The need for better designed content

by Foolproof

Content is used to drive and shape the holistic design of products, spaces and environments. Content is king, right?

Our environment is evolving; digital doesn’t just meet products, it also meets spaces. Retail is a great example, with the likes of New Look, Burberry and 02 all incorporating digital products and services into their stores to create better customer experiences. The content here revolves around the physical environment the user is in, aiding the interactions between people, space and products.

Content is integral to Burberry’s customer experience. It has been specifically designed around the customer’s journey from when the customer enters, browses and purchases products, be it in store, or online across devices. Burberry knows who their customers are and more importantly, their needs and how to treat them.

Unlike the retail experiences above not all content has a natural home environment. I juggle my life between my laptop, tablet and phone. I view the same content on all of these devices but in different ways, depending on where I am and what I am doing. I want information that is easy to digest without having to filter down through pages of text to find it. The graph below shows how device usage differs at different points in the day.

Designing content

Content is no longer restricted to one site. Publishing tools make it easy for content to be both pulled and shared easily by users. Content itself is changing. I am able to add, edit and delete content that my friends, my favourite brands and I have created. I am able to share content about my favourite product across the world and have conversations about what I like and dislike about it. Retail is a great example of this.

The examples I have given vary, but all come back to the content itself. Content is king, right?

How it should be done

GOV.UK is a content-driven service with user-driven design principles. Sarah Richards, a content designer at GOV.UK, says that “one size doesn’t fit all”. At GOV.UK they have developed an iterative style guide around users that addresses both tone and style around tasks the user needs to complete. The content itself informs the user experience.

Sarah says “We’ve cut the amount you need to read to be able to complete an action. Where possible, we’ve also reduced the number of steps involved in completing it.”

Sarah makes it sound easy, and it is, in principle. The content informs the design and this addresses the user needs. But too many products and services completely forget who the user is when putting together the content, because they are so focused on interaction and aesthetics. 

Balancing content and design

Content needs to be designed, part of the design process and integrated in to the final product design. When designing both content and the informed user experience I always consider the following points.

  1. Does the content address both user and business needs?
  2. Push for content early in the design process
  3. Test the content with the user. Is it useful, well-written, understandable?
  4. Understand the environment that the content will be used in.
  5. Content isn’t static, how do users consume and share content? Learn, iterate and improve

The points above sound obvious, yet on a daily basis I am still searching to find what I need and questioning what it means when I find it. As designers we are supposed to question everything. Let’s question content that little bit more, to see if it really helps us address user needs.

Author: Amy Whitney

What do you think?