How Do You Design Around Messy Content?

By Alyssa Gregory

Rough LayoutHave you ever been faced with redesigning a site for a product, service or company that you just didn’t get? Let’s say the content is long, confusing and/or disorganized. How do you get past the mess to conceptualize a design? And, most importantly, how do you make the design work for the client’s content?

I am a copywriter.

Coming from a writing background, I have a very difficult time looking past poorly written copy. In fact, I have rewritten many pages of content for clients to help them achieve a coherent and cohesive message. That’s part of my job, a part I happen to enjoy. But I know that most designers don’t typically do any copywriting, nor do they want to.

This is the challenge.

Obviously, as a designer, you want the site to be a success, but there are certainly varying schools of thought as to what that actually entails. You can be adamant about designing to create a design. Or, you can design to create a complete marketing tool. Sure, sometimes you can achieve both without any conscious thought, but I have seen many beautiful sites that confuse the heck out of me. And if they’re confusing me with a decent amount of experience under my belt, imagine what they to do the average Joe. And it’s usually Joe who our clients are trying to reach.

In my opinion, it really doesn’t matter how pretty a design is. If it isn’t clear what the goal of the site is, then it doesn’t do anything for the client and the product they’re trying to sell, the cause they want to promote, or the information they want to share. The design and the content need to work together seamlessly. Check out Gary Barber’s post “Content Comes Before Good Design” for more on this.

In a perfect world, we would give every client a full team with broad expertise — designing, marketing, copywriting — dedicated to creating their site. But for the freelance and solo designers this is not practical.

What do you do?

How do you handle disorganized content or a confusing message? What do you do to improve it, or don’t you?

Image credit: Matt Hampel

  • Confused

    Not seeing the relation between the title and the actual article.

    • Oops…never updated the title from an old draft. Great catch! :-)

  • How do you handle disorganized content or a confusing message? What do you do to improve it, or don’t you?

    I used to be a journalist before moving into design so I’m not afraid to edit content if I need to and have had to actually ‘interview’ clients before to get copy for projects.

    I find the biggest challenge is when you’re not provided with enough content for certain pages and either have to go digging for more or find ways to pad out what you’ve got.

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