Scrap your linear workflow! Try a content-first web strategy

By Alex Traska on 3rd May

In the most recent Craft Meetup at the Makermet studio, we discussed the common but problematic linear approach to planning, designing, building and populating websites versus a new, content model first approach that helps get teams both agency-side and client-side working more quickly and effectively.

Recent work on large web design and build projects, with complex layers of inter-related data forced a change to internal processes and the way we work with clients and support them in the development and population of website content.

The linear and inefficient "old way"

A classic (and heavily simplified for the sake of brevity) approach to web design is to develop a brief with a client, which includes agreement on a sitemap and a functionality spec. Typically, the user interface design stage of the project begins without and detailed picture of the final content the website must present so placeholder text heavily laden with assumptions is used throughout. These UIs are then used to brief the developer, who undertakes a huge amount of work before population of REAL content starts...

Craft Web Design Process Linear Old

The key issue is clear; problems with the design or structure of the CMS or website won't become clear until the CMS is populated with real content. These problems often necessitate the modification of UI designs and subsequent changes to the CMS and front end source. This approach can create a loop of design / build / test / populate that can send project schedules spiralling out of control.

Other issues with this approach include...

Process is too linear
The client and agency can’t start with content population until the UIs are signed-off and the whole site is built. Individual teams are often waiting for each other to finish; the critical path is subject to many dependencies.

No realistic allowance for development of content
Where clients have assumed responsibility for the development of their own website content (with our without support), there's often a very unrealistic expectation with regards the resources and time required to actually produce great content. If you leave the formal development of this content until the latter stages of a build project, it's extremely likely that project launches will be delayed by weeks or even months.

Inaccurate demo content and data structures
Once you start working with REAL data (and content) that doesn’t fit your ideal view and the assumptions you made during UI design stage, things will break/not fit/not make sense/were forgotten.

No formal consideration for data redundancy
If lots of data types are related, it’s best to make sure you’re not duplicating content in two places in the CMS, which makes maintenance more difficult for agencies and for the client's internal maintenance teams. 


The "new way" - a content model first approach

With these problems in mind, a content model first approach simply reorganises workflow and improves initial research and planning phases to eliminate assumptions and improve productivity...

Craft Web Design Content Model First

The research stage formally identifies data structures and the way types of content are related and used across a website. This detailed plan, developed with the client, forms a brief that UI designers, developers and the client's internal content development team (or your copywriters) can all work from with immediate effect. 

Improvements include...

Problems with the CMS structure are spotted before the UI is signed off
If the client or content team start populating the CMS before front-end dev begins, changes are usually trivial to effect. This reduces costly changes and unexpected delays towards the end of the project.

Improves availability for resources on other projects
CMS structures can be built and deployed quickly using CraftCMS, with the developer then available for work on other projects whilst UI design and content teams tackle the majority of their work, identifying and solving issues as they go. Once those stages are complete, the front end development and testing is completed with a REAL and complete set of content.

A "meta approach" to content modelling makes everyone's job easier
It's difficult to design a user interface without any content (please, no lorem ipsum!), but it's also hard to write content without knowing its context.

Content development happens concurrently to design and build
Overall project length is heavily reduced, which is more commercially effective for the client and agency.


Tips for taking a content model approach

This article is a brief overview of the improvements you can enjoy with the content model strategy, which could be the subject of many lengthy books. Here's a few basic pointers to get you thinking...

Ask LOTS of questions
Arrange a content planning "workshop" with the client and invite their key stakeholders. Discuss what their content is, how it's used, who's using it, where it's used, what else is using it. Get used to asking "and what else?", as often as possible.

Draw up a lo-fi map of data that relates to a sketched wireframe
You can instantly relate meta-data structures to a visual representation during your conversations with clients. Use sharpies and lots of paper and scribble FAST. You'll identify data relationships very quickly and the client will understand their significance to the CMS structure and front end design.

Reuse components
The data model will define components for code and user interface design that can be recycled around the site. This makes less work for both design and dev teams and makes for a more consistent end-user experience.

Build with Craft
CraftCMS uses a drag and drop interface, which expedites the back-end build process. It also uses sensible data structures (singles, structures and channels) and clients' content maintenance teams LOVE working with it. Find out more about it at www.craftcms.com

Want to know more? Join us at the next Craftin Notts meetup

A bunch of designers, developers, digital marketing professionals and clients interested in web strategy are regularly getting together to discuss CraftCMS, general web design and development practices and a better way of working. 

The next meetup is on Tuesday 23rd May 2017. For more information, visit www.craftinnotts.com and join the Meetup group.


This article was written by Alex Traska at Makermet, with input from lead developer Dave Coggins. 


About the author

profile-alex

Alex Traska

Creative Director

Original founder and Makermet Director, Alex works directly with clients on all aspects of Makermet's services.

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