Content strategy evangelist Karen McGrane once said that applying the standard user experience process without including content strategy is like giving someone a beautifully-wrapped gift box with no present inside. We love that metaphor and think she’s right. UX practitioners spend a ton of time and energy on the elements of the UX package. Information architects sketch out the box size and shape. Interaction and motion designers fuss about the mechanics of how the box opens and closes, and how all the moving parts work. Graphic designers obsess over the box’s look and feel: colors, shapes and imagery. But all too often there’s a conspicuous lack of attention paid to what the UX box is designed to contain: the content.
Not so very long ago we had to work to convince clients and non-UX-savvy design teams about the need for Information Architecture on projects. Now there’s a lot of buzz about content and content strategy. Catchphrases like “Content is King!” are to be expected when a previously-overlooked player in the process is fighting for attention. However, I’ve stumbled on one too many social media arguments about content’s place on the UX throne.
If there’s true value in debating about the relative placement of players on a UX process food chain, I’m not seeing it. More to the point, the UX process isn’t hierarchical and it sure isn’t a monarchy! It’s a system of interrelated parts and dependencies. Like IA, and iterative user testing, content strategy needs to be baked into the process from the beginning. How can you make smart decisions about the size and shape, or even the color of the box, without information about its present inside? Are you wrapping a Tesla or a toaster? And let’s be clear, just because content strategy is clamoring for overdue attention doesn’t mean that the other parts of the UX design process are now less important. It’s time for UX pros to stop the tug of war between the wrapper and the present and embrace an enlightened mindset, something more akin to Japanese Tsutsumi gift wrapping.
Tsutsumi approaches gift wrapping as an art and a sacred practice. Tsutsumi symbolizes “the wrapping of the heart,” demonstrating equal thoughtfulness and consideration for the wrapping, the object within, and the recipient. It’s a rather apt metaphor actually. To put it in UX terms: The wrapping is information architecture, interaction design, and visual design. The object within is, of course, the content. The gift’s recipient is the end user. These distinct but related processes work together, an interdependent system of elements combining to create a total experience. And that, I think, is the true meaning of user experience design. And so, here’s to the rise of Tsutsumi-like UX, and presents/online experiences that are worth opening!