A Crash Course in Content Design



Merry UXmas everyone! My name's Melanie Seibert. I work as a senior content strategist at Willow Tree, which is a mobile agency. I want to talk to you today about content design.

You might ask yourself: “what exactly is Content Design?”

Content Design is when we are designing any type of content for the interface. It encompasses writing and editorial work, usability (which includes making content user focused, actionable and clear), layout, structure and hierarchy, flow and navigation, formats (including text, video, images, audio, tables, and graphs), meta data, accessibility, and testing & optimization. 

It might sound kind-of buzz-wordy, so you may ask yourself: “Is Content Design a real thing? It sounds made-up.”

A lot of organizations are starting to employ people they call 'content designers'. Included in that category would be Capital One, eBay, the agency Fjord, Microsoft and some other organizations too. 

Content design is really becoming more popular as people are recognizing the importance of content and our interfaces. 

So, what does content design look like? Sarah Richards wrote the book Content Design and she describes it this way: “As a content designer you can look at information and say, 'No, this is too complex. Over 300 postcodes is remarkably boring to read. So we're going to put it in a postcode look up.' That's content design.” She's saying that instead of putting 300 postcodes, or zip codes, in a drop-down menu you can, for example, give the user a text field to enter, and that would be considered Content Design. “You're not writing anything, you're not editing anything. You're actually designing content.”

As a designer you may wonder “When should I ask for help from a content designer? And why?”

Content is really crucial to UX and product design, as I'm sure you know. Here's an example of our favorite shopping website, Amazon, and you probably know that Amazon is normally very useful. But what I've done is taken out all the content, so all the text, all the images and anything else that might convey messaging. And you can see that you really can't do anything with it at all right now. Content is key to the UI. 

Also, timelines can be short as a UX designer. You may find yourself working on interactions, visual design, and motion, and working on content as well might just add a little bit too much work to your workload. So, a Content Designer can help you with that and support you. 

Another emerging use case for a content designer is a conversational interface. We're starting to see a lot more demand for chat bots, for example. This is the Zulily Facebook Messenger chat bot that messages me all the time about daily deals. That's just one example. There are other platforms, such as Alexa and Google home, that brands are starting to ask for design for apps or bots that will converse with their customers. That is an example of a user interface that is almost entirely made out of content. Content Design is really instrumental in these types of UIs. 

So, that's my intro to content design. I hope this helps, and I hope that you have a very merry UXmas. Bye! 

Melanie Seibert

Melanie Seibert

While she's currently the Senior Content Strategist at WillowTree, Melanie Seibert has taught content strategy at General Assembly and helped create websites for Razorfish, Rackspace, and cPanel. She opines about content strategy on her blog, Prose Kiln.

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