Design is just as important to content marketing as the stories themselves.
Apple is the ultimate example: One of the most successful companies in the world is as well regarded for product design as it is for technology. That’s a marketing win. Consumers, given similar choices, tend to align with the most aesthetically pleasing option, even if the price is higher. Sure it makes them one of the cool kids. But, ultimately humans appreciate beautiful things.
In the same way Apple builds technology first and then matches it with an appropriate design, the mantra for content marketing should be story first, format second. What information do you want to convey? Now that you know the story, what’s the best way to package it? Text? Photography? Infographics? Video? Audio? A combination of these?
Your design aspirations should match your story aspirations. Without a compelling narrative, the best-looking pages, whether digital or print, will fail to achieve the desired effect.
The reverse is also true: Poor font choices, weak visuals, low-quality video or audio, and clashing colour schemes can be the difference between a quick bounce and high audience engagement.
4 design principles
Hierarchy, contrast, balance, and space are four fundamentals to consider before releasing your work into the wild. Designing for all screens — desktop, mobile, and tablet — and for all viewers is essential. In the Canadian province of Ontario, for example, organisations are legislated to ensure accessibility of Web content by following international standards to aid computer users who have disabilities.
Hierarchy is about signalling the importance of elements on the page. Font choices such as size, weight, and typeface can be used to draw the eye to headings of different sections, or highlight key passages in the body copy.
Photography, videos, and other formats should be sized based on their visual impact and placed where they make the most sense in the context of the storytelling flow. Strong visual hierarchy improves navigation and enhances time spent on page.
Contrast makes it easier for the audience to differentiate the pieces that are designed to work together and those that need to stand apart. Varying background colours or shades can denote chapters or separate passages as users scroll down a page. Brighter colours attract more attention.
Charts and other infographics should have a look and feel that’s distinct from the text and other display to make them stand out, not blend in.
Balance is tricky to describe, as it is achieved through trial and error. When looking at a page or screen, what element is the eye drawn to? Is that where you want viewers to focus? What surrounds that focal point? Does it all work together in harmony and convey the right information in the right order?
Space is a matter of taste. The phrase “creative use of white space” can mean different things to different designers (and audiences that consume their work).
The goal is readability. Space supports important elements, and either separates or groups them together. Do the “blank” areas on a page give the text and visuals room to breathe? One good practice is to research what others are doing. The preferred amount of white space is often dictated by current trends, but it’s worth noting that too much is better than not enough.
Make it personal
Apple products are very distinctive. The logo, shapes, colours, and layouts scream “Apple” as soon as you see them. As much as its customers want their products to look good, they also like the comfort of a familiar user experience.
It’s something every brand should aspire to. As soon as a viewer lands on your content, it should be immediately apparent that it belongs to you — that it’s part of a continuum. Global styles change and brands need to change with them. But, whether you’re launching a new brand or tweaking an existing one, there need to be signals from the past to help inform the future.
Those styles can include the colours you use, the font, the way photos are framed or illustrations are designed, the navigation elements, the logo, and the newsletter format.
Your design is your personality. Your stamp. It’s the thing that sets your brand apart from others. Any time you make changes, test and try with both internal and external audiences. Collect feedback and implement fixes to the most-cited complaints to ensure consistency.
Social media matters
Web design is typically an open playing field. The end result is only limited by your imagination (and possibly your coding skills). Social media platforms are a different beast, with more limited toolkits. You’re constrained by their layouts and functionality.
Start by considering your objectives. Is your goal to lure the audience to your own site? If so, Meta properties, LinkedIn, and Twitter are your best bets. If your aim is purely brand awareness, closed platforms such as TikTok and Snapchat are strong options.
Given the design constraints, there are three key areas to optimise, in order of importance:
1. Visuals. Whether still or moving, these need to be unique and impactful to stand out from the crowd of sameness, while representing the crux of the story you’re sharing.
2. Text. The shorter the better, and every word counts. Don’t lean on clickbait, but do lean on the most interesting angle in the story.
3. Targeting. Organic posts simply won’t deliver the targeted reach required. Be prepared to pay, and consult a marketing expert if you don’t have campaign expertise on your chosen platform.