Like many other web peo­ple, I’ve used a good bit of Lorem Ipsum copy in my day. Lately though, I’ve seen it fall short when it comes to the nec­es­sary hier­ar­chy of con­tent. This has been espe­cially appar­ent in my respon­sive designs, as con­tent some­times needs to change based on device size, or char­ac­ter­is­tic. My solve? Devel­op­ing a con­tent hier­ar­chy straight out of the gate, as my first deliv­er­able to the client.

The Deliverable(s)

Essen­tially, the con­tent hier­ar­chy starts as a sim­ple bul­leted list. It includes any client infor­ma­tion I already have access to, in a hier­ar­chi­cal for­mat, as it would be in a sim­ple site map. You can see an exam­ple here.

Once I get a sim­ple bul­leted list setup I send this off to the client, in the form of a Google doc. This gives them the oppor­tu­nity to make adjust­ments to the infor­ma­tion, tack on com­ments, etc. We go back and forth until we have a decent pic­ture of what the web­site con­tent will look like, before I start design­ing. Once this stage in the process is approved, we move on to design, where I can work with real data.

The Wins

The biggest win in my eyes is that I get a much bet­ter idea of what I’m build­ing, or what I’m not.

Using dummy con­tent or fake infor­ma­tion in the Web design process can result in prod­ucts with unre­al­is­tic assump­tions and poten­tially seri­ous design flaws.

— Luke Wrob­lewski *

As Luke so elo­quently stated, by using real infor­ma­tion we are avoid­ing mak­ing assump­tions in our designs. These assump­tions can lead to large prob­lems at the tail end of a project when a client has copy that is 4000 char­ac­ters longer than your place­holder text, and you’re try­ing to fit the design on an iPhone.

A sec­ond win is that by lay­ing out a map for our con­tent, we are edu­cat­ing our­selves for future design deci­sions. What if a client has a prod­uct that means so much to them that they want it called out glob­ally, on every page? How will I begin to break down the great fea­tures of said prod­uct? Once I get con­tent on these pieces, a more informed design starts to take shape.

The Real World

While estab­lish­ing a con­tent direc­tion prior to design has helped me greatly, it is not the end all be all. First things, many times clients just don’t get the infor­ma­tion to you on time, even though you have a dead­line loom­ing. Usu­ally though, you can get at the very least an over­all direc­tion, such as top nav­i­ga­tion items, main tag lines, etc.

Sec­ondly, erad­i­cat­ing Lorem Ipsum from the planet is not the answer. As Karen McGrane points out in her defense of Lorem Ipsum, it can help call to atten­tion places where con­tent is com­ing from a CMS, remind­ing us that con­tent will be for­ever mar­ried with our design. This is impor­tant in our tem­plated web struc­ture, where thou­sands of pages may use the same cen­tral lay­out guidelines.

I’ll keep push­ing for hier­ar­chi­cal con­tent before design, but you bet­ter believe it will be splashed with a pinch of Lorem Ipsum.

How are you han­dling the con­tent hand­off with clients? I’d love to hear!

* http://www.lukew.com/ff/entry.asp?927
Con­tent designed by Cen­giz SARI from The Noun Project