trying to create things that just work, we want to create solutions. More often than not, a badly informed UX process creates more problems than it solves and you end up limping into the design process on a project that should still feel fresh, exciting and youthful!
Top level wireframes should only be tackled in a conceptual manner, but these will be rough and predominantly guess work based on what little information you have. Their sole purpose is to get the client thinking and prompting them for content.
The only design that is possible early on should be conceptual or brand based. I think things like style tiles or digital brand guidelines can be established without the content, assuming you know who the client is and what they do. At an absolute push a very loose conceptual design could be produced with sample content and images, showing how elements of the style tile could look together, but the client should be aware that once content actually materialises, this rough concept could change a lot.
Often whether or not this step is taken is dependent on the client, it is worth assessing whether you think they need some extra motivation to give you content. Sometimes it feels like you need to provide added incentive to clients to produce content and data and ‘teaser’ designs and top-level wireframes do just that. Anything more than that at this stage is a pointless facade which will almost definitely be rendered obsolete when the client has content and data ready.
Project / Account Management: Be an advocate for content-lead design and support your creative and technical comrades.
UX / UI Designers: Be assertive that you need content for your design to be valid.
Web Developers: Support the designers by ensuring that structures are agreed by the client before the build commences.
Clients: Understand the agency / freelancer(s) are trying to give you the best solution that can be achieved. For this to happen you can not be a silent party and without content.