Which Comes First, Content or Design?

This is a common question – not only for websites, but for all projects. Home buyers find a home to suit their lifestyle, or build a new one. Artists decide to use an existing canvas or find a new one. Web designers use an existing design, or create a new one.

Since this question applies to all projects equally, let’s generalize it: Does the container inspire its content, or does the content inspire its container?

Even in the everyday routine of your lunch, I think the answer is “both”. Take your sandwich for example. You don’t make a monster sandwich that won’t fit into anything. Neither do you take out a coffee mug and try to cram a sandwich into it. Instead, you know what a normal sandwich looks like, and what a normal sandwich container looks like.

It’s all done for a purpose – because you know it’s going to be convenient. So not only does content determine the container, but the container determines the content. That’s all well and good about sandwiches, but what about websites?

Let’s take a typical scenario. A company needs a website, so they approach a web designer. The company knows more about their business than the web designer, so they can more easily provide the content. The web designer knows more about designing a website, so they can more easily provide the container. Seems like a perfect match! Like a sandwich container, the web design’s primary job is to deliver its contents in the most effective way possible. In this case, I’ve found content should come first.

Although I stated my opinion that content should come first, the “which comes first” question misses the main point. Each situation determines the balance of inspiration between content and design based on serving a higher purpose – whether it be feeding you for lunch or taking your company to the next level.