For a long time we've been talking about visual design, user experience, information architecture, coding, user research and all the other disciplines that help us and our users to find and consume great content. However, we haven’t been talking much about the content itself.
By now, most people working in the digital channel have heard about content strategy. But unless you've worked on a project with a heavy content component, you are probably still unsure what content strategy brings to a project.
At Framefork, we feel the content components of any user experience are tied closely to the visual design and functionality. Content strategy gives us a set of methodologies to determine not only what content should be part of each user experience, but how that content will be created, delivered and managed, and what people, processes and technology need to be in place to make all that happen.
If you are not doing this, your content strategy isn’t a strategy at all and you are still producing the same old content that nobody really needs or wants.
I want to share six content strategy considerations we found very useful when creating experiences where you have to deal with a heavy content component:
Good content modelling
Content modelling is about creating a network of categories that classifies content by its function or structure. By doing that, it will be easier to talk about content by its type, and content type should refer to a predictable format that enables it to fit into a structure. If you create detailed definitions of each content type’s elements and their relationships to each other, requirements can be defined easily and clearly and other team members will also have content guidelines for the structure creation.
Structures that provide useful and meaningful ways to find content
The structures you design shouldn't be a hurdle between user and content. They need to be aligned, providing an ecosystem that doesn’t get in the way of the content. Take a closer look at Microsoft's new design language: Metro, it excludes superfluous graphics and instead relies on the actual content to also function as the main user interface.
Design for maintenance and support
Surely, you've been through the experience of a design that is difficult to implement after hand-off. Perhaps the design relied upon images being produced and published on a regular basis, and you didn’t have the staffing or technology in place to make that happen. Or a 3rd party API that was supposed to feed data into your site, didn’t seem to work with your existing content management system. Content strategy makes sure everything is in place for content to be created or acquired, published, and managed. If a proposed design demands content that’s way beyond what you can produce, designers need to make adjustments and deliver a system that can be supported and maintained.
Comprehensive metadata framework
Metadata is content that describes content. A very simplistic description, I know, but I will have to leave it for another post. When not created properly, metadata can create findability problems and in some cases cost you money. You need to include all the descriptive information necessary to locate, understand and use content.
Content not tied to it's containers
Sometimes content gets developed without a plan for how it will live outside that design. This situation happens frequently when designing cross-platform experiences, where content gets produced and published with just one experience in mind and it isn’t structured for multi-screen use. Content strategy can help you to create content that is structured and organised effectively for re-use, allowing device flexibility.
Great design and great content
What's worst than an interface that looks fantastic until users start reading, viewing or navigating, and discover that the content is irrelevant. This normally happens when you do a site re-design and the analysis of the existing content is not carried out. It also happens with new platforms, where no one really "owns" the content and assumptions are made that it will fall into place once the design is complete. You always need to pay attention to your content from the very start, beginning with an inventory and audit of your existing content, analysing it against competitors and best practices. By doing that, you figure out the best way for your digital content to help you achieve your business goals and meet your users’ needs.
These are just some tips based on our experience. If you’re interested in learning more about content strategy, I recommend reading Erin Kissane's book: The Elements of Content Strategy, a great resource for anyone new to or interested in the field, as well as Kristina Halvorson's article: The Discipline of Content Strategy