Content strategy

Sticky note overload! My talk from UX Design Day

UX + Content Strategy = Better business


So, UX Design Day in Dunedin was a great little conference. My place in the programme was as the one and only content strategist, in town to pitch for as much cooperation as possible between UX and content people as we work on building things.

And what’s the best way to win the hearts and minds of UXers? With sticky notes. So here are my slides.

UX + Content Strategy = Better Business (UX Design Day 2014)

It starts with an introduction of content strategy.

  • There’s one reason to create and manage content, and that’s to help our audience get what they need.
  • As well as stuff that our audience sees, content strategy is also about improving the processes that we use to make and maintain content.
  • There are always a million things we could be doing, but content strategists are great at knowing what’s most important.
  • No matter what we’re working on, or for whom, we solve other people’s problems. Empathy is really important.
  • Superficial or quick ways of fixing things aren’t our thing. We find the source of problems, and often find that separate-looking problems share a common cause.
  • We collaborate. A lot.
  • Content strategists have a huge range of skills and backgrounds. Every content strategist is different.
  • Working so many people on so much different stuff means that we learn new things every day.
  • In sum, we find better ways to do things for people. We simplify things. We direct how organisations work, and what they make, towards the audience.

But all of these qualities are equally true of UX. This is an incredible amount of overlap, and it’s why we should work really closely together.

A lot of organisations structure things in ways that keep us apart. One or both of our disciplines might be contracted in. We can be asked to join projects at different stages, or given different bosses, or have some of our work treated as a one-off deliverable (‘design me a website’) and some as business-as-usual (‘keep my site filled with content’).

Whatever the reasons, gaps between UX and content strategy leave space for bad things. Politics happens. Our goals end up out of line, which leads to power struggles, disagreement, and sibling rivalry.

The answer, obviously, is to come together and work right next to each other. (If you’re following along, we just reached slide 25.)

When we do work closely together, good stuff happens. For a start, we learn from each other. UXers can show content people like me things like:

  • ways to measure what we do, and how successful it is
  • taking users’ moods and mentalities into account as we construct things that they’ll interact with
  • working in iterations – trialling ideas and quickly changing things that aren’t working – rather than dealing with large sets of work that need ‘final versions’ for sign-off

On the other hand, content people can show UXers:

  • how to work little things into your organisation’s big plan for representing itself to the world
  • governance – the ‘people and power’ side of things, including management of stuff after it launches
  • the accuracy and attention to detail that you only get from nerdy pedants like us.

So, what things should we work on together?

  • Style guides – visual brand guidelines and writing style guides both tell people how stuff should look and feel. Create and publish them together.
  • Plans for what to publish, and when. Research, design and creation takes time for us both, so plan in unison.
  • Personas – we look for different things in personas, so both having a hand in their creation makes sure they’re complete.
  • IA tests (tree-jack, card sorting, etc.) – these rely on short labels to represent large chunks of content (some of which might not even exist yet).
  • Metrics. Aim for the same goals.

These things are a bit of a grab-bag, but they’re all expressions of your strategy. I haven’t read too many management books, but for a definition of strategy that works at any level of any organisation, this is as good as any:

  • What we do
  • How we do it
  • Who we do it for
  • How we define success

Assuming your organisation is well run and has a few layers to it, these things are set by your Big Boss, then filter down to the marketing , service, or digital team that you’re part of, at which point you turn them into useful guides for your own work. This is the most crucial time for UX and content strategy to be as close to each other as possible. That’s what unites you in the organisation that needs you both to do great things.
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By Max Johns

Content strategist and web writer.