If you’re a content designer, or a UI designer who has to write content, it can be tempting to just jump straight in. But stepping back from the task in hand to remember the following principles, will make sure your content is effective and efficient.
As with any form of design, there needs to be a reason you’re creating this work. The fact that someone has asked you to produce something is not enough. You need to dig a little deeper. When content designers are brought in too late to a project there is often a lot of groundwork to do in order to catch up on what’s already been discovered. Here are some questions to help you understand the purpose, if you weren’t involved from the start:
- What is the issue or opportunity we’re trying to address?
- What do we want our user to think, feel or do?
- What research do we have to back this up?
- What will success look like?
- Has anything already been designed or tested?
- Are there any constraints we need to know about?
When designing content, we keep the purpose in our minds–not just from broader level, but at a micro level too. What do we want the user to do or feel when they click a call to action. What’s the purpose of a particular navigation label, or element of a page? The ‘why’ often defines the ‘how’.
Your content will sit with a user’s journey — no one accidentally lands on your content. Something has to happen before they see your content, and something will happen afterwards.
Take some time to understand the routes in and out to your content. Sketch them out. And if you can, look at the content your user will have seen before they get to your content.
You need to ensure brand consistency and consistency of message. For example, if the page prior to your content was conversational, it would be jarring for your content not to be. Or if you’re creating something to explain a log in process that sits elsewhere, are you explaining the process correctly?
Also think about the context your work will be consumed in. If you’re working on a mobile app for food delivery for example, it’s likely your user is multi-tasking while using it, and will need quick, clear navigation so they can complete their task as quickly as possible. User research will help you to understand the context more.
Content design means creating something that is functional and usable — for everyone. The format your content takes is vital.
You need to think about various abilities and reading levels, as well as considering the growing number of users who don’t have English as their first language.
Content doesn’t always have to be words or large chunks of copy. Think about diagrams or visuals. This is where working alongside a designer is so important.
If you do need copy, break it up with bullets, headers or subheaders, and keep it to small digestible chunks, and short sentences. Techniques such progressive disclosure (revealing information bit by bit, as and when it’s relevant) can really help.
Write in plain English, avoiding jargon at all costs. Don’t feel because you’re writing for an audience that you need to sound formal. Think about everyday words and stick to those; buy instead of purchase, continue instead of proceed. You get the idea.
Keep call to action labels simple — use verbs and not passive language.
For example, ‘Account area’ is passive. But ‘View your account’ is active.
You don’t always need to be active, but as a business it’s important to take accountability, and using the active voice is one way you can do that, for example ‘We’ve closed your account’, rather than ‘Your account’s been closed.’
It’s also important to be clear when a user needs to do something. ‘You’ll need to send us an email’ is much more instructional than ‘When we get an email’.
Users take in less than 30% of what they see on screen, so less is more when it comes to content.
Any content that isn’t relevant at the point of the journey should be removed. If you can replace copy with visuals then do so — this is where content and design collaboration really helps.
It’s also good to take out unnecessary words at a sentence level, and try to keep them below 25 words (which makes them easier to read).
Who are your target audience? Do you know how they speak–the kind of words and phrases they use?
Being relevant is about being human. It’s about creating a warm and friendly welcome, having a conversation, and providing the right information at the right time.
Conversational design can help to make sure you get the right content in the appropriate place, in an appropriate order. Start with a pen and paper, and note down the two way conversation you’d have with the user if you were imparting the information verbally.
Then look at the flow, and the order. This will help you chunk up your content into logical groups. It will also help you when creating the copy.
Now think about the relevant format for these users — is it voice UI, is it conversational UI, or perhaps it’s something more visual like a video. The format of your content can help shape your whole digital product experience.
Content designers shouldn’t create something, put it live and walk away.
Testing and iterating is an important part of the job–learning whether something works is the reason we prototype. And optimising live content is now part and parcel of working on digital products.
This means we need to be able to flex content, and not be afraid to redesign it for testing (A/B or multivariate tests) or to accommodate changes. The recent GDPR changes were a great test of how flexible content needs to be.
If you’re working on websites build in a modular template, you might also think about how you could flex your page layouts to change your message hierarchy or incorporate campaign messages.