Content Meaning

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You’ve heard the questions before. “The design looks great, but what are you trying to communicate?” “Where’s the message in your design?” “Did you use this texture here for a reason, or is it just design for design’s sake?”

Okay, enough with the questions. I’m supposed to be answering these, right? (Sorry, another question.) Well, our jobs as designers is to think of these questions before presenting something to our client, professor, peer or anyone with an opinion we value.

I’ll let you in on a little secret that really shouldn’t be much of a secret at all: content is king, and your design will never dethrone it. We live in a world where ideas sell, and everyone is buying.

Where’s the Good Stuff?

Because content is so crucial, here are a couple of guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Start with something good, something that will make other people think, “I wish I had thought of that.”
  • Follow this with a great concept or great idea. Having either of those is more than half the battle.

You see, products that are aesthetically engaging but that do not have engaging content are quickly forgotten. Products that are promoted far more than they should be will often run their course and fade out much more quickly than the time they took to spring to life. Take commercials. You see them every day, and sure, they’re often humorous—but wait: what is it they’re trying to sell me? Have you noticed that the funnier the commercial is, the duller the product? You need the best of both worlds: beauty and brains.

Finding Action Through Your Design

To follow through with a great concept, you must be passionate about your work. And you must be passionate not only about visual stimulation (we all like to look at nice things, after all), but about what will inspire people to remember you as a designer and, more importantly, to think and act. That’s what good design does: it gets people on their feet, sends them to stores and defines their lifestyle. Let’s look now at two pieces that have had a great influence on me as a designer.

Glimmer

First, CNN published an article a couple years back titled “Can Design Change the World?” In it, journalist and author Warren Berger, who had just recently published his book Glimmer: How Design Can Transform Your Life and Maybe Even The World, said:

When people talk about design changing the world, it tends to sound a little grand and ridiculous, because they think of design as, in one fell swoop, changing the world and solving our problems.

What design actually can do, it can solve problems on a case-by-case basis around the world. As it does that, it changes the world, because it changes the reality for people wherever the situation is happening. If design can change water delivery in a certain part of the world, then it changes that part of the world for those people. That’s the way design changes the world.

I’ll admit that I used to wonder about this. I often asked myself whether I was actually making a difference in people’s lives or whether people perceived designers merely to be the turtle-necked, hoity-toity types who made websites and fliers for pointless events. When I read Berger’s explanation of the case-by-case solutions around the world, it really made me appreciate what I had chosen to do for a living. It helped me understand that, although I was creatively answering my client’s questions, I was solving problems nonetheless. Do yourself a favor and read the article; some really thought-provoking ideas in it opened my mind to the cause-and-effect nature of “pushing pixels” all day at work.

Propaganda

The second piece is a small segment from one of my favorite books, The Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher:

… Design is what happens between conceiving an idea and fashioning the means to carry it out. Whether big stuff like painting a picture, making a movie, creating a commercial enterprise, or small stuff like rearranging living room furniture. In short designing is what goes on in order to arrive at an intelligent equation between purpose and construction, thus converting a problem into an opportunity.

You see, it’s an opportunity for all of us to make the most of what we do, wherever we are. Whether you work at a large firm or are independent, every job you carry out is just as significant as the last. So, treat it that way. This is good design. It’s about finding the opportunity in someone else’s problem.

Problem-Solving Recipes

Red Pill, Blue Pill

Here’s a little insight into how I go about finding answers to question—or rather, how I solve someone else’s problem. Great solutions beget great ideas. I know this might sound a bit “red pill, blue pill”-ish, so let me explain.

A few points on straightening out your objectives:

  1. Analyze the job you’re working on. What’s the problem? What is intended to be accomplished?
  2. Create a mental catalog, a word matrix. What do I know about this? What can I link it to?
  3. Mix and match. Play with meanings. What’s old? What’s current? What does and doesn’t work?
  4. Review. Is it good? Does it fit? Does it do what it’s supposed to?

I’m sure a lot of us have learned the “Start at 100 and reduce” technique. It’s great for what it is, but if you’re familiar with the problem, why not start at 0 and add only the elements you need? I think you’ll find this to be not only faster and easier, but also more satisfying.

Add, don’t subtract.

It’s about using intuition to see what needs to be there and what doesn’t.

(al)

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Josh Medrano is a San Antonio based designer who will be graduating this spring from the University of The Incarnate Word with a BFA in Graphic Design. He is also currently working for Wickley Interactive - an interactive and marketing agency. Josh also runs his own blog and portfolio website to help inspire and educate others about the design community.

  1. 1

    Great article, I really enjoy reading it!

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  2. 2

    Great article Josh, Thanks for writing it! – You upped the level today – Ryan

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  3. 3

    I think the headline didn’t match with your content. This is what i think “no offence”.

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  4. 4

    Quite inspiring – good job!

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  5. 5

    Awesome article. I really love your courage to stand against common practices in the design world and that you always make a solid argument. Thanks.

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  6. 6

    A great article Josh that really highlights how content and design are synergistic in the message that they convey to the end user. Design is like the packaging for a product, it makes you want to pick it up and have a look, but the content is what ultimately sells!

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  7. 8

    I do think message, content and conversion always have to placed above an over-designed look. Too many designers go all out and need to be reeled back in a little I think.

    Can I just say though, your site has an amazing look and feel. Loads of lovely little design tweaks that just feel right, love it!

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  8. 9

    Yes colin, i totally agreed,but thanks to Josh for such a wonderful article.Once again thanks.keep posting more.

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  9. 10

    Good article, enjoyed reading it.

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  10. 11

    Thank you for the wonderful post

    this blog is very nice
    and thanks for giving such a wonderful knowledge.

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  11. 12

    Thank you for the kind comment, all. I had a great time researching/writing the article!

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  12. 13

    On the web, content is the only thing that Google and all the other robots can read, so no matter how great the design, it will not get noticed if the content is not there to make it visible.

    In the real world, design gets noticed. Content may be there to support it, but it is not always necessary.

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  13. 14

    Your blog is indeed an amazing one that gives a lot of inputs so far as designing concepts are concerned. The designers will have a solid notion of how to conceptualize the designs so that their objective is put forward to those who are watching them in the best possible ways. Simply admire the blog!

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  14. 15

    hey thanks – i really enjoyed :)

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  15. 16

    awesome read– keep it up :)

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  16. 17

    Kind of confusing. Where are the examples of modern web design? This reminds me of theory classes that I took at university, of which I use about 0.0001%. Other than that, it seems like a very valid concern to be approached.

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  17. 18

    I like this! Because I hate that question… What are you trying to communicate? As if you just got off the bus from school. Really? What does that question even mean? Its like Saying I like that a lot but can you make it POP!?

    WHAT! POP? Really? I think these sorts of questions are asked for the sake of asking more than an element of design is there for design sake.

    It gives the onlooker a sense of empowerment when dealing with an artist because 9 times out of 10… IT IS something they never thought of.

    Who designs at leisure for lack of content? When you work for an agency or a giant corporation it is understandable. Basically you are a drone doing your dance around the queen trying to keep them happy. Hence the Cat at the bottom of this page. It’s cute but what purpose does it serve. Sell us stuff? Great… Has nothing to do with selling stuff though…

    But personally… when I design something for a personal client. There is a reason and there is ALWAYS content to back it up. Other-wise my clients… walk.

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  18. 19

    Amazing article! Content is one of the toughest aspects of web design and many sites are very aesthetically pleasing, but lack substance in their content. Great content will ensure viewer retention:)

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  19. 20

    Great article, well detailed. Really nice and informative post.. thanks for sharing it.

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