Content Not Included: Why Design Without Content is a Problem Half Solved

I was browsing a designer’s website the other day, someone I was eager to recommend to a client, when I ran across three unfortunate words:

Content not included.

The fine print wouldn’t have rubbed me the wrong way if it had said something like, “While I’m only responsible for design, I’m happy to refer you to someone responsible for content,” or “I provide the design, you provide the content.” But no, not even that. Just a simple caveat emptor that makes it clear that content isn’t a consideration or qualification to their part of the work.

The thing about “content not included” is that it not only leaves money on the table – it forces clients to make do with their problem only half-solved.

Let me make myself clear: I’m all for drawing a line in the sand between what you do and what you don’t do. After all, if we claimed to do everything, we’d provide nothing of real value. I’ve found that the power of creative collaborations is rooted in their complementary strengths; trusting everyone at the table to do what they do best and outsource the rest.

But when you put the burden of content on the client’s shoulders without offering reprieve, there are real consequences. Headlines and body copy can create real usability issues, calls-to-action can fail to spur measurable action, and design can go uninformed by strategy. It’s the reason why some designers and creative agencies don’t even touch projects without content first, or at the very least, a stable content relationship.

In other words, “content not included” can sometimes be subliminal messaging for “I design in a vacuum.”

A lot of bad things can happen if you design independent of content. For example:

  • New brands and their sites are designed, but stall for weeks or months because the client is left scrambling, stressed out about whether they should hack it or hire help.
  • Design isn’t shaped by story, story isn’t shaped by design, and design isn’t shaped by content strategy; the result is a confusing hodgepodge of look and feel, tone and voice that never fully comes together.
  • Clients bargain with you on your design pricing because they know they’re going to have to invest further time or money on content.
  • Clients go into the design process stressed about doing something they know they don’t excel at.
  • Clients are led to believe that design solves all problems, when in fact, design and content work in tandem to accomplish business goals.
  • You, the designer, are held responsible for DIY-ing content or placeholder text, which isn’t your primary job and isn’t what you’re being paid to do.

There are a few ways to help your clients solve the content part of the equation without ignoring content altogether. Here are a few tips:

Make strategic partnerships.

You could make a strategic partnership, like we do with our design and agency partners, that you can call on whenever your client’s need for content calls. For this exact reason, we’ve developed a specialized process that allows us to work content into the design equation without duplicating efforts.

For instance, we might request mockups or wireframes that take into account areas where content ‘holes’ will need to be filled. In other cases, we might draw up a sitemap that accounts for both story and strategy, before handing off to the design side for build-out.

No matter how you turn it, design and content always work in tandem – not in a vacuum.

Price turnkey content options into your existing packages.

Once a strategic partnership is formed, you might consider pricing content into your projects by offering packages that make content an option at an additional cost.

Content Kit, our bestselling package to date, was born out of a repetitive need on behalf of our partners for a flat-fee, fixed scope project that would have the same inclusions and price – give or take – each time, which they would then have the option of bundling with the design work.

The client would only have to pay once instead of budgeting and paying two vendors, and we would subcontract under our client. Design, check. Content, check. Strategy, check. Everyone wins.

Ask and you shall refer.

Another option is to ask other designers who they’ve worked with and recommend, then make referrals to the client early on in the process – so they have plenty of time to develop a relationship and collect what’s needed for content to be developed.

Share any relevant documents with your clients, like wireframes, sitemaps, sketches or mockups, to make it easy for the content team to understand the project’s scope at the outset.    

Interested in finding a content partner that respects your design process? We’re all ears. Download our process deck, or send us a message to get the conversation started today.