I'm a firm believer that good content is the key to successful communications. Design and useability are important, but they can't overcome the limitations of good content.
The value of good content has always seemed self-evident to me but it often seems to come as a revelation to people with the advent of new technology.
When new, exciting technology comes along, like the rise of desktop publishing in the '80s (remember all the fun we had with those floppies?) or the growth of the Internet in the '90s, a lot of users get seduced by what they can do with their new tools. And at first, the excitement factor keeps everyone interested. But inevitably, if the content of a document or a website is not relevant to the person using it (the so-called "user") the thrill will wear off.
In his latest Alertbox article, Jakob Nielsen lists several examples of bad design examples where the website developers overlooked or downplayed the value of content.
What's useful about Nielsen's list is that he's not advocating wholesale redesigns. He just points out a few missing elements that seem obvious if you consider the site from the user's point of view.
And that's the key to ensuring that your website design stays relevant. Everything about the design has to enhance the experience for the user. They need to be able to find the information they need, presented in a way that let's them use it effectively and move ahead to their next destination.
It's all about the content.