Anyone who has ever worked in the food industry can appreciate how much planning and preparation goes into making a meal. The French even coined a term for this preparation, mise en place, or “putting in place.” In practice this means preparing all of your ingredients and organizing them in an efficient way to make service much easier.
When we are building websites, there are a huge amount of benefits that we can reap from such a system. Designing blindly without content is a recipe for disaster, because you can only put so much thought into the end result without all the pieces. Yes, you can absolutely make something beautiful, but beauty only goes so far without consistency and intention. The photos you are using need to convey the message that you’re delivering, and the copy needs to speak in conversation with the content.
So, what does such a process look like in a real-world setting? Traditionally we have started out by creating a design for a client, and after getting approval for that, we would begin to code it. Finally, we’d ask the client to give us content or let us create it for them. The last step always ends up taking the most time, and coincidentally it is the one that has the most impact on the original concept. It is always toward the end that we learn the client provides six services instead of four, or we find that there aren’t very many good images of, say, dental services that fit with our intended composition. As you can see, the current way of doing things has a lot of issues.
A mise en place for web design works the process in a semi-backwards way. Since content is king, we want that first. We need to know everything that a client needs up front, with as many details about the business as possible. Better yet, we should have the copy first. This may sound like a lot up front, but consider how many projects you have delayed or moved the deadline for because you were waiting on some copy and client photos. In the words of Jeffrey Zeldman, “Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.”
You may be wondering how we can expect clients to get us the content first, especially when it can be such a challenge to pull anything together at all. Regardless of when we ask for copy, image selections or logos, we can always count on a long waiting game. If we are asking for all of these materials at the end of the process, it becomes low priority – “The website is already there, it is 90% done, so it can wait a little longer.” However, by asking for everything up front, providing content is now a priority because we can’t start without it.
With all of the assets we need in place, we can begin making better design decisions and can even use working content. This doesn’t mean we will have every possible image or copy blurb, but we can make more informed choices about how to lay everything out. Also, we won’t have to worry about things like having to change a design element later on when we find we don’t have enough hero images or copy to use.
In the end, having an organized system in place for your process means that you cut down on costs – not only for you, but also for your clients. It helps eliminate many of the “fires” we experience towards the end of a project because we are juggling so many last-minute content changes. In a changing design world, where content is king, we need to be thinking about the content first.