Putting the cart before the horse. My top 5 reasons why its a bad idea to design a website without the content

I build websites and, even though I know better,  from time to time I find myself developing websites without having all the content beforehand. Eventually this always leads to problems, so here are my top 5 reasons why this is such a bad idea.

Reason 1: That’s Not Design

Design is more than just adding the logo and choosing the colour. If you have the chance to create something from scratch, why not take the opportunity to have it meet your needs properly. If you were creating something brand new with bricks and mortar you wouldn’t simply get the builder to start throwing up a few walls here and there. Even if you insist on focusing solely on how the website looks, How do you create a visual design when you don’t know what something is?

If you don’t have any of the content, how are you and the person building your site making decisions? What things are important? What are the calls to action? What are the conversions? How should people move around the site? What is the experience like for the user? How are you going to avoid pain points for visitors? These are the sorts of things you should have in mind during the design phase.

It is entirely possible to build a website and fling the words and pictures in afterwards, but if you’re serious about your new site and whichever organisation it’s supposed to represent, then this is the wrong way to go about things.

Reason 2: Strategy

Is there a strategy? If you’re commissioning a website without the necessary information then perhaps you’re not looking at the bigger picture. Your website is a key part of your content marketing arsenal. What role will it play in communicating with your customers.? How will the site fit in with your marketing communications strategy?

A website is an important and sometimes expensive resource that should be performing specific tasks to help you with your business, organisation or personal goals. If you need to include the domain on printed materials, then a holding page with nothing but contact details is better than a website built without the necessary thought and planning it needs to do its job properly.

Reason 3: Rework

I’m currently rebuilding a site because although I had the written content, when I finally received the website images from the client, the majority of them didn’t fit with the visual design we’d agreed on. The site needed lots of high quality, slim, landscape images. The idea was that each page would include a beautiful photograph of the products they offered, which would be at least 1025 pixel wide and approximately 250 pixels high. The images that arrived were anything and everything but that. As a result I now have to go back to the drawing board and create something that fits with the resources we have. The alternative would be cropping lots of beautiful, well composed, professional photographs into a bizarre collection of ugly, badly proportioned images that nobody would be happy with. I’m happy to accept that I’m not creating the Sistine Chapel, but there is no way on earth I’m going to deliberately create that type of monstrosity. If I’d insisted on having the images up front I wouldn’t be wasting time now by starting again.

Reason 4: Project Management

Managing projects is often difficult enough without adding unnecessary complications. If the content isn’t available at the start of the project when enthusiasm levels are high, how likely is it that they’ll materialise promptly when it’s been a few weeks or even months. It is impossible to plan effectively without having access to the materials at the appropriate time.

Missing content generates questions. When will the content be available? What else could get in the way? What controls are in place to manage the timescale. How do these delays affect other projects. Does this piece of work have a designated time-slot? Will the project end up filed behind somebody else’s because the developer couldn’t work on it when they planned to? What are the payment schedules? In this scenario either developers are wasting time and not being paid or clients are paying and not receiving their website in a timely fashion. Nobody benefits and it is all avoidable.

Reason 5: You Know Better

If nothing you’ve read so far is news to you, then you clearly already know that you shouldn’t be working this way. Television adverts of people adding their online content to site builders on the fly, perpetuates the idea that you just knock up a website in 20 minutes and then you leave it and wait for the money to roll in.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with people using site builders or frameworks to build low cost websites . For lots of businesses this is a brilliant option, but if you have made a decision to spend money paying a professional to create one for you, then give that person everything they need to do a good job.




Cheesey Photo of Claire Worthington

Cheesey Makeovers, Professional Networks and My Fear of Photography.

In the mid 1990s makeover photo shoots became a thing. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, let me elaborate.

  • You turn up at a photography studio in your jeans and whatever else you usually wear on a Saturday
  • You sit in a room with no mirrors, whilst a professional make up artist does your hair and make up
  • At some point you end up with a makeshift boob-tube made of shiny fabric instead of the shirt you arrived in
  • A photographer spends ages taking pictures, whilst you quick change between a baffling assortment of jackets and feather boas.

The last stage is often seeing hundreds of photographs of yourself and somehow handing over the details of your visa card. It’s similar to the packs of baby portraits deal, that new parents often fall for, but instead of spending hundreds of pounds on pictures of your children that you’ll put up on the wall, share with family and eventually scan and add to their Facebook walls, you end up with lots of pictures of yourself with big hair and full make up. I don’t know whether it was a global phenomena, a British thing or even just a thing in and around Greater Manchester, but just about every woman I know, who is the same age as me, ended up having a makeover and left with at least one photograph. For some reason I left with a whole album. Considering I only went because my friend Hayley wanted to go, I think that says a lot for their sales team or just how suggestible I was back in the 90s. Don’t judge me, it was “a thing” in those days.

