Content is Key

Why UX pros should care about it

By Jill Vacarra
An old typewriter on a desk with books

UX pros spend a ton of energy creating usable, engaging interfaces that are conduits for Content. But without good Content and Content governance processes, even the most thoughtful UX design delivers a mediocre experience. Yet the job of creating and wrangling Content is a huge undertaking that most UX pros (and their clients and internal stakeholders!) aren’t equipped to handle.

How UX Pros Can Become Better Equipped

There’s a wonderful Arthur C. Clarke quote: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Content creation for good user experience is still a bit of a mystery to many UX Pros and even to Content Authors. It’s a skill that can be learned. It’s not magic. Primitive Spark teaches a full-day tutorial giving the insider tools and processes people need to develop on-brand Content in a way that’s sustainable and repeatable and that can be distributed across teams. And even that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Put Content First and Make It Flexible

When you put content first starting on day one on a project, Content creation and planning is woven into the UX process. Information Architecture, Design, Content and CMS Dev project components support and enhance each other from the start.  When Content comes late to the party, you get oodles of avoidable 11th hour snafus. Stuff doesn’t fit and needs to be redone, new page levels need to be created that weren’t planned, etc. Then with responsive sites and multiple screen sizes – fuggedaboutit! That’s where planning flexible Content comes in.  When you separate Content from the presentation layer, you make it possible for that content to work with different (sometimes as yet unknown!) screen sizes.

How to Motivate Content Process Change

The key first step is to insert Content Strategist collaborators into the process from the get-go. Then Content is no longer a silent odd man out. Content Strategists ask the right questions. They negotiate with Information Architects, Designers, Developers and Stakeholders so that Content needs and issues are identified and discussed openly. Then, the UX team is no longer working in a vacuum and guessing how to create a well-designed UX container for mysterious Content.

Content Authors also need to get on board. Not all writers are aware of how Content impacts UX. Authors often develop Content in a vacuum, outside the UX process. Then they hand over that Content and all kinds of chaos ensues. Content doesn’t fit the IA and design, or is written in a way that’s not at all appropriate for online reading. Part of what the Content Strategist does is to bring Content Authors into the fold as well, and give them tools and guidelines to follow as they create Content.

Content Strategy Tools

One tool we use is our Content Tonality Brief. It’s based on the Creative Brief that you typically see in design projects, but it’s much more granular and focused on Content voice and character. Clients will say: “We want the Content to be witty.” Great! But “witty” is a very subjective term. The Content Tonality Brief attempts to hone in on the different brand attributes that inform site Content flavor. In order to hit the right tone, the Tonality Brief adds more description to your brand attributes, plus examples and DOs and DON’Ts based on user needs, client preferences and business goals. The Tonality Brief is used to generate initial team consensus, and then as a touchstone throughout the project so that all the multiple Content Authors work in alignment.

Don’t Make Content an Afterthought

Consider Content first and throughout the UX process whether you’re a UX practitioner, a Content Author or somebody managing a team of UX Pros and Content Authors. Content Strategy and creation might seem daunting, but there’s a mindset and concrete set of do-able, repeatable steps that fit naturally into the UX process you’re already doing. Add Content Strategy to your process and your UX will be all the better for it!