Content First

Content First

In early August I attended An Event Apart in Minneapolis. As I was looking back to my tweets during that time, I found this gem:

“Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.” @zeldman is awesome. #aea
Jeffrey Zeldman, one of the founders of An Event Apart

There were many reoccurring themes throughout the two days of speakers and “content first” was one of them. During Ethan Marcotte’s presentation, he showed a tweet from @wilto that went like this: “Mobile users want to see our menu, hours, and delivery number. Desktop users definitely want this 1mb png of someone smiling at a salad.”

I absolutely love this statement. This small 136 character tweet speaks a thousand words to me. I think Mat’s tweet pokes fun at what we *think* users want to see on certain devices. While a picture of a person smiling at a salad might add some flare to your desktop website, is it necessary content? I have heard the statement “mobile first” a lot lately, but I’m starting to think what’s more important is content first. What is the most important information that a user would want? Let’s get that right up front so it is easy to access on a mobile device. Is there any reason we can’t think about a desktop site in the same way? Or a tablet device? I am starting to see a thin line between the way we look at mobile vs desktop when it comes to content. These are simply delivery tools for the content. Finding out what information is most important to the user is the first step, deciding how that content will appear on different devices is the next.

I’ll be honest, I have definitely made a website with a similar “someone smiling at a salad” photo. But, “Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration,” like Zeldman said. There is obviously a lot more opportunity for photos on desktop versions of websites and I see nothing wrong with taking advantage of that, as long as you know why those photos are there. Every bit of content on a website has to have a purpose and we should always be thinking content first.

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