How NOT to Work on a Project

Ask a client for content.

Published September 01, 2006 · Updated September 14, 2006
Categorized as Writing
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Jordan Arentsen said on September 01, 2006

Did you ask for content? Or how did you come upon this advice? I have several clients that I need content (pictures, text) from. Is this somehow bad of me?

Jonathan Snook said on September 01, 2006

The post is really meant in jest but usually clients don't think about the copy for a web site. Therefore, if you ask them for copy, it'll usually take awhile.

Clients should really be thinking about the copy for their website and think of it as an important step in developing their online presence. Unfortunately, most leave it until the very end, at which point, the site design may be inadequate to handle whatever content the client has finally come up with.

Derek Punsalan said on September 02, 2006

I think "Ask a client for content AFTER completing a design" is more of a mistake. I prefer that clients lay everything out on the table BEFORE a project is accepted and begun. I've lost count of irritating scenarios where a design is nearly complete and ready for public consumption only to have a client completely change their thoughts requiring pages to be reworked.

Kyle said on September 02, 2006
Edward Clarke said on September 02, 2006


I've never understood why design leads a project. How does anyone work without market researched content? I think you summed it up nicely there Derek.

Jasper said on September 02, 2006

I totally agree on having content BEFORE starting the design. It's like designing an newspaper page without content: you can't! (been there, done that)

Besides that, it gives you an additional look on how a client looks at his own product/company ...

Kalle said on September 02, 2006

Whoah, shortest blog entry ever? :)
I agree, if the client hasn't decided what they're gonna hav on the site chaos will rise when the site is about to launch.

Stephen said on September 02, 2006

I agree with the principle of getting the content _before_ starting the design, but really, does that ever happen?

I've worked on several projects over the years where we've tried this, and we'd probably still be waiting to start the designs today if we hadn't just accepted the fact that clients, as a whole, are appalling at this particular task.

On a related note, how many (large-ish) sites are designed around the content anyway? I'm genuinely curious as to people's experience of this. Most of the stuff I do is based around a CMS, and the development of page types that can be used to build and expand the site as required.

Designing each and every page to exactly fit the currently available content would just be too restrictive.

Hakan Bilgin said on September 02, 2006

The experts are many and the outcome of the projects are in many cases entertaining.

Sam said on September 02, 2006

The first thing to get started is the layout, not a design and content, if it is a custom design. But if we are talking about website templates, then you will ask only the content (text, pictures etc).

Nick said on September 02, 2006

The trouble I find is when you ask for some content it nearly always ends up being given as a hideously over formatted word document that draws absolutely nothing from the design of the site.

I've never understood this, and I do try and make it clear all I want is some plain text and a few image files. They seem to spend what must be ages in Word 'perfecting' these things that I subsequently have to spend ages pulling apart into plain text and images before they are any use to me.

Keith said on September 02, 2006

Very, very funny. Because it's very, very true. And let's face it, this joke will still be funny 10 years from now. If there was anything more hopepless when it comes to Web design and development than dealing with IE, this is it.

Johan said on September 02, 2006

Clients should really be thinking about the copy for their website and think of it as an important step in developing their online presence.

Very true! It makes it very hard without copy. But does the webdesigner/developer get the additonal job of doing the copy writing as well as many clients expect that you come up with some of the copywriting?

Peter Flaschner said on September 02, 2006

Jon: you just made coffee come out my nose. Too, too funny.

Johan said on September 02, 2006


How about doing some content negotiation client-side?

Geof Harries said on September 02, 2006

Ah, the age old battle between designer and client.

I try really hard not to define a go-live/launch date in the original project plan until the actual content is in our hands. When the content arrives, the deadline becomes agreed upon.

So let's say you book 3 months to build a project out. Your agreed go-live is 2-3 weeks past the delivery of the approved content, and this keeps shifting forward until it shows up. The point is to hold the client as accountable as possible, otherwise they just don't care (most times).

I also request that the content cannot arrive in MS Word form. The client has to input it themselves using the CMS editor - that way they are much more invested in the process and see what looks good or bad. Simply put, they're not operating in a vacuum.

Jesse Skinner said on September 03, 2006

Look on the bright side, this is a nice way to extend the deadline for a few weeks (months?) without anyone blaming you. :)

Edward Clarke said on September 03, 2006

There seems to be a bit of a culture of relying on clients to provide what a developer needs. Surely it's down to the developer to specify what's required during the project consultation stages!

Poncho said on September 03, 2006

It's true that you're asking for trouble right there!

I'm with Derek on this one (mostly), I usually do a graphic mock-up of how the site should look, then I ask the client for all copy and images before I begin work on site construction.

I've lost too much time before, through clients not having a clue "what to write on the website". As far as I'm concerned, the client should be telling the designer/developer what the company does and what it's values are... not the other way around (as is often the case)!


quinn said on September 03, 2006

It is funny that the same thing happens all over the globe. This is very true. One time I was asked to design before giving me any contents or functionality of the website, I just gave up. It was impossible to work with.

WD Milner said on September 03, 2006

Indeed, the reason to have a site is to present content . Without content to provide a basis for the site design it is just digital thumb twidlling.

The first time I did a site for a business I asked "what specific content would you like presented ... what mood would you like to create" The answer was "oh you know what business we're in - you'll come up with something".

As it happens I did as I was familiar with the business anad had a friend that worked there so it worked out ok. Sadly that is likely the exception.

audienceone said on September 04, 2006

The client will surely provide content as long as you ask it but the question is how soon will they provide it.

