What comes first, the chicken or the egg? Everyone has heard that riddle before and yet we still cant quite determine the “correct” answer.

As a project manager I tend to see every thing in a linear fashion. Getting from point A to point B starts with a plan, and likely a path I’ve taken before. But is there another way?

I sat in on a session at SXSW called, Content First, Navigation Second, hosted by Jon Setzen, Creative Director at Media Temple. The session was two-fold: creating content that tells a story and designing for that content. The second part really peaked my interest as it goes against everything I’ve learned about the path to build a website. With every digital agency I’ve worked at the build process is pretty much the same: Wireframes-Design-Content.

Wireframe: Develop architecture to accommodate design elements and determine areas for content
Design: Create the aesthetics for the site that overlay with the determined wireframe
Content: Determine the navigation and create content to fit the predetermined areas

Setzen’s challenge was to take the complete opposite approach.

First, create content that is not just engaging, but content that creates a real experience for the user. Content should talk about who you are, the brand message should be present throughout the experience and the user should walk away feeling connected.

The use of video is a great way to engage users by literally being able to speak TO them. Photography can also convey this message really well. You’ve heard the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” – well it really can be. And while stock photography is a good option, setting up a photo shoot is a better one. A photo shoot will allow you to direct the story they are trying to tell rather than hunting for “the perfect photo” in a sea of thousands. Blogs, articles, quotes; these are also great opportunities to create an experience and foster engagement. Its likely that much of this content already exists on your site but because content is often an afterthought to design, its not been given its proper placement and its ability to shine.

Second, design the rest of the site around that content. Instead of the typical rotating banner on the homepage, try a single image that truly tells your story and a quote that speaks directly to the user. Create engagement. We’ve all seen the same dropdown navigation time after time, stacks of words that will get you from point A to point B. Why not try a different approach, use images or relevant icons in the navigation to add some interest and again connect the user in a different way. Why develop an entire section in the navigation called “About Us” when you can create a video that replaces a standard navigation item? It’s a lot more engaging and it’s the perfect opportunity to create an experience that is relatable connects the user to who you are.

I had an incredible “a-ha” moment during the session and when I came back down to reality I realized that executing this might be easier said than done. Changing my company’s internal process as to how we work through a website build project may take some convincing but that can be done. Changing the client’s expectations? Not so easy. It’s a drastic move from the path we have taken them down, project after project. However, clients are all looking for one thing and that’s to be blown away by amazing work. So even if the plan is a little “out of the box” – execute a kick-ass project and everyone wins!