What is more important – Design or Content

So I have often wondered about the priorities that are going into site design these days.  I know everything is important, but if you had to rank things, what would be the most important thing?

The big debate I see comes down too, is it more important to have a lot of great data.  Or is it more important to present that data in a way that leaves the user feeling like wow, that was a cool site?

Both are important, but I think that the design is kind of like a short-term attraction.  It will wow them the first time or two, but after that, you really have to have some great data to keep them coming back.  And I have been on a number of sites that have terrible layout, but the data is so good, you keep coming back.

I see blogging and RSS and things like that as more proof of this.  These things allow data to get out very quickly without the need to really setup the UI and make everything look perfect.

So what do you think?  What is more important to you?  Here are the things I’d like to hear about…

  • Think about what brings you to a new site and makes you want to explore it
  • What brings you back to a site you have already been to
  • What makes a site one that you want to bookmark
  • Are there any common themes with sites you are interested in (no talking about the actual content) like style or design

Thanks, and look forward to hearing what people think.

Comments (27)

  1. Brian Feucht says:

    I am in the middle of a CMS redesign and content is easily the most important aspect for our new site. The biggest reason this is the case is if you do your job correctly and seperate the data from the design changing the design system will be as easy as just displaying your content differently. We are also finding content hardly ever changes.

  2. GAHAKU says:

    content is more important, i think.

    a lot of web site looks very cool and attaches importance. but,it is just DESIGN.

    cool design,cool design,cool design,sometime we call it WEB2.0…. it’s enough!

  3. Francois Ward says:

    It depends on the type of site, but just to contrast with what was already mentionned… if you’re a company that does -not- sell stuff online… chances are people go to your home page to get a -first- impression of your company and little else. In that case, the “first impression” and the initial wow is all what matters. Regardless of content, your viewers probably will never (or rarely) come back. In those times, design is everything.

  4. Shail says:

    Well that all depends on which kind of project your are working. if its a personal blog you want both of them to be good. if its a e-commerce website it needs good content.

    But for me truth is that it all depends on Client and My Company for which I am working for 🙂

    I have to do what they want, even I want to make a perfect balance between both Design and Contents

  5. rlasker3 says:

    Design is your marketing … content is your product

  6. Dale says:

    I think design is the top priority however it depends on the type of site.Users normally get a first impression on the homepage therefore if the asthectics look impressive and there is alot of dynamic action on the homepage the user most likely want to bookmark that site!!

  7. Lynn says:

    content definitely is the reason for me to bookmark a website.  however, which is more important for a site, I think, depends on the purpose of the site.  if a site is to generate new sales/new customers, design would be more important because otherwise a good content may not have chance to be appreciated.

  8. Francois,

    Great point.  Although I still wonder if the content is less important since if they see something really cool but don’t find any information or the right information (how to contact them, where they are located, etc), they will probably not be a very successful company.

  9. yousaid says:

    “First cut is the deepest” sang Rod Stewart several years ago. Design, Design, Design, then content. The truth is, in a world of 10 seconds attention spans, design is everything. I worked for a company several years ago in which we polled viewers on this subject. We started by getting them to view two websites, one with excellent content, but the design sucked. Then we had them view another site with just garbage content but excellent and beautiful  design and bueatiful color schemes. In all, the beautiful design won.

    Content matters only if you can hold their attention with your design.



  10. Vadmyst says:

    Interesting content and simple (easy) navigation can make me explore the site

    For blogs I use online reader. In this case design is not so important, just the content.

    IMO content is in the first place, with it web resource is worthless.

  11. Doug says:

    Which is more important – design or content?

    My guess is that one would become more important if it is out of balance.

    For example if great content but the design makes it unusable then it is important to fix the design.

    If you have a great design but poor content the content becomes the important thing to fix.

  12. Mr. Scott says:

    The most important things:

    1 – Adequate design [if I can’t find my way around, I won’t come back…Period]

    2 – Relevant content [if there’s nothing of value to me, I won’t come back]

    3 – Good design [it will be a pleasure to come back]

  13. Jesse says:

    Content is the reason people go to your site. Design is the reason you stay. I mean how many times have you gone to a site because “Well I just want to know how their site is designed?” You really haven’t.

