Content design: Your key to a better website


A crash course in design thinking and content design

Design thinking is an attempt to put a structure around the creative process and apply it to solving big problems. Problems like, 'how to get more girls into education around the world', or problems like 'what words, images or other content should I have on my website?'. We’re going to stick to the latter problem.

The steps are:

  • Empathise

  • Define

  • Ideate

  • Prototype

  • Test.

Let’s apply this to your content.

Empathise and define

We start with understanding the user and the jobs they have to do on any website. Ideally this would include research with users, but at the very least, through understanding any existing website data and doing research with the business.

Then it's time to define 'user stories'.

Here's an example. You buy some awesome pants online. But, they don't fit. Ideally, you want to return them - at no cost and little hassle -  and either get an immediate full refund or a new pair of pants, fast. You might not get what you want, but you need to quickly understand the refunds and returns process so that you know what to do next (or even, so you can make a decision on whether it's worth the bother to return them).

You'll also notice from this example that when we talk about users, we're considering all the 'jobs' that they might do over the course of their relationship with you. It's not just about driving a sale.

You might have 5 clear user stories, you might have 25. When we look at them all, we can now understand:

  • The user's journey.

  • The information the user needs to do their 'job'.


It's brainstorming time.

What information are we going to provide, in what order?

For our example, a clearly labelled returns and refunds page would be a good start. We know they're already annoyed, so let's make it easy to find.

*Rant warning* It's surprising how few online stores do this. Refund, return and shipping information is regularly shoved into FAQs. FAQs - in my opinion - are a user's last resort. You only click when you can't find the answer to your question somewhere else first. Which explains why the questions are asked so frequently…

But that's a topic for another day. Let's move on.


I like to 'prototype' by creating a skeleton - or template - for all the different types of content on the website. Let’s just say these are ‘pages’ for now, but ideally it would be even more specific building blocks that either exists as whole pages or make up pages when layered together, e.g. ‘products, ‘case studies’, ‘people’, ‘services’ ‘benefits’, ‘reviews’.

What would our returns page ‘skeleton’ be?

  • Returns criteria - Can I return something I bought from you?

  • Benefits - What can I return it for?

  • Timeline - How long will it take?

  • Process - What do I have to do?

We put it in this order because we know - from our user story - that our user needs to decide if the return is worth the hassle before they need to know how to do it. Now apply this to every page on your site. What do you have? A giant template for all content that you can use to:

  • Gather and create content

  • Send to your web designer as an incredibly detailed brief


The internet is never finished. Once you've built your great new site with all your useful content, it's important to regularly check-in and assess what's working, and what isn't. Put a date in your calendar every month for a quick review, and every 6 months for a deeper dive into analytics and adjust as needed.

Cool Sarah, I hear you say. That's great. But it’s taken you 700 words to get here and it seems like a lot of work.

Why should I care?

The benefits of content design

Faster website projects

The biggest time delays in website projects happen because content is late - deciding what to put on each page without a solid plan takes time y'all. Other major delays and rework occur when the content arrives, but it doesn't 'fit' the design. Most content 'uploading' isn't just copying and pasting words into pages, it's shaping pages around the content. This content-first process

a) gives you a clear content plan so that getting words together is less overwhelming

b) minimises the amount of time spent getting words to fit design and vice-versa

Easier feedback and decision making

It's hard to be a client on a website or copywriting project. You don't always share a common vocabulary with the person doing the work for you. Feedback like, I don't like that, or it just doesn't feel right, helps no one. When you focus on the user you have a shared vocabulary for decision making. Turn your feedback into: the order of information on this page doesn't help my user know that their pants will fit or the words are too 'fun' in the returns section, which doesn't help the user feel less frustrated.

Your business is your user's best friend

Have you ever renewed a licence or passport online? How miserable did you expect to be before you even started? I hate to tell you, but your users expect to be at least a little bit miserable using your site. But by focusing on them from the very start, you'll have a better chance of making sure that your site is an actual joy to use. They can feel confident that you'll tell them what they need to know, at the time they need to know it. You're their best mate. Well done.

I know this process can seem incredibly daunting. So many steps! So little time. But really it boils down to this:

  • Listen to the people who will use your website

  • Think of different ways to give them what they want

  • Make it happen

You use websites every day.

Don’t you wish that the owners of those sites did this? Wouldn’t it make the internet, well, friendlier?

Let’s all make the internet a friendlier place.


Sarah Stanford is the founder of Novelise, a business that helps other businesses' with big ideas tell their story. She is first and foremost a writer, but with her deep love of organising things she’s found her ideal job-match in content design and strategy.

Sarah has worked as a Digital Marketer, managed major web projects and has lead content design projects in industries as diverse as health, travel, public security and legal services.

Jessica MurkoComment