Copy or Design: Which Comes First in UX?

Copy and design are two important UX elements for any website. Here's how to prioritize them when creating your own website. 

Written by Genevieve McMullen
Published on Dec. 06, 2023
Copy or Design: Which Comes First in UX?
Image: Shutterstock / Built In
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You’re staring at a blank screen. The circle loop of uncertainty playing around in your mind. Your business needs a new website, but where do you start? Do you start writing the copy and design your UX around that, or do you design your website first and then fill in the blanks with the copy?

Which Comes First: Content or Design in UX?

  • Premade Web Template: Design comes first if you’re using a premade web template like SquareSpace or Wix.
  • Building Your Own Website: Copy comes first if you’re building your own website from the ground up.

It’s enough to make your brain explode, throw in the towel and shakily make your fourth cup of coffee, contemplating if you can seriously just run your business off door knocking and cold calling.

There are definitely some different schools of thought on this, and my answer to the question “What comes first: your website’s copy or design?” is *pause for dramatic drumroll* “It depends.”

Now, before you start throwing rotten tomatoes at the computer, let me finish that sentence: It depends… on if you intend to purchase a premade template site from platforms like Wix, Squarespace or Wordpress, or if you’re looking to build your website from scratch.

It also depends on if you happen to be a designer or a copywriter. Each thinks that the other should put in the hard work when it comes to kicking off the project.

“How can I possibly design something when I don’t know what the content is going to be?” the designer says.

“How can I possibly write something when I have no idea what the design is going to be?” the copywriter says.

But what it really comes down to is asking: Who is responsible for the UX (user experience) of the website? Let’s take a look at this when applying it to the two types of websites.

More on UX4 Website Copywriting Tactics for Non-Writers


How to Determine If Copy or Design Comes First in UX 

Deciding whether the copy or design should come first in building a website depends on if you’re using a premade template or building a website from the ground up. Here’s how to determine what’s right for you: 


1. Using a Premade Web Template

If you’re using a premade template, it’s the template designer who holds the key to the UX treasure chest.

You’ll notice that the majority of the website templates are already set up in a way that is user friendly, optimized for SEO and follows a certain structure. You just need to add in the copy in the spaces provided to you.

You might make a few tweaks to suit your business, but why mess with something that someone with knowledge of UX and design has already done for you? This is what you’ve paid for. 

This is great if you only have a working knowledge of website projects, are starting out with a smaller budget to work with or don’t have any fancy applications you need built from scratch.


2. Building Your Own Website

Now, in my mind, the copy should always come first if you’re building your own website. Why? Because copy has more power in allowing your website to be found on search engines such as Google, keeping users engaged when they’re on the website and convincing them to convert.

I’m a copywriter, but I have evidence. There’s a stack of research on this, and I’m not alone in my thinking. According to research from Unbounce, “Copy has twice the relative influence to convert over design.”

Writing content first sets the tone, story and flow of the whole website, so that when it goes into design, eliminates the potential for errors. Sure, they may tweak a few things or ask for a bit more copy, but the error rate is a lot lower.

If you are looking for a dedicated website copywriter for your project, they should be able to write copy without seeing a design first. Be wary of those who can’t.

Every website copywriter should have three key tools in their belt:

  1. Be able to write engaging copy.
  2. Have a good understanding of SEO techniques.
  3. Be knowledgeable in the UX best practices of a website and have the ability to set up a website wireframe.
A tutorial on copywriting. | Video: Alex Cattoni

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Understanding When Copy Comes Before Design in UX

To recap, here’s how to know whether copy or design comes first: 

  • Template website: Design comes first.
  • Building Your Own Website: Copy comes first.

Think about the copy telling the story, and the design adding the flair.

If you tell a shit story with a bit of flair, people will likely stop listening. If you tell a captivating story and add in a little flair, you’ve got them hooked.

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