    You want to know what is on the site because you want that information. So, I would say both are extremely important, neither really beating the other out. You need content for people to “need” the site, and you need the design for people to stay because most people just don’t want a difficult uninteresting site when there are so many other alternatives (and there are alternatives to everything on the web).

  14. Jeremy says:

    Content is king. Users will tolerate bad design if you offer them something they need. They will NOT stick around a well-designed site that offers them nothing.

    Just look at Myspace, where page designs range from awful to vomit-inducing. And yet, it’s consistently at the top of Alexa’s Top 500. People ignore the bad design because they care about the content.

    This isn’t to say that design is useless; adding good design to a site with good content will only increase its user appeal. (Facebook, with a much better design, is coming up fast)

  15. Without a good design content is lost…

    you have to deliver content in a way people understands it and easly navigate through it.

    So i’d say 60% design 40% Content

  16. Ventaur says:

    Content is king! However, I must admit I will pass by bad looking website quickly when I’m searching for something particular. I think a more professional looking and thought out layout garners more trust from visitors. Of course, without content that is worth a darn, who cares how pretty it is.

    So, for me I hate to say if the girl (website) doesn’t look pretty when we first meet, I don’t want to get to know her. Maybe she’s a great site and has a lot of good ideas to offer, but I’m more willing to put the time into it if she looks good.

    Furthermore, once I start to know her, if she’s clueless, I’m gone! Sure, I’ll click some of her menus and buttons a little, but I won’t stay for long without some substance.

  17. strick says:

    I don’t really like the question, design or content. I would prefer to have a third category:

    Tied for most important –

    site architecture and content

    Then comes design.

    To give an example to support my criteria, I use craigslist everyday. Terrible design, but lot’s of relevant content, and good architecture.

  18. Strick,

    How would you seperate design and site architecture?  They seem like it is just a part of the design to me.

  19. strick says:

    Site architecture deals with navigation and structure of the site – getting the user to the information they want in the fewest possible clicks. Navigational elements such as menus, footers, links to related content, breadcrumbs, etc., it all deals with how and where content is presented to the user.

    Generally, when we build sites at work we start with wireframes and sitemaps built by an IA/useability person which are then handed off to design.

    The design side deals with the “look” and styling of the site, mocking up pages in photoshop (based on the wireframes), the psd files are handed off to production which turns them into html and css.

    The final design may differ greatly from the wireframes in appearance, but all the key elements of the wireframes must be present.

  20. Mads says:

    It depends on your “product”. No offense, but this blog is not in my Top 10 on design 🙂 But on content, it’s different.

    But product reflects audience. I don’t believe your audience requires flashy, silverlighty, meshy stuff. I expect that a flash developing company website has high design standard (and that design is content for them as well ~ hmmm).

    So the degree of design depends on content. And content depends on your product/audience. This again depends on your vision/purpose.

  21. Vikram says:

    I would go with content. Design can bring users to ur site but its the content which will kep them there…

  22. Chad says:

    Design is what keeps me on your site, content determines if I come back.  

  23. My favorite links from the last week (13/07/2008 – 19/07/2008)

  24. JB King says:

        Usually I go to sites looking for content though sometimes that is noticing the design and wanting to incorporate it into some of the sites my company runs.

        Generally if the site has a news feature or is of a blog style then I go back along with MSDN for documentation that is sort of like a news feature.

       I bookmark sites that I go to or plan to go to on a regular basis: This can be a general blog aggregater like ITToolbox or a site like ZDNet or Slashdot to give a few sites where I go back to them daily and use them to keep up to speed on some developments in my world.

        The most common theme is that the site is vast with lots of links and generally set up to support more text than pictures as these tend to be rather wordy sites than some with lots of pictures or videos or podcasts.

       As for the content versus design, I think there is a usability threshold of the design and a minimum value of content that have to be met first.  Then it comes down to which type of web surfer one is; I tend to prefer content over design but that’s my personal preference.  Others may prefer a more artsy approach.

  25. My favorite links from the last week – 4th Week of July 2008

  26. Darrel says:

    Don’t confuse design with just ‘decoration’. Decoration is marketing. Design is usability. Content is what the people want.

    So, an analogy:

    Decoration = the menu

    Design = the bun

    Content = the patty

    People will eat those burgers if they are really really really good regardless of how ugly the menu is or how nasty the buns are.

    But everyone will appreciate a good bun and menu, and is where you can really differentiate yourself form the other diners.

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