Dealing with Lack of Content in a Web Development Project

Posted on June 16, 2012 by
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Contents should always precede design, it’s a basic piece of advice that you’ll hear from many veteran designers. But sometimes ideas break down and you don’t go anywhere. What designers should do when there’s a lack of content and how should they respond to such scenario? For many designers, this simple message can really hit home. Many designers believe that content is the basis of a web design project and it helps them to define a set of goals. Content-focused design is a good thing, but sometimes it’s not applicable. Web designers tend to latch themselves onto an idea that “content is king” without putting critical thoughts behind it.

Some designers may argue that they can simply use a “Lorem Ipsum” generator to create placeholder content, which allows them to design around it. But the tool makes designers too lazy to develop a design around the actual content, not because they lack content or resource.

To bring some perspective to this issue, we should take a look at real-life cases. Principles and theories are great, but real results can only be generated from real projects. When you use a fake content when creating a design, the overall result may also feel fake. Web designers deal with lack of content differently.

• Project managers are usually experienced designers. Everything goes through them, they make all the big decision and get better access to content. So, instead of using placeholder copy, they can ask the client for more relevant content, although it doesn’t always work. They know exactly how the design will be used, consequently, project managers are less likely to be affected by the lack of content.

• Unfortunately, not all web design jobs are created equal. While freelancers and project managers often have a lot of say over what kind of projects they take on, employed designers in a firm are more likely to work with limited resources and information. They suffer from the unfavorable situation that content-centric manager may impose. They rarely start a task with proper amount of content required to finish it. They’re often forced to wait for hours or even days, until the copy department provides the necessary legal copy. While waiting for real content, projects managers usually tell employed designers to begin their basic layout and use placeholder content. Although designers shouldn’t start their work before fully understanding the actual content, they’re forced to proceed due to threats from managers that the task would be transferred to someone more competent

What about templates?
Many web designers spend a good deal of their time creating and modifying templates. This is an entirely legitimate practice in the industry and there’s a huge audience for ready-to-use templates. Any good web designer want content to precede web design. But when creating a template, they are in an inverted workflow where the aesthetics styling and layout precede the content. This is an interesting dilemma and templates makers need to create a design that’s suitable for any kind of content. But if templates are highly versatile and can be applied to all situations, would it mean that web designers would be out of work? Fortunately, that doesn’t happen. Any serious client knows that templates available online can’t fully match their goals and content; also, web designers, who want to create a personal portfolio website; won’t look for general templates to do their job. Many templates are specifically designed to showcase portfolio elements, but for designers they are of no use.

Some template designers argue that to some degree, they still pursue content-first approach. Many website templates are designed specifically for a niche such as tech blogs, finance, insurance, online store, gardening and many others. When these designers create a template, they base it on the idea that template users would insert only a very specific content into the design. Meaning, someone who wants to blog on tech-related topics will not use templates for gardening websites.
This article should be able to explain to you the gap between the reality and the theoretical idea. In some cases, it’s possible for layout to precede content and if you lack the necessary resources, don’t give up entirely. No matter how limited your content might be, you can still do your best to structure a design that meets client’s goals.

Many web developers find it hard to flesh out a design when the clients have barely given them anything to work with. This article will go over some easy and practical tips for crafting an amazing design that don’t feel empty at all despite the lack of content.
Many web designers complain how clients always tell them to cram so much into such a tiny place. Figuring out how to organize an abundance of information in a small space is a huge problem, but that’s only half of the story. Many designers are also struggling with clients who provide very little, both in resources and directions.

When you have very little content, a blank webpage can look really daunting. These are some common scenarios:

Little text and only one photo
This is a fairly common scenario. Web designers are expected to produce a great finished design, but they’ve provided with only a couple of sentences and only one photo to work with. How is it possible for them to fill a webpage, let alone the entire website? However, by tossing the image onto a proper spot, you’ll begin to see the page fills up. Enlarge the image a bit without sacrificing its quality and place it somewhere in the middle of the webpage; you’ll have less space to fill. Put the accompanying text below the image and you’ll have a Flickr-like page. Visit popular image sharing websites and see how they handle one large photo and little text.
For designers, this layout may look boring as the elements are thrown together in the most obvious fashion. Unfortunately, without more content, this is the best we can do. Remember, users always enjoy simplicity and they often appreciate a straightforward design.

Reused image
When clients lack the content, they may ask you to use repetition to give an illusion you’ve more than the reality. When taking this approach, you should avoid obvious redundancy and reuse the image tastefully. With simple Photoshop layer effects and a few layer copies, you can turn one image into a few different photos. It is possible to take this idea, one step further by turning a single image into a background texture.

At this point, it is already quite obvious for visitors that you have the same image all over again. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you may need to abstract the image out a bit so it is not quite so obvious. Also try to blur the image to make it looks less intrusive. A properly implemented image offers you something more than a white background for your canvas. You can also invert the image to offer visitors a different perspective. With proper composition, your design can stay consistent and interesting despite the repeated use of a single image.

Filling the gaps
Even after your best efforts, you may still have a few unsightly gaps in your design. Fortunately, you can use stock imagery to make your design looks richer. Even if you’re already provided with a primary image, it is fairly acceptable to use related stock photos to finish off the whole design nicely. Many stock images already look attractive and you don’t have to put additional touches. For example, you can use an image of sand and starfish for website of a seaside resort. You need to hunt for stock images that add visual interests and they don’t need to be anything amazing. Fortunately, stock photos are really easy to find online, they are extremely cheap or free. iStockphoto has just about everything you’ll ever need in a web design project.

Conclusion
Minimalist designs are very popular today and being settled with less during a design project is acceptable as long as you know what you’re doing. You’ll face a number of layout challenges, but resourceful and creative designers should be able to overcome them easily. Always analyze your available content and consider the best way to extend them in your design. When you have very few images, try a full bleed photo as it can make your design looks a lot classier. There are many instructions on how to make stylistic versions of a single image. Use each version in a webpage to offer visitors different perspective of a single image. Finally, a quick online research will reveal that the Internet is full with so many visual resources that are either completely free or extremely cheap. Find a collection of stock images online that seem to support what you’ve already been provided with. Ask the client to choose preferred stock images. In just one hour of meeting, you may end up with a dozen or more new images that can make your job a lot easier.

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