In this post we will talk about how to make your website pages look great with just a few simple content design tips. These will help you to get the most out of basic web page templates without the need for heavily customised themes or special design work.
Four components of a website
First of all, let’s quickly establish four key components that make up a website. These are terms that we use and find helpful when working with our clients. They’re not necessarily universal.
This is the core technology you’re using to get started. It could be a customised installation of Wordpress, Drupal, a proprietary CMS or something else. The platform will dictate various characteristics of your website that you then won’t change. The White Fuse platform for example has built in content streams for blog, news, events, case studies and resources. Each one has it’s own special fields to help organise your content.
The theme deals with how all of the different parts of the platform are presented to the user. Content streams, pages, forms, menus, signposts, buttons etc. are all themed with choices about colours, fonts, spacing, alignment, mobile optimisation etc. Most of this doesn’t need to be specific to your brand (line spacing or menu position for example) but you will probably need your logo, a colour scheme and a heading font to be personalised.
The platform or CMS that you’re using will give you lots of control over how your content is structured. Planning your sitemap, arranging menus, defining taxonomy terms (categorisation) and creating signposts are all structural controls that the White Fuse platform offers. This creates a framework for your content that will help people navigate around and find what they’re looking for.
And now we come to content, the main topic of this post. The most important component for engaging users. A simple website, with a simple theme and structure can still make waves if the content is powerful. Content is something that is hard to outsource because knowledge of and passion for your cause is vital. If you need convincing, the storytelling masters at Pixar animation studio agree.
Theme Design VS Content Design
Heavily customised themes are expensive, out of style and are always reliant on a web agency to make changes. Minimalism still takes a lot of work to design well but it can be shared by lots of organisations at a platform level dramatically reducing the cost to any one organisation.
The term ‘content design’ is a bit of a mission of ours. We strongly believe that most organisations don’t need expensive, complicated or hard to manage websites. That all your objectives can be achieved with a powerful platform, a thoughtful theme, a sensible structure and great content.
Content design is about putting the emphasis of the site on the content, illustrating content with contextually relevant images and graphics in a way that is easy to control and edit. This empowers you the client to take greater control. You can build a library of design assets such as photos, icons, diagrams, quotes etc. and then implement them with great control throughout your content.
What’s more, these assets can come from anywhere. You can grab free images from Unsplash, icons from The Noun Project or get some diagrams created by a freelancer. As long as you have brand guidelines and you make an effort to stick to them, there’s no reason why you can’t source visual assets from different places.
Sourcing and creating content design assets
You might not think of copy as design. ‘It’s just the words’ right? Everything else is the design?' Wrong. Your copy is crucial and central to your content design. Everything should be based around your key messages and calls to action. All other design elements should serve these functions.
Think of your copy as your most precious design asset. The better your copy is, the less you will need to rely on other design assets. We have lots of guides that can help you transform your copy. We've got various guides about writing copy over here.
Oh and in case you’re wondering, all copy on the White Fuse platform is editable by you. No more asking your web agency to correct a typo or change some banner text. Phew.
Commissioning and sourcing photos
Photos can help draw attention, illustrate messages and most importantly, impart emotion. In order to engage a user and provoke them to action you need to make them feel something. Photos do this in a way that text and other graphics often can’t.
Commissioning photos is often a worthwhile investment. You will have a bank of dozens and dozens of photos that will help reinforce your brand and the ‘realness’ of your cause. We have another blog post all about how to commission photos and specifically, how to create a brief for a photographer to make sure you get what you want.
If you’re lucky enough to have staff who are keen on photography you can benefit from a slow and steady feed of images from events and other occassions to use in your content. Don’t neglect to brief them on what you want though. You’ll get much better results if you have a plan.
If commissioning photos is not for you due to budget or the nature of your work then you’ll need to source some from elsewhere.
We’ve written an entire guide and blog on places to access free and affordable images which we endeavour to keep up to date. We give tips on how to perform the right sort of searches to yield the results you need.
We’ve even got a help article all about how to choose good banner images on our platform. This deals with things like focus, balance, colour, contrast and more. Understanding these finer details before you source images can make a big difference.
Designing or sourcing graphics.
Graphic content comes in all shapes and sizes. Thinking of things as reusable or one-off may help sort out what you need.
Reusable, small icons are useful for adding visual interest with relative ease. Sourcing a set of icons is quite inexpensive. You can download stylised icon sets from almost any stock library. The same rules apply as with photos, get good at searching because there are lots of icons out there to choose from.
Larger, custom illustrations such as charts, diagrams, infographics or pictorial scenes are a great way to convey otherwise complex information in a visually branded way. You’ll need these designed to order but again, they shouldn’t be very costly if you have a clear brief.
Combining content to create great pages
Armed with these three pillars of content design it’s surprisingly easy to create great looking web pages without modifying the website theme, page layout or structure. With these, and the ability to embed links and other media there isn’t much that you can’t do.
Here are a few example web pages that work well.
Transform - Impact stat icon badges
Our demo - stock photo banner images
ROLE UK - icons
Forum for the Future - custom illustrations
Phoenix Futures - timeline date-stamp icons
Girl Generation - infographics
Need help with content design? Contact us here!