Content vs. Design: A Smackdown of Epic Proportions

Step right up – it’s goin’ down. Today, we’re pitting Content against Design in an epic showdown that will decide once and for all exactly which is more important to successful website design. If you’re tired of all the rhetoric and the cries of supremacy from either side, you’ll want a front row ticket to this down and dirty rumble.
In This Corner… Content

Some fighters are all about the bombastic approach. One punch landed right, and it’s lights out. Others adopt a more refined technique, relying on an accumulation of rapid fire punches to wear out their opponent. If you had to pick a style that most resembles what web content is capable of, it’s the latter. Content – and we’re talking about good content here, not just a bunch of strung together words for the sake of appearances – is enduring in nature and sets the web surfer up for the knockout blow. It’s the brains of the operation, and in that respect it can accomplish things that even the best design in the world can’t do. – Content achieves search engine visibility. Crawlers don’t look for aesthetics. They’re like one-dimensional critters seeking out only what they can quantify and spit back out in code. Thus, a website that’s all flash and no substance is invisible in the eyes of the search engines. If you want your website to land at the top of the heap of a search engine’s results, content isn’t just something nice to have, it’s downright essential. – Content ensures visitor engagement. People take to the interwebs in search of information. And as you already know, the best possible way to communicate that information is through the written word. A pretty picture and an eye-catching design may be worth a thousand words, but you can’t deliver a call to action unless you actually spell it out. – Content brings value. Ultimately, a website lives and dies by its ability to offer visitors something of value. Whether that value is comprised of highly sought after information or ready access to low cost tennis shoes doesn’t really matter. For a perfect example, see Craigslist, which won’t ever win any design awards but accomplishes its aim handily.
In The Other Corner… Design

There are two kinds of web design in this world: good and bad. Maybe bad’s not the best word to describe it. Let’s try hideous. There’s the MySpace page created by the guy with absolutely no sense of proportion or regard for white space, and then there’s the professionally designed website that would shout simplicity and class if it had to – but it doesn’t. It’s already getting everyone’s attention anyway, so why run the risk of strained vocal cords? Great design is the equivalent of the haymaker punch that can decide a fight’s outcome in seconds flat. It’s the thing that elicits a heartfelt “Wow!” and makes you put down your coffee and lean in for a closer look. When done right, it can grab a website visitor by the throat and not let him go. In that way, design is capable of doing things that even killer content can’t. – Good design can guide visitors through a site’s network with ease. It pays attention to the user experience and forgets about making artistic statements. Your website serves a purpose, after all, and that purpose is to not only bring the visitors in but to keep them there as long as possible. Without attention to structure and flow, you’re making it hard on the very people who were kind enough to grace your site with their cyber presence in the first place. A shining example of minimalistic, user friendly design can be found on Facebook, a site that’s laid out so intuitively that even presidential candidates and rock stars can use their profiles to effectively market themselves. – Good design makes your website shareable. Social media has changed the way that business is done online, and nowhere is that more evident than in the rise of Pinterest. Imagery sells, and these days if you don’t have an attractive or eye catching something-or-other that someone can share as a visual representation of your website, you’re missing out on some prime opportunities to gain visibility. – Good design offers aesthetic appeal. Ease of use aside, this is probably the most important. It’s not often you stumble upon an original work of art online, but it’s certainly never an unwelcome surprise. A well designed website may never get the accolades of a Jackson Pollock or even a LeRoy Neiman, but it can keep people coming back if they like what they see. Especially with the unfortunate wealth of poorly designed, overly cluttered sites that exist today.
On to the Scorecards

If you thought this was a showdown that would end in a one-round knockout for either side, you’ve been watching too many Rocky movies. This is a face-off whose outcome can only be determined through careful consideration to the details. The scorecards declare: DRAW!
A Parting Shot

Websites are a lot like people. No, really – think about it. Some rock, some suck. Some royally tick you off, some float your boat big time. Some are beautiful and stupid, some are ugly and smart as hell. Makes sense, right? But what a lot of people fail to realize is that a website’s popularity with users hinges on these very same attributes. For example, Neil over in IT might be the funniest guy in the world, but if he pays absolutely no attention to his hygiene there’s no chance you’ll be asking him over for a beer. Meanwhile, Barbie in reception turns heads just by drawing breath, but sends the courtiers and the wanna-be’s running away from her vapidity. Who’s the most popular person in the company? It’s Michael, the guy with the sharp style, winning smile and brains galore. In other words, the person with an equal balance of both: smarts and style. Flip that over into the website world and you emerge with the characteristics of content and design. You want a website that’s capable of achieving mass appeal? Without an equal balance of both, you’re invariably chasing people away. And that’s what brilliant minds call a “no-no.”

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