A Request For Content: How to Get Usable Information When Beginning a Design Project

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A key part of any design project is to eventually strip away the dummy data and populate it with client-specific information. This can be difficult, however – especially if you’re relying on the client to provide content.

The broad answer to this problem is to put a solid plan into place beforehand. This involves having a clear structure in place for the site itself, and knowing exactly what content you’re going to need. Then, you just need to communicate your requirements early and clearly.

In this post, we’ll look at how to request the content you need from clients, and more importantly, how to decide what you’ll need to ask for. We’ll also discuss how your approach might differ when that content is being written by a third party. Let’s get started!

The Role of Content in Your Design Projects

Put simply, a site without content is as good as useless. What’s more, knowing what kind of content will be featured is important when it comes to designing the site itself. After all, if you’re using basic Lorem Ipsum as a placeholder, it won’t have the same structure and length of the real text.

In addition, since content is central to the site as a whole, many design choices and project decisions will be based around it. For example, imagine you’re designing for a modern brand that favors direct language. Without knowing the wording intended for its site’s contact page, you may employ the same professional and straightforward design that you’ve implemented elsewhere. However, when the page’s copy turns out to be decidedly ‘warmer’ in tone, that could warrant a redesign.

In other words, content is king. It benefits you to have the right words in place early, so you can create a fitting design. The best websites are created to match the content they contain. We don’t want to remind you about Flash-designed sites, but they’re what happens when design trumps content (rather than the other way around).

How to Get Usable Information When Beginning a Design Project

So, how do you get the right information from your clients upfront? The secret is to start the process during your initial discussions. If at all possible, you should look to talk about the client’s needs in detail at this stage. Ultimately, you want to impress on them that content should be a primary concern during the project, rather than an afterthought.

You may even decide to incorporate certain content-related provisions into your working agreement or contract. For example, it pays to talk with your client about the following matters, and make sure the conditions are set in stone:

  • Determine the responsibility for specific pages. For example, the Contact and About pages may need your direct attention, while individual blog posts can be delivered once the project is almost finished.
  • Layout whether you charge for late delivery of content, in order to motivate your client to stick to deadlines.
  • When outlining how you’ll be paid for the project, get in writing whether the completion of content is a factor.

Of course, we’re not legal experts, so you may want to get some professional advice as well. However, these should be simple additions to a contract that the client will be happy to implement (if they’re on board with the reasoning behind them). After that, you just need to figure out what actual content is required.

How to Determine What Content You Need to Ask For

Each project and website is different, so there’s no ‘cookie cutter’ approach to requesting content. However, there are a few useful steps you can follow, to make sure all the most pertinent points are addressed:

  1. Create a sitemap very early in the project, and lay it out in a way that helps the client visualize the final product.
  2. Then, decide which of the pages on your sitemap are most important (such as the contact, ‘about us‘, and services pages), and begin to break them down into their constituent parts. Treat this as a design project in itself, and collate your results in a spreadsheet (or an organizational tool of your choosing, such as Content Snare).

During this process, you’ll want to decide on each page’s purpose and analytical objectives. For example, the purpose of a contact page may be to get more leads, and its primary objective is to encourage visitors to use a specific contact form. Knowing these goals can help you design a page that supports them.

Once you know the ‘mission statement’ for each page, you can then break down exactly what content is needed. This applies to both text and media. You’ll want to give your client a specific list of the assets that are required, and deadlines to adhere to.

Again, stressing the importance of delivering on time should help ensure that you get what’s required. Also, don’t forget to consider ‘extras’ such as testimonial quotes and other third-party text, as they might take longer to come in.

Why You May Want to Work Directly with the Client’s Content Provider

On projects where you’re working with small businesses, the content team may be juggling multiple responsibilities. However, clients with a larger budget will likely have a dedicated content team in place. That means you can either leave them to it after issuing a request for content or actually work alongside them to get what you need.

The former option is the default for many web designers, but we’d suggest trying to do the latter whenever possible. You may end up acting like an Editor-in-Chief from time to time, but the upshot is that you can keep close tabs on the progress of each request you make, and can even discuss your needs directly with the writers in question.

Our recommendation is to discuss this option with the project lead very early on – even during the initial negotiations. It could be that you end up having to deal with a middleman only. However, you may want to stress that having close contact with the writing team will benefit both the project and the company.

Conclusion

A website is only as good as its content. While as a designer you may think that this element is out of your control, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, taking a hands-on approach to requesting content will help you design better, and provides the client with an excellent end result.

To ensure that you get usable content, you’ll first need a detailed sitemap of the entire project. Map out each of the pages required, and even create templates where necessary to make sure you know exactly what content you need. This will help you communicate your requirements to the client clearly, and avoids potential confusion and delays.

Do you have any questions about how to request content from your clients? Ask away in the comments section below!

Featured image: pixelcreatures.

Tom Rankin is a key member of WordCandy, a musician, photographer, vegan, beard owner, and (very) amateur coder. When he’s not doing any of these things, he’s likely sleeping.

The post A Request For Content: How to Get Usable Information When Beginning a Design Project appeared first on Torque.

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