Adding content to your UX methodologies

Yes, content is experience!

  • By Kathy Wagner
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  • May 16 2019
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  • Categories: Articles

As a user-experience or customer-experience professional, you’re in a strong position to advocate for content strategy in your organization. If formal content strategy is not an option, you can adopt a “stealth content strategy” approach by quietly integrating content considerations into your current UX practices. It doesn’t need to take any extra time or budget — you can get a lot of benefits from simply applying a content lens to activities you’re already doing.

Here, we discuss three ways to include content in your current methodologies: in your user research, in your toolkits, and in your design deliverables.

Content in your user research

As user experience researchers, you’d never think about designing an online experience without doing user research. But content is a huge part of the experience and is often overlooked. It doesn’t have to be complicated, and you don’t need to do extra research. Just fold some content considerations into the research you’re already doing.

Here are three quick ways to do that:

When you conduct user interviews or focus groups, ask people questions about what content they would expect or need at different stages of the experience journey. What topics interest them? What content types and formats do they prefer? What messages do they find most motivating, or off-putting? Where do they go to find relevant content online? What’s most important, or most frustrating, to them about the kind of content that you’ll be delivering? Show them examples of content, and get their feedback. Is it easy to read? Easy to understand? Do they know where to go or what to do next?

Read more about gathering content insights through interviews or focus groups.

When you send out a user survey, include some questions about the content. Generally, I like to begin with user interviews to gather initial insights, and then follow up with a survey to see how well those insights extend across a larger population of a target audience. So, you’ll ask the same kinds of questions you did in user interviews, but use the interview findings to prepopulate multiple choice or selection type questions. That way, you’ll begin to get an idea of content priorities and needs across multiple customer segments.

Read more about gathering content insights through surveys.

When you conduct usability testing, pay attention to how the text (or other content) on the page helps people, or hinders them, in completing a task. If you’re using a prototype, make sure it has real draft content, written by a writer (rather than designer or developer), that can be tested at the same time. See how people react to specific labels. You can even include some comprehension testing by asking people what the text on a previous page was about. Don’t ever use Lorum Ipsum in usability testing. Not only does this provide a false experience for the participants, but it fails to make use of a ready-made testing opportunity for real content!

You can read more about usability testing for content at The Nielsen Norman Group. Here’s one of their articles on Practical Advice for Testing Content on Websites.

Content in your UX toolkits

As user experience practitioners, you rely on support materials to keep focused on user needs and brand standards. But how many of your toolkit materials provide insights about content considerations? If you’re like a lot of large organizations, probably not many. As UX designers, you’re in the perfect position to advocate for content as part of the design. Making sure that content considerations are included in your toolkit is a great place to start.

Here are three quick ways to integrate content requirements into your existing toolkits:

In your personas, be sure to include insights that demonstrate your target audiences preferred content channels, formats, topics of interest, messages that resonate, and other content considerations that are not already part of overarching standards or style guides. For requirements that are global across audience groups, like readability and accessibility requirements, it’s better to include them as organizational standards and have the personas focus on the distinctive needs of a customer segment.

Read more about turning research data into personas.

In your customer journeys, you can articulate how a persona’s content needs and interests change through the different journey stages. Topics of interest, messages that resonate, and content types typically have substantial variation across the journey stages. As always, do your research first so your content decisions are evidence-based, not opinion-based.

Read more about mapping content to customer journeys, and creating messaging across journey stages.

In your style guides and pattern libraries, you should include content requirements alongside brand, design, and interaction elements. Be as detailed as you need in order to create consistently structured, on-brand, usable content. Consider including things like standard content types and models, reusable content component lists and examples, standard calls-to-action, as well as copywriting standards and style guidelines.

Read more about developing content style guides.

Content in your UX design documentation

As user experience designers, you can add content to your designs to incorporate another dimension that’s critical to the overall experience. In many cases, the content is what your users are coming for. In all cases, content is a substantial part of the overall experience. Why then is content not always included in user experience designs? Beats me.

Here are three quick ways to integrate content into your designs:

In your wireframes and comps. For any information-rich site, you should articulate the content types and create content models before designing any wireframes or comps. This ensures a content-first approach and helps consistency and efficiency of content development. Base your wireframes on your content models, and your comps on your wireframes. Use real sample content, written by the same people who will be writing the final copy. Avoid using Lorem Ipsum whenever you can. This way, you can capture feedback and reactions to the content and page copy before you begin content development.

Read more about effectively integrating page layout and content.

In your information architecture. Yes, I know it’s impossible to design an information architecture (IA) without any thought to content, so you’re already doing the basics. But I can’t tell you the number of projects I’ve worked on where the IA was only developed for the first two or three layers, and then “somebody, somewhere, at some point in time” was left to figure out where and how all the detail pages fit into things. Designing the first few layers of the IA is a great place to start, but it doesn’t get you past the finish line. Make sure that you dedicate enough time and resources to complete the IA with the same user-focus as you start with.

Read more about information architecture.

In your design requirements. Instead of limiting design requirements to features and functionality associated with interaction design and user tasks, you can extend them to include requirements for content design. UX designers typically include some dynamic content requirements, but make sure you don’t forget to note the metadata requirements needed to support that. And which specific elements of content do people look for when they’re searching, and how can sorting or filtering results help them to find relevant content? Include these things in your search requirements. Can you stretch your design requirements to include designing the authoring workflow?

Read more about documenting requirements.

These are just a few ways that you can add content strategy to your existing user experience methodologies to create more finely-tuned and user-focused designs. The important things to ask yourself, whenever you approach your UX work, are how content contributes to the experience, and how you can communicate that through your work.