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The onslaught of social media marketing experts have taught us that “content is king”.  Providing useful information about yourself, your business, etc, is the most important thing you can do in the webby world of now.  The reason they tell you this, and the basis of Gary Vaynerchuk’s recommendations for Thank You Economy and the pay-it-forward mentality, is that content actually only establishes context.  The context is king.

Example:  Big data.  As Google and others figured out a while ago, it is infinitely easier to sell to someone if you have access to their Facebook status and likes, their Tumblr feed, their Twitter stream – you know, their content.  Because once you can instantly see everybody’s personal preferences FOR FREE, you can understand their likes and dislikes and market to them accordingly.  Sort of like sending a Cowboys jersey to someone with whom you’d like to do business.  This content actually creates the context around which you try to understand a person (or the digital version of one).

If content = context, and the smartest marketers and sales icons are telling the world that content = king, then we can use logic to fill in the rest.

In design, we often think that the form and contents of our projects (details, materials, etc) are king.  But, they’re not.  As we’ve discussed above, Context already wears the crown.

It is impossible to judge something without having a standard against which to judge it.  In science it is the control, and in design it is the context.  Other buildings or landscapes of the same category, style, or realm, nearby projects (proximity), or the past work of a designer or his/her competitors (in the case of Starchitects) all constitute context, in a theoretical sense.  In a practical sense, context means the traffic patterns, wind and sun directions, and adjacent land use and physical form of an site used to inform a design solution.

The important thing to remember, more important than the fact that your project will be judged against its context (theoretical and practical), is that in the very near future, your project becomes the context against which others will be measured.  The only way to ensure forward progress is to begin with what you can influence, while creating stepping stones for others to move ahead as well.

Increase the quality of the context.