I've taken several projects and was paid in full wherein clients never saw their dream website launched. The content I requested never came through - I even created a Q&A form for them to fill up so that it'll be very easy for them to provide content and still nothing. I've tried the "Q&A" for their content before accepting projects but still all for nothing.

Among the things I've done is specified content delivery on the development timeline and even express in the terms and conditions that I will bill them (clients) extra (and I did) if they delay their own projects by not delivering the content on time and it still doesn't work.

And there are times when you just have to do copywriting yourself and try to write some bs's so that clients will be forced to provide something to replace the bs i've put into their site. ;)

I guess me and the client is not a good match.

Dave said on September 04, 2006

A subject dear to my heart! I think Derek in comment 3 has hit the nail on the head.

If I could add a few thought... I think it is the developer/designers responsibility to illustrate to the client the importance of the content in making their website a success and now allow the project to drift on through various stages and then come down hard on the client because the content they provide is crap!.

Remember who you are dealing with, most of the time clients are stupid (in web terms), heck you may even have persuaded them to get a website when they didn't even want it! lol

Good clients who are invested in the project and whose companies/organisation really need a website are usually way ahead of us developers/designers in terms of the message they want to portray and already have copy and marketing blurp and ideas of what the website needs to do, but they are few and far between I know.

So to reiterate it is our/your responsibiilty to preempt the content collection problem and in may cases i would advise, increasing the proposal quote/the budget and produce the copy yourself based on the clients very poor first 3 attempts. lol

EJ said on September 04, 2006

It's funny you should mention the issue of content: I'm actually waiting on a potential client to get me content for his website so I can start working on mockups and issue him a ballpark price for redevelopment.... that was almost a month ago :\

Dr Dreaded said on September 04, 2006

And how about RFP? Does anyone get that all the time

Steve Spirit said on September 04, 2006

Every client is not a perfectionist. Some clients don't mind having a non-functional Website.

EJ said on September 04, 2006

So what do you guys do in my situation where the client has been told to send content but has not contacted you? Keep bugging him? I'd like to keep our interaction professional as well as not piss him off.

(Amazing that this post should yield this much talk!) :P

Matt Robin said on September 04, 2006


A good phrase: 'Content is King' (Isn't this on a t-shirt somewhere yet?) - site design has to address the needs of the content - but if the content isn't known, then what sort of incomplete shell of a website is put together for the client?

Yeah, you've made the point in jest Jonathan - but it's an ongoing obstacle in the murky world of web design/web development and a very valid point to make.

Matt Robin said on September 04, 2006

Recalls No Spec - okay, spec isn't the same as content - but it's about establishing fair guidelines with the client. You're a professional - doing professional work for them - so you need to be treated like a professional too (and that includes having appropriate content submitted upfront).

Sheldon Kotyk said on September 04, 2006

I lvoe the comment about putting BS in there. Come up with the layout and make up some content that would be embarassing for the company if it launched with it.

It's amazing how fast people scramble.

Dr Dreaded said on September 04, 2006

The big issue is lots of people makin sites for a livin' dont conduct business the proper way, you dig that? The Internet makes us behave more free and loose, but more then we should. Clients think that websites are as easy as 1, 2, 3 but we cannot direct our movie if we cannot get the scenario on time, our fim set needs the props.

Graham said on September 04, 2006

I once had a client pay 100% of the cost of a low end site upfront, with the understanding that I would begin working on the design of the site right away while he wrote the content. Fast forward a few weeks to the content delivery date, and I have nothing from them. Days, then weeks go past. They actually started ducking my calls when I'd ring them up to ask for an update on their progress. It ended when I just stopped trying to call them. And remember, they had already paid for the project!

Dave said on September 05, 2006

@ sheldon, yeah but what happens when they keep the embarrasing content and then you have to put a site live with crap content. it reflects on you as a designer/developer

Ben Snape said on September 06, 2006

I agree with J's post there. I almost waited a YEAR to get copy/images from a client. we almost gave up. It turns out they sub-contracted it out to a copywriting agency in the end!

Kenny Saunders said on September 06, 2006

I started including the price for using a 3rd party copywriter in my initial estimate. It will either motivate the client to right their own copy (after seeing the price), or to ante up and hire the copywriter.

I think it pays to have a partnership with a copywriter if you don't do it yourself.

The client might not need design changes in the future, but the copy will always be changing, it's a good way to get a commission off something without doing much work. ;-)

Jason Martino said on September 10, 2006

During the sales call, if I told clients that they had to give us all the content before we started the design, they would probably not sign up. Small business owners are busy people who know that they will be very busy in the next couple months. If you require that they give you copy before the design, you will either not get the sale or have an incomplete web site on your books for a very long time (read not get paid the remainder).

Sadly, many times we have to work ass backwards, and do the design first, badger them for content, and deal with the problems inherent with this approach on the backend.

As for professional copywriting, clients seem eager to throw money at Flash Animation and Calls to Action and little money at professional copywriting, logo design, or photography.

I feel that if you have a good logo, good copy, and great photography, the web design is pretty much taken care of. I wish I could convince all my clients of this.

Ian Beadle said on May 03, 2007

Getting content from clients is the biggest single problem most web designers face. I have seven sites right now just sitting waiting for content, some for many months, and I've had many sites that have never been finished.
It becomes impossible to schedule time and resources when a client doesn't cooperate, and it can kill your cash flow, which in turn kills your business.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post. If you have any further questions or comments, feel free to send them to me directly.