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Why “Form Following Function” is Crucial in Content Marketing

6 small white arrows following a larger black arrow

Speaking with my designer hat firmly on, the principle of “form following function” has been a fundamental cornerstone in my approach since my early days as a web designer in the ’90s. Yes I am that old. In a nutshell, the principle asserts that the shape or design of an object should be informed by its intended purpose or function.

In short, a web designer’s job is to amplify the content in the most effective way possible, but more often than not, it happens the other way around – with the design dictating the content. This rarely ends well in my experience.

As a quick example, let’s take a humble piece of furniture: the chair.

Function: The purpose of a chair is to provide a comfortable and supportive “seating solution”. You sit on it. Simple.

Form follows Function: The design or “form” of a chair must, therefore, prioritise those elements that carry out its intended function. Such as a backrest for support, a seat for your bum and legs for stability. 

A young boy sits on a chair surrounded by different types of chair

Whilst the aesthetics, the materials and the shape of a chair can vary wildly; from leather armchairs and wooden benches, to camping stools and office chairs, the principle ensures that the design understands the use case and enhances the overall user experience… of, well, sitting down. And, as you can see, there’s still ample room for a designer to flex their creativity whilst fulfilling the brief.

But if you fail to deliver that very simple function, you’ve not made a chair, have you?

And the same principle applies to your website, its intended purpose and the form it should take. Without understanding the purpose of your content, you really shouldn’t attempt to start with its form.

Understanding Form and Function in Content Marketing

So, chair examples aside, what exactly is the form and function of your content on your site?

Form in Content Marketing

In content marketing, “form” refers to the visual elements, layout and overall presentation of your website. It’s the way your message is packaged and delivered to your audience; from the aesthetics, i.e. the “web design” component, to the format e.g. paragraphs, images, video etc.

Function in Content Marketing

On the other hand, “function” in content marketing refers to the purpose, goals and outcomes you aim to achieve through your content. It’s about engaging copy, building relationships and ultimately guiding all the desired actions from your audience.

A wireframe website concept

The issue is, that many web design projects (except ours, of course!) typically kick off with the design phase. This is totally understandable; clients often want to see a visual representation of the changes and new direction a web design project will take, perhaps even to provide some inspiration for content creation. Additionally, clients may not have suitable content prepared at the project’s outset, leading to the use of placeholder copy as a starting point.

Designers often seek to understand as much as possible about their client’s business and audience and their persona in order to best reflect that visually, but where the function of the content isn’t considered, this can often lead to alignment problems further along the project.

The Importance of Alignment

Enhanced User Experience

When the form of your content aligns with its function, you supercharge your user experience and conversion rate. A well-designed and engaging content format that speaks to your audience is more likely to be consumed, shared and remembered.

Picture a cooking site that doesn’t just describe a recipe but also includes step-by-step video demonstrations or diagrams, reviews and so on. If this functionality isn’t considered in the initial planning stage, it won’t be in the final cut and the result will be far less engaging.

Increased Engagement

Careful planning of your content format is key to boosting engagement. If you allow a designer to determine the content’s form, your page templates might force you to fit content in awkwardly or omit crucial information. It’s essential to strike a balance that ensures both an appealing design and the seamless delivery of important content to increase engagement.

Imagine an online kitchen appliance store redesigning its product pages. The designer aims for a sleek, modern look by emphasising larger product images and a simplified layout. However in doing so they minimise the space for technical specifications, reviews or trust signals. Ultimately, you know your customers better and should have a better understanding of what content a specific page should contain and prioritise.

form follows function

Brand Consistency

Consistency is very important in content marketing. Aligning the form of your content with your brand’s visual elements helps establish and reinforce your brand identity. But beyond visuals, the form of your page should also align with your brand’s tone and messaging. Consistency in these aspects builds trust, authenticity and recognition with your audience.

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Content Marketer vs Web Designer

It may seem like it’s head-to-head here – the designer dictating the form of the website, whilst the client struggles to shoehorn content into a predefined template. It certainly does happen, but it really doesn’t have to.

In my experience, designers love to receive a clear brief of the content they will be working with, but too often an arbitrary short-dated deadline means quicker, half-planned decisions have to be made on boat sides in order to get the project out on time and budget. But there are ways to avoid all of this.

Easy on The Deadlines

“The CEO wants to launch next month” is not something anyone in digital marketing wants to hear. 

Why does it need to launch on that day? Often this is just a result of poor preparation and planning. Take the time to consider a sensible deadline, one that factors in the proper considerations that great content creation deserves. Whether it’s writing for a new web project or a new blog post, rushing rarely ends well.

And ultimately, don’t start a project until you’re ready.

Wireframing your website with paper, pens and scissors

Think Like a Designer

Okay, so you might not be a designer, but it doesn’t mean you don’t know what the unique requirements of your own website should be. Deconstruct your page (use paper and scissors if needs be) and lay out all the vital elements your page templates need to include. Whilst your designer or developer might still move a few elements around (they will, trust me), you’re now both thinking about the content in a more tangible way and have informed the project’s scope simply and effectively.

New Content isn’t Just For New Websites

We’re not just talking about a new web project here. Industries evolve, grow and diversify, and your content needs to keep up if you want to stay relevant. Therefore, if the function of a page changes or evolves, you need to adjust the form to suit that requirement and not just try to shoehorn the new content in place. Make friends with a dependable developer – we know a few! 

Let’s Summarise…

In content marketing, the relationship between form and function is paramount. The layout and design of your page should always be informed by, and align with, the purpose of that page; creating a seamless and effective experience for your audience. 

Make mockups, test ideas and talk to your team to break down your content requirements before you instruct a designer or developer – they will thank you for it.

Stay adaptable, analyse user data and evolve your content strategies over time to ensure they remain aligned with your goals. 

And remember, in content marketing, success follows when form follows function.

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