You may be wondering what made me think of a 20 year old photoshoot and surprisingly enough it was LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a professional networking site where you share details of your career history to colleagues and potential employers. Unlike Facebook, LinkedIn is designed to be a professional platform where you show the world your work self. The stereotype is that LinkedIn is lots of people in suits, looking for other people in suits, that they can do business with. As LinkedIn has grown and attracted a wider audience there is an increasing number of people who think it’s like Facebook and nothing makes that more clear than some of their profile pictures including a number of 1990s style makeover pictures.

I’m looking to change direction with my career so I’ve been updating my CV and checking my personal profile. As part of this process I’ve been giving some serious thought to updating the photograph on my LinkedIn profile. My current profile picture is of me in a Code Club hoodie. I’m a Code Club volunteer and over the last few years I have run a number of after school coding clubs and turning up in a big green hoodie helps make it very obvious to staff who you are. Now that I’m doing a lot more work in Digital Marketing rather than just Web Development, I’ve decided that perhaps it would be better if my LinkedIn profile picture reflected ‘Claire The Professional’, rather than ‘Claire Nipping to Asda’.

My love of the hoodie is a well documented thing (They’re comfortable, you never get cold and they often have a little pouch at the front for your stuff. What’s not to love?) but it’s time to replace it with a recent photograph of me looking professional. The only problem with this is that I don’t have one and am not looking forward to having one done.

I’m not a massive fan of having my photograph taken. This is probably because I tend to pull a weird face whenever somebody tries to take my picture. I have an assortment of weird photo faces, which I suspect stems from nerves about having yet another ugly picture of me roaming around on the internet. There is a special place in Hell reserved for people who take unannounced photographs of people dancing or eating a meal on nights out and upload them to Facebook, without checking that the person in the picture doesn’t look like a monster first. (You people know who you are)

Photographs of me usually fall into one of three categories.

  1. I look amazing and much better than I do in real life.
  2. I look awful / deranged / like a chipmunk and generally much worse than I do in real life.
  3. I look fine. It’s me, it looks like me and I’m not: cross eyed, mid sentence, squinting, eating or in an odd position because I’m in mid dance move.

There is usually a fairly high percentage of pictures in category three where I look fine, but I don’t like them because I didn’t like my hair that day, my face looked a bit fat or some other minor detail. For example I don’t like my official graduation photograph because I look ridiculously shiny and by shiny I mean it looks like I’d just ran a marathon. Technically the picture is fine, I’m holding the fake scroll, I’m wearing the official cap and gown and I even managed to stop the sash from strangling me, but I don’t like it because I look incredibly shiny.

It is entirely possible that the 90s style profile pictures I’ve seen on LinkedIn are by women in the same predicament as me. Maybe they’re waiting for a decent photograph of themselves to come along so that they can update their profile pictures too. At least as a web developer I had the perfectly acceptable option of classing jeans and a hoodie as business attire, particularly when I usually work from home. When I remove jeans, hoodies and conference t-shirts from my daily workwear options, there will be a period of time where frankly I have no idea what I’ll be wearing Monday to Friday. It is clearly going to involve some shopping, but the amount of visa card waving will depend on the culture of the company I join. When I was a senior manager I wore a suit every day, carried a smart bag instead of a rucksack and wore heels. At the moment I only have to look smart for client meetings, looking smart on a daily basis is going to be a slight adjustment and may require some Gok Wan style inspiration. None of which is getting me any closer to updating my profile picture.

Maybe the ladies with the makeover style profile pictures really love their pictures and use them as often as possible or perhaps they spent so much on them, that they are determined to get their money’s worth by wheeling them out at every opportunity. I suspect that some of them only gave LinkedIn a whirl for an hour and didn’t bother updating it. If you don’t use it as part of your acquisition strategy, most people only pay attention to LinkedIn when they’re looking for new opportunities. Maybe the ladies I’ve seen are so busy in their amazing high paid careers that they have no need to bother looking at it. Realistically there is a strong chance that some of them didn’t fully understand the LinkedIn environment or maybe they all work in industries where flashing a bit of shoulder isn’t seen as unprofessional. If I was a supermodel, instead of a shortish person that works in digital, lots of pictures where I’m wearing unusual jackets and glancing moodily over my shoulder wouldn’t seem that odd.

Rather than make special arrangements to have professional head shots taken, I’d prefer to wait until a decent photograph of me appears and just use that. The problem with this method is that there is no time scale on that and there is no guarantee that I’ll be wearing professional attire when it happens. I had my photograph taken recently at an SEO conference I attended in Brighton. It’s a decent picture of me, with no weird expressions or excessive shine, but I’m next to a guy in a giant panda head, which isn’t really the look I’m going for. Without the context of the panda being the mascot for a software company, I just look like some maniac with a weird thing for mascots, which is really more appropriate for Facebook.

At some point I’ll take the plunge and just get on with it, but one thing is for certain, I definitely will not be wearing a feather boa.