Content or design: which comes first when creating your website?

Working with dozens of small companies, mainly within creative industries (hospitality, arts and crafts, photography, coaching, ceramics, architecture), revealed a conundrum in how people relate to the process of creating their website. Focusing too much on visual gimmicks and too little on content comes with hefty bills. Let’s find a better tempo to keep things rolling without ruining the cashflow.

October 28, 2021
Reading time 9 – 14 minutes
George working hard at Pixelgrade

When it comes to websites, there’s no recipe to follow. But there are, indeed, good practices. And a lot of groundless advice, too. Knowing to make a difference between these implies a few different things.

On the one hand, experience. Building a website in the past will help you quickly grasp that some actions take you further while others freeze you. It’s not rocket science.

On the other hand, flexibility. We all write it down on our resumes and make a big fuss out of it, but, in reality, we’re far more stiff and opaque. In this context, I anchor flexibility into the willingness to make witty compromises.

Experience in building websites might not be your core skill. After all, you are the creative one passionate about your craft. A website is a way for you to tell your story, showcase your talent, and sell your services or products.

But have no worries. This article is here to help you settle the debate between content and design, so you cross the finish line sooner rather than later. And if you have to build a website in the past, trust me, it’s worth sticking by to see what you should improve the next time you adventure into such a feat.

Now a bit of a backstory.

Care and excellence are two of our core values (the third and last one is gratitude), and that makes my choice in how I’m going to pack this article simpler. I’m going to speak only from our direct ten years of experience in creating tools to build websites, so you can imagine that I will preach our mantras. Take it or leave it, but life is too short to keep thickening the existing bulls*it that’s on the Big Internet.

Speaking of experience, in the last eight months or so, I’ve been working closely with Andrei, my fellow marketer—in extenso with the entire Pixelgrade’s squad—to help local creatives build websites with Rosa 2, our flagship WordPress product. Why Rosa 2? Well, I’ll be honest: it’s the one in which we heavily invest our resources. On top of that, it’s also the most whimsical playground to start creating a website in style.

The site creation process using the system behind Rosa2 and Nova Blocks

If you don’t trust me (we’re all a bit skeptical these days, it’s okay), read this particular story about how someone with fragile WordPress skills made the most out of our system and created a lovely digital space for her business.

Back to Andrei and I, I think it’s relevant to highlight that we’ve both worked in digital agencies, so we know a thing or two about the fuzzy line in the sand between this is what I want, and this is what you need. This combo proved highly efficient when interacting and helping our local community of creators build a digital home.

Please bear in mind that the following lines do not come from a place of romanticism before getting started. Quite the contrary. It’s from the land of pragmatism. 

Hear me out, amigo!

There’s no versus between content and design

In fact, it’s an and. One without the other is like a day without night, yin without yang, Upstairs Community without its stories, me writing this article without you reading it. I’m sure you got it, so I’ll stop here with the (obvious) analogies.

If the hot debate inside your head is haunted around the versus, you miss the point. 

When assisting local businesses in building their digital home with Rosa 2, we’ve heard countless times statements like:

  • Oh, but can I use my fonts?
  • How can I change the colors to this specific one?
  • Is there a way to make this button bigger?
  • Can I have other animations and transitions?
  • Oh, but where’s the slider? I love sliders…
  • I need blog posts shown right in this specific corner
  • …and so on

Such requests (or should I say concerns?) are somehow valid. A few of them reveal particular needs that make perfect sense, while others are just whims. Not that kind of urge as I can’t wait to travel to Rome, but more the I want a flat white with coconut milk, but with less foam, and please make it in a cup of latte, por favor.

Trust is something hard to earn and easy to lose, so make sure you treasure it accordingly.

This attitude is not the hot potato that we’re throwing up in the air in today’s article.

Do you know what’s not burning in the oven, and it should have until now? THE CONTENT, my friend. THE CONTENT.

Yap, the words, sentences, and phrases that have to land on your upcoming website’s various pages. From the About page, where you should present yourself to the world in a meaningful way, up to the Contact page, where you help visitors get in touch with you.


I wrote an in-depth article that guides you through everything you need to know to create a compelling About page. If you feel a bit lost or you wonder how to tell a better narrative about who’s behind the scene, I encourage you to give it a go. It’s a promising starting point.

Content and design need to go hand in hand if you want to achieve your goals. It’s impossible to do one without the other, and design with lorem ipsum is a bad joke. Design with excellent writing is music to the ears.

You can’t design your website while blindfolded

During my freelancing years and since I’ve been wearing the storyteller hat at Pixelgrade, I’ve learned quite soon that content comes first. Designers’ endeavor is to find smart ways to present the information in the best possible scenario, depending on the goal of that particular content. Not the other way around.

As the brilliant Paul Rand notes in Conversations with students:

Design is relationships. Design is a relationship between form and content.

Paul Rand

Most of the local businesses that collaborated with us to build up their websites were convinced that they should take care of the writing process at the end of the chain.

