Companies often struggle with revamping their web IA or deploying new WCM software. We suggest both.

UX or WCM: Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

Thu Jan 3, 2013

Answer me this. If you have a limited budget and can only spend money on your website on one thing in 2013, what’s the best way to spend that money? Give it a much-needed facelift to bring it into the 21st century, or purchase a content management system to help improve the content?

I’ve been asked this question several times over the past few years. Many websites are in desperate need of a facelift, but they are also in desperate need of a new infrastructure so that the marketing team can easily add and update the site’s content.

As a designer and information architect, I tend to look at IA and design as structural, and content as fluid. In other words, build your structure soundly like a good house, and then repaint it and redecorate it as often as you need. But without the solid foundation, you’re not going to be able to fix anything with a coat of paint.

So… what would I do if I could only do one? As a designer, I’m inclined to lean towards design… but then again, I’ve been doing this long enough to understand a good design can be ruined within just a few months. Does content management save the design in the long run? The answer to that is unfortunately “yes and no.”

With a solid structure in place and workflow implemented, as well as a knowledgeable person in control, then yes, a content management system can save design. But without that knowledgeable person monitoring the site, then not even a content management system can help.

The easy answer is “go for the design” but easy isn’t always the best answer. As a designer, I admit that it’s hard to let go of design. However, to me, the right answer was actually the hard answer. Get the content management system in place, implement a workflow, and then go out and educate yourself on the principles of information architecture. That is SO NOT EASY! Don’t get me wrong; there are 100s of books and seminars out there, and it’s really not hard to learn some basic principles about usability, organization and hierarchies. Unfortunately, all of that takes time and effort, and time and effort are what make it difficult.

But, if reverse engineered, the problem isn’t the design, but the lack of knowledge of those who have been entrusted to be the custodians of the system. Even a good design will fall apart if not maintained, and a company is then left spending another large sum a few years later. If a content management system is put in place, then the structure and tools for easy updates are now in place. It can then be refined as your knowledge grows and improved with better structure and more interesting, relevant content.

Let’s face it, there are 100s of “free” CSS designs out there for people to purchase at low cost, or are truly for free. If you were to get a design for virtually nothing, you still have to understand how to organize your content into the structure. This is where education is needed. Looking at a structure on one side and a mess of content on the other, then organizing it feels insurmountable when your area of expertise is really marketing or IT. So use your money wisely.

Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish with your budget. Put the money into the difficult but necessary solution of the structure and building blocks. Put the correct tools in place that make changing content, and moving it around easy, then go out and seek out the knowledge you need for an effective information architecture.

Learn more about user experience? Check out our webinar Creating a Meaningful Website User Experience.