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!

Content designed by Cengiz SARI from The Noun Project