Ignore Design at Your Peril

By Kathryn Han March 15th, 2016

Some people assume that the Internet is just a place to read. Sure, there’s a lot of text, but today’s Internet is a visual medium. It’s quickly becoming a place to see and watch. Since 2007, visualized information online has increased 9,900 percent.

Those who operate under the misconception that high-quality content is all about writing are ignoring a significant part of the creative process. Without good design, your content marketing will fail.

On a daily basis, I come across content that simply isn’t well designed. Publishers use too many fonts and/or too many sizes, bland images, and pop-up ads that take away from the user experience. It doesn’t help that many content marketing departments are underfunded and understaffed. The result is a dearth of content that can’t succeed because of poor design.

At Contently, we think it’s time for that to change.

In early March, we released “150 Content Marketing Tips That Will Inspire You,” an interactive feature that shows how a cohesive creative project can look great and impact the bottom line. Rather than publishing the tips on a stale webpage, the design team worked closely with the content team to create a beautiful and easily shareable project that would stick out from the typical articles that promise content marketing tips. As a result, the feature has already proven to be a valuable asset to our sales team, generating over 300 leads in only two weeks.

When used effectively, design can even be the driving force that gets people to pay attention to a particular piece of content. Facebook, for example, has been drumming up some great press for its unusual 2016 marketing report. Instead of churning out the standard staid data report, Facebook converted the key takeaways and statistics into a deck of illustrated playing cards.

Rob Longworth, the creative director of Human After All, the agency behind the campaign, told Slate that “’using complex data to tell relevant stories is commonplace in marketing,’ but the design team’s challenge is ‘how to deliver those insights in a way that’s engaging and easy to understand.'”

It’s also worth noting that design matters not just for one-off campaigns, but for every part of a company’s marketing efforts. Great design, after all, is often what separates serious publishers from amateurs.

The New Yorker has a beautiful website that is designed for both form and function, while also maintaining the essence of the brand. It’s a pleasure to read and watch its digital content. The consistent branding reminds the reader who is behind the experience.

The New York Times, meanwhile, has a reputation for turning complex journalism into engaging and relevant visual experiences that complement a variety of topics, from real estate to poverty to gun ownership.

Medium is another example of how great design can elevate a publisher. The popular platform has made design a central aspect of its value proposition—making it easy for writers to create clean, beautiful stories that aren’t bogged down by busy distractions. With its unique design, Medium has become more than just a place for personal blogging; it’s home to serious publications like The Billfold, which is part of The Awl; The Cauldron, which falls under the Sports Illustrated umbrella; and The Ringer, Bill Simmons’s new media property.

As brands continue to publish more and more content, marketers need to embrace sophisticated design as a major part of the creative process. Otherwise, they risk losing their audiences to the people who do.

Kathryn Han is the director of design at Contently.

Image by Creative Commons
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