Content strategy - Written aspects of interaction design

28 Apr 2004 - 2:46am
10 years ago
1 reply
1619 reads
Olly Wright
2007

When I was working with the web as the focus of my career, one of the
things I did was develop the field of content strategy. I started
calling it content strategy in 1997 or so, when it became clear that
there needed to be another side of the coin to site maps or screen UI
diagrams. It took a while, but in 1999, I landed at Scient and had the
good fortune to work with people like Mark McCormick, who had been
developing an entire approach and methodology to content strategy.

Content strategy isn't just a matter of writing. It's understanding all
the content -- which could include different media, or interactive,
user-generated content, or ways to manage it (content management
systems, for example). It's about setting out for your client a set of
clear decisions to make about content. Dynamic, or static? Who will
update it? How frequently?

It's a vital part of a user experience team, whether these roles are
played by a few people doing many things, or (like it was back in the
days of huge web app development) one person playing each role. Content
strategists should be working with people doing user research or
observation -- or can be one of the people involved in this activity --
because they will see aspects of media and cues for the language, tone,
style, and functional needs of users. A content strategist works hand
in hand with an information architect to flesh out the information, and
should have some input into how it's organized. She also works with a
UI designer to determine how best to handle material on a screen by
screen basis. How much room is there? How do the pages flow? The
content strategist can ensure that the content best fits the page
structure, and set out guidelines so that it can be updated without
breaking the work the users have done.

There's an important connection between content strategy and
developers, especially in developing and deploying content management
systems. I also argue that user research is vital as well: you need to
know what's going on within a corporate culture, how people interact,
how they share and use information, and what information they share and
use. Otherwise? It's a big, technical investment that doesn't serve
people's needs, and that people may not use. (This goes with intranets
and internal applications).

And ... there is still copy writing, editing, copy editing, all those
good things. We've known for a while (in advertising models especially)
the important role these play.

So in sum... there is a lot more to content strategy than writing. It's
a vital skillset to bring to a team.

Ciao,
Molly

On Apr 28, 2004, at 12:37 AM, Cindy Alvarez wrote:

> Andrei writes:
> bloggers/designers themselves doing not only their
>> own visual work, but the IA work *and* the coding behind their blogs.
>> (I'm still catching up myself in this whole blog thing, having only
>> gotten started in late December of 2003.) For these designers to learn
>> the interaction piece as it applies to more robust applications is not
>> a far stretch, imho. Once they do, they'll have the skills in visual,
>> IA, interaction and base level coding. That's the new school of
>> interface design in my view.
>
> Interesting you should mention bloggers, because I am increasingly
> convinced of the value of adding excellent writing skills to the pool
> of
> interaction design breadth.
>
> Not necessarily in terms of writing an essay, but rather to take
> ownership
> of inline help text, error messages, and labels. I'd be curious to
> know
> if my experiences are unique, but I have found myself time and time
> again
> working with companies where "copy-writing" is shuffled off to a
> department entirely separate from the interaction/visual design
> studios,
> where it is clear that the copywriters have shallow to no knowledge of
> the
> site or application they are writing copy for.
>
> I do a lot of suggested copy revisions (which, thankfully, are usually
> implemented instead of the original inappropriate or confusing text),
> but
> am surprised that this practice continues. Maybe I am just seeing
> particularly poor implementers of this process?
>
> I am curious - how many of you write or contribute to your own inline
> messaging/error messages? If not, do you find the separate of tasks
> to
> work well?
>
> Cindy Alvarez
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Comments

28 Apr 2004 - 8:33am
Carrie Ritch
2003

Andrei writes:
> Interesting you should mention bloggers, because I am increasingly
> convinced of the value of adding excellent writing skills to the pool
> of interaction design breadth.
>
> Not necessarily in terms of writing an essay, but rather to take
> ownership of inline help text, error messages, and labels. I'd be curious
to
> know if my experiences are unique, but I have found myself time and time
> again working with companies where "copy-writing" is shuffled off to a
> department entirely separate from the interaction/visual design
> studios, where it is clear that the copywriters have shallow to no
knowledge of
> the site or application they are writing copy for.

Working in a small web development company I do not have access to technical
or copy writers so I do write most of the inline help and error messages.

37signals had a great resource on their site called Design Not Found
containing collections of good and bad examples of error and help messages.
You can't access the library of examples anymore, which is too bad, because
they've just recently turned it into a book - "Defensive Design for the Web:
How To Improve Error Messages, Help, Forms, and Other Crisis Points."
http://www.37signals.com/book/

Good writing skills are also needed for writing requirements, specs,
annotating wireframes and anything else used to communicate a solution.

carrie

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