When the look-and-feel is over, when photos are uploaded when the perfect portrait picture is showcased. After that, they will get their flat white with coconut milk and less foam in a cup of latte and start typing with a bit of luck.

No, no, no.

Designers can’t work blindly. And WordPress themes can’t substitute for your lack of direction, even though they come with plenty of constraints to help you make fewer mistakes and focus on what you know best. At least ours do that and help people like you avoid useless headaches.

Have you ever considered a drag-and-drop website building solution that advertises pretty designs and endless freedom?

If you ever played with such tools, you know that there are moments when you feel like going to the mountains and scream until you faint. Design is not easy, especially when you are unsure what will fill in the blanks and the lorem ipsum.

Before spending countless hours making your visual obsession come true, often without solid arguments on the table, I kindly encourage you, again, to get comfortable and start writing.

Yeah, stop the bulls*it with all the procrastination, the writer’s block, and such. Seat down, my friend, and start typing.

Don’t know where to start? Let me give you a few hints.

1. Figure out what you want to accomplish with your website

Do you want people to read your blog articles and engage with your ideas? Do you want to sell your gorgeous candles flawlessly? Do you want to convince folks to fill your form to hop-in to your creative workshop?

Settle on one or a couple of main objectives for your website, and then move to the next step.

2. Be the same person in writing as in real life

Write as you speak is the best advice I could offer. It might sound frail, but it’s true. Copy-catting others, using cookie-cutter strategies, imitating the big players out there will only bring you damages.

And hey, trust is something hard to earn and easy to lose, so make sure you treasure it accordingly. The best approach to open this heavy door is by leading by example.

There’s no perfect approach to express your personality and showcase your work. It’s a trial-and-error, a continuous iteration, a permanent fine-tuning.

3. Figure out your target audience and speak their language

Start by considering how would your readers’ intentions and expectations look like. Imagine a specific scenario and try to grasp how they would express various needs and tailor the content to match them.

For example, if you’re a dreamer who sells soy candles and sharing a big chunk of your life with your Instagram audience, then manifest this kind of openness through your writing too. People want to find the same person behind the www.

Btw, I keep referring to this example because we lent a hand to a local entrepreneur build a website for these particular products, and OMG, they smell amazing!

Flair Scent looking hot with a website made with Rosa2
Flair Scent’s website makes good use of our system

Writing website content is about expressing yourself

During the same efforts of helping local creative entrepreneurs build their websites, we learned that they are in love with what they’re doing. Therefore, they get confused about how to present their work to the world. It mostly happens because these folks identify 200% with their craft. This is one of the biggest hurdles they need to overcome when writing.

Questions like Am I too cocky when presenting my products? or Does this story sound like me? or What would my friends think when they will read my About page or What’s the best photo to use next to my story? become tipping points.

While these concerns are relevant and philosophical on a certain level, there’s only one way to find it out: put it out there. Keeping such thoughts in your head and renting around does not bring any value.

Launch your website with a version of writing as good as you can get at that specific moment.

Ask for feedback, find out if people understand your intentions, if the information is crystal clear, if questions pop-up during the process, or if something makes them give up.

If they are indeed buyers, not only opinion-givers (this is a full-time job for some), they will be honest. If they don’t care about you enough, they mind about their money.

There’s no perfect approach to express your personality and showcase your work. It’s a trial-and-error, a continuous iteration, a permanent fine-tuning. The first step is to dare to present yourself as you are and then be courageous to receive your readers’ insights and adjust on the go.

Often, sharing your website with family, friends, and plenty of unknown folks on social media is a moment that will cause you nausea and anxiety.

It’s okay.

It happens to the best of us since this is common when you genuinely care about your work and aim for the best.

Most of the creative entrepreneurs I know tremble when they hit the publish button, which is a good indicator of how much of their soul is put into what they’re doing.

Such moments will always come with a roller-coaster of emotions, so be gentle with yourself. You reveal a big chunk of your personality, so it’s normal to experience all these contradictory emotions.

In a nutshell, these takeaways are worth remembering:

  1. There’s no such thing as design vs content; it’s a symbiosis, a tango if you want.
  2. Design accommodates the content, which means you should start writing and stop blaming the look-and-feel for your lack of progress.
  3. Expressing your personality will always be an adventure, so make sure you start with a first version and take it from there.

I’m not about putting writing on the podium or giving it more importance than needed. The content is king, and other hot slogans do nothing more than pressure people who want to build a website for their business.

I sincerely believe we need to start demystifying this craft as much as possible and encouraging people to write because all stories are worthy and deserve to be in the spotlight.

This posh yet glamorous approach towards writing keeps people away from sharing their narratives, which is, of course, a massive disservice for all of us.

When it comes to creating your website, content is the fuel that keeps the website’s engine up and running. Without it, you can’t reach the destination. So, are you ready to heat those rubbers?

A question by Oana, author of this article:
What hinders you from making progress with your website?

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Hi Oana !! Thanks for sharing such informative blog with us. I think both content and design are the main element to build your online presence  with the target audience. Therefore user experience friendly website will be preferred over a normal website. We too have some articles related to design and content. Check out KoolStories

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