Do you spend your money on design or content?

Let me ask you a question. How important is the design of your website?
I reckon most of you will be saying ‘very’ and some of you will be saying ‘absolutely essential’
Design IS important, but it’s far too easy to get carried away and spend the wrong amount of money on design when it could be better spent elsewhere. Like content.
You’re probably using the internet on a daily basis, and using search engines to find websites that meet your needs.
What are you searching for? Design, or content?
See what I mean? Search engines rank websites on their content value, not their design.
And they present their results in order of content relevancy.
It’s only when you click on the website link, that design starts to have any meaning.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking good graphic or user interface design. I recently had this discussion with a graphic designer who insisted that the design was the most important aspect of a website in that it attracted customers.
I argued that beautiful design will enhance a customer experience that has already proved an inherent efficiency.

Beauty overrated?

We tend to judge things on their appearance because it’s immediately noticeable. We know not to judge a book by its cover, but we so frequently do.

Apple computer
Apple’s first product was ugly, but it’s now the biggest company in the world. Picture: Flickr/kevinthoule

Apple is the perfect example of the design-content balancing act. Do you think Apple design their products visually, then fill them with electronics?
Have you seen what the first Apple computer looked like?
Absolutely not, their money is spent on research and development, in hardware and software. Only when the product is ready for market do the designers start to sharpen their pencils.
In fact, Steve Jobs is recorded as saying: “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
Google, YouTube, Ebay are all great examples of websites which started life as ugly duckings. They developed their content first, then spent their profits on making things look a little nicer, when they could afford to. These are now iconic businesses that woud be nothing if they had focussed their energies into ‘aesthetics’ at the expense of content.
How many times would you go back to a gorgeous site if it’s devoid of good content?
When was the last time you used a search engine to root out good design?

Happy medium

A poorly-designed site will struggle to meet its customers needs, but I’m not talking about poor design here. I’m talking about spending your content budget on design niceties that doesn’t add anything to the experience. Sending back functional, effective designs, quite often just to ‘see what something would look like, ie, not based on any rational design concept.
Content works without design, design doesn’t work without content. But there does need to be a happy medium.
What you put in front of people will need to have a level of design that doesn’t make their toes curl. If you have the budget to blow their socks off, that’s great, but if you don’t, spend your money on content first.