Good content always trumps good design online.

February 1, 2016 in Editorial

For quite a few years now i’ve been creating nothing but websites and digital strategies. I’ve been making so many I recently took a break mid-last year just to focus on my photography and film for a little while. I did this because as much as I have a love for all things tech & digital, turning into a non-stop factory of project creep, bug-fixing and late night calls started to take their toll. So rather then let the love die completely I pivoted what I was doing to focus on the content itself rather then the medium that delivers it.

It certainly wasn’t a sudden fascination by any stretch, i’ve been photographing virtually everything since I was just twelve years old. My first camera, with its insignificant sixteen megabyte memory card gave me an instant respect for what it was like to shoot on film. Being so physically limited by the tools I had meant I picked up great patience and focus on getting it right the first time instead of praying and spraying, a term photographers use to describe the use of holding down on the shutter button and hoping your camera picks up maybe one shot out of a dozen good ones.

Fast forwarding a few years to when I slowly crept towards becoming a full time freelancer and focussed on just making websites (this was when I was still in bridal gowns, of all industries) I was full of pep and enthusiasm for the limitless design possibilities that I had to create the most ultimate websites for my clients. I had rolled up my sleeves, dug deep into the design, flicking my mouse around creating wireframes to start a dialogue of what would become instant masterpieces. The design was done, the backend was friendly enough a six year old could edit the website in seconds, all it needed now was some beautiful, imaginative photos and words of wisdom to adorn the pages to win over even the most cynical of potential customers.

 “..if I could tell Ben from five years ago one thing, it would be to focus less on design and more on experience.”

It’s here where I hit a snag. I got to work, poured my coffee for the morning and whacked open my emails, eager to feast upon the content that would make the design sing, but what I got wasn’t magical. In fact, it was anything but whimsical or fantasmic. What I had clicked on just wasn’t going to work. The photos were so small the details of the bridal gowns were merely insignificant patterns of pale white pixels. Worse yet, the copy I had received was dull and unimaginative.

In hindsight, if I could tell Ben from five years ago one thing, it would be to focus less on design and more on experience. Essentially just like the saying suggests, you can polish a turd all you want but at the end of the day no-one’s going to want to go near it, and nothing was truer then the predicament I found myself time and time again in.

There’s a ramen joint I frequent often called Taro’s in the city. I did a review on his food just recently for OurWorlds, and it’s quite possibly up there with some of the best in the world. Taro himself is passionate and relentless in his pursuit to making the best possible dishes, he’s a Sake connoisseur and frequents Japan regularly to further hone in on his craft. His blog, which documents his food-based travels, discoveries and monthly specials garners a huge audience despite not evening having a mobile version for hungry customers on the go to read.

And really what the lesson here is blissfully simple. Passionate people with great stories will always trump jazzy PR messages sponsored by great design. That’s not to say you need to pick one or the other though. Having a website that really shines and makes an impact on your potential customers is really about having great content being shared “through” great design. It’s a greater then the sum of the parts affair, and when the design is so good all you see is a great story being told, well, that’s when you really see results with your digital strategy.

You only need to look at some of the world’s most clicked sites to see this at play. Take Apple’s website, for example. The beautiful imagery and handpicked copy is one thing but the design creates a whole new level to the story literally unfolding before your eyes. Just the act of strolling causes elegant leverage of modern web design to reveal smooth animation and design tricks all aimed to turn a great story of craftmentship into something that sells something more then just a product, it sells a way of being we all want to be a part of.

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So with this in mind, if you’re looking to dive deep into a new digital strategy this year i’d suggest one thing and one thing only and that’s to really engage people with a great story and not just a flashy website. Having a cool website is one thing, but if you’re a great brand full of passionate people & ideas then tapping into them and sharing it with the world will be the key to your success and not relying on digital trickery to get the job done.