Good content design isn’t just about making content look good. It’s also a key part of communicating its meaning. While it’s possible to add a lot of bells and whistles to a digital page, it doesn’t always follow that that’s the right thing to do.
The starting point for any designer is working out what the story is. Once you know what you want to say, you then employ all the colour and the balance of the pace and the hierarchy and the typography that relate to the brand. That’s just basic design.
Then you work out what’s going to engage the user, or what’s going to hold their interest. That may involve looking at interactivity, for example. You want to think about what’s going to add to their experience to engage them even further and draw them further in. And dwell-time on a page is an important ranking signal, so anything that keeps a reader engaged is a good thing.
Good content design is uncluttered
A lot of people who produce content think more is better. The truth is the opposite. Making the information clearer and more simple and cleaner is often better.
Good design is very clear in its communication. That has a lot to do with hierarchy—focusing on making what’s important stand out. A lot of the impact that you can have in design is visual in nature. You can reinforce a lot of messages through visual additions without having to over-explain it with content.
You can overdo your page with tricky bits and pieces—spinning gifs and lots of calls-to-action. There’s a lot of technology that’s coming out that’s clever and interesting, and people get very excited by it. But if it’s not relevant to the message that you’re trying to convey, then you’re just going to confuse your reader. If the user can’t see the message, you’ve lost them.
Don’t fall in love with widgets
All the same principles that apply to offline design are relevant to online design. Navigation and hierarchy are really important in design in terms of trying to get the reader or the user to work their way through the content in the way you want them to do that.
I think also to not be too sales-y as well. It’s a fine line between communicating a brand and blaring it. No-one finds it easy to read a page that is covered in logos and brand messages.
Pay attention to typography
When your ultimate goal is sales, it’s tempting to use old-school sales tactics like bolded or coloured type, or flashing letters. But that can come across as too aggressive in content marketing.
With content, you’re enriching their experience. If you come across as trying to sell readers something, you will lose about 95 percent of them.
When I look at a website like the Patagonia one, I’m really impressed by their approach to design and content. It’s divided into adventures. If you’re a surfer, or if you’re a sailor, there are some really lovely stories on there, and it’s more story based than adventure based.
Another one I’m interested in is called thesurfbox.net. It’s for women, and it’s to improve their performance in the surf, so they’re basically coaches. But it really doesn’t sell like that, it’s basically tips and tricks, and videos, there’s audio. Any questions that you may have, little tips to improve what you’re doing, it’ll be there.
It feels very much like they’re almost coaching you with their content, which makes you trust them. It’s reflected in the very clear, simple, interesting and engaging content which is totally and utterly relevant.
The production of good content is built around the user. The hierarchies of images, headlines, and typography make it clear and easy for users to get information.
For marketing purposes, the next step in delivering that information is delivering products that can help readers use it. But the design should showcase the products after it showcases the information.
There’s an old advertising saying: “Sell the sizzle, not the steak”. It means selling the experience of using the product rather than the product itself. And good design should always be built around that user experience.