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Web Design: Should Design or Copy Come First?

web design

When it comes to creating web pages, what should come first: design or copy?

There seems to be two camps when it comes to this common web design debate. The question comes down to this: Should the copy dictate the design, or the design dictate the copy?

Let’s take a look at why both arguments are flawed and what approach makes for the most effective web design.

Design First

When it comes to conversion rate optimization, many people get so lost in the layout of the page that they forget the importance of copy.

These people think it’s all about design and formatting: There needs to be a certain amount of white space and only so many words and/or characters in a specific section.

The problem with this mentality is that it can limit the page’s ability to relay the correct message, which can actually decrease the number of conversions.

While it’s true that some design cues can be taken from an organization’s branding and messaging (and therefore theoretically precede copy writing), it’s usually not enough to flesh out an entire, fully optimized page.

Copy First

The right copy is crucial to any web page, which is why, if you were to put one before the other, copy would most definitely come first. 

Essentially, the point of the design is to enhance the copy, to make it stand out and catch the eye of the visitor. The design should break up and highlight the copy in a way that makes it more legible, easier to understand, and ensures the most important points get across.

As one Inbound.org member put it:

Content comes first. The function is, ultimately, to sell. Form should therefore follow function. Designing for sales without first knowing how to sell doesn't seem likely to work. 

But “copy before design” still isn’t the best option when it comes to the right direction for your web design; purpose is. 

Purpose First

In reality, it’s not the design or the copy that needs to come first, but the purpose. What’s the message you’re trying to send? What is the purpose of the page? To get more trial sign-ups, upsell current customers, or have web visitors call to make an appointment?

The purpose of the page will dictate both design and copy. And one shouldn’t come before the other: Both need to work in conjunction with one another. Once you know the purpose and overall message of the page, then both the design and copy should serve that purpose and drive that message home.

Designers and copywriters will need to be a team; both must be flexible and willing to collaborate with one another in order to create the most effective, highest-converting web page.


While there are solid arguments for both design and copy coming first in the web design process—and it’s easy to get sucked into those mindsets—it’s important to take a step back and remember that the purpose of the page is the most crucial element.

Always begin with what you want your visitor to do—and how you can best get your visitor to do it—before launching into the nitty-gritty of either design or copy.

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Lolly Spindler


Lolly Spindler

Lolly Spindler is the Content Marketing Manager at xoombi. A writer by trade, Lolly loves to make the written word work for clients by delivering high quality, engaging content to their audiences. She leads the xoombi content marketing team in executing demand generation, SEO, and copy editing strategies. Lolly is a graduate of Boston University.


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