Design Exists to Help Users Get and Use Content
Design is purposeful, not art. Design exists to help people gather information more effectively. Working on the design without considering the content is like buying a BMW without an engine. They’ll enjoy looking at it and sitting in it, but if you can't actually enjoy that 'driving experience' then its just an empty promise.
The process of content creation and management cannot be a separate endeavor from design creation and management. We need to inseparably integrate the two, structurally and organizationally, to create better experiences.
The modern designer needs a broader and more fundamental skill set to be a great communicator. The key skills essential to any modern designer: user research, interaction design, information architecture, visual design, copywriting/content strategy, design process management, information design and editing/curation.
Traditional thinking, often inherent in traditional advertising agencies, has been that content was a separate piece of the puzzle. An important piece, yes. But one piece of 'content' to the larger communication strategy. But the modern way of thinking is that the process and the 'larger communication strategy' in every form that it takes is actually CONTENT and needs to be thought of in that way and integrated into design and strategy.
We can’t talk about the content without discussing information architecture, like site navigation and search functionality. Nor can we talk about content without using design strategy techniques, like user research and user testing, to uncover what is important to the user. You can look something as simple as the process of getting an airline boarding pass to see how interaction design, visual design, and design curation play a huge role in delivering the right content successfully and efficiently.
Content and Design Are The Best Of Friends
Users don’t distinguish design from content. They think of them as the same thing. Users see design as integral to the message and the content as the actual words spoken or action on film. Again it's a traditional thing. The content group does their thing and eats at one table in the lunchroom and the design group is at another table. They get together in conference rooms sometimes, meetup at SPIN occasionally and follow each other on twitter, but mostly they’re apart and focus on their work.
Design creation and content creation are complicated messy tasks so people often keep them apart. Mostly it was an issue of control and who was to own what and the thought their neither impacted each other. Now we can study how content and designs affect user experience and we can clearly see when design and content work together and when they don't.
The New York Times gets it. They have design teams sitting on the newsroom floor that lets them work with writers and content developers to quickly design engaging interactive pieces to complex news stories more accessible. User Experience designers are considered part of the editorial team and it shows in the work.
User experiences are integrated experiences between design and content and when those two work together, they more often than not result in a great experience.