UX Designers Should Be Content Strategists Too
By Callie Myers
So, content strategy is pretty hot right now. There’s a lot of chatter on the interwebs about it, clients are beginning to ask for it specifically, and people are adding it to their LinkedIn profiles. And here in The Nerdery UX department, we are loving it. Anything to further the understanding of thoughtful and user-centric interactive design, right? Right.
Most recently, before content strategy, “UX” (user experience) and "CX" (customer experience) was getting all the buzz attention, and “information architecture” before that, and many, many more jargon terms before that. “Interaction design” is in there somewhere. But, you see, the thing is...all of these things...they’re kinda the same thing.
Let me clarify: If we, as UX designers, are providing complete UX solutions and setting our clients up to successfully manage their site or application moving forward, then we are providing some form of information architecture, interaction design and content strategy together.
Let’s take a moment to look at each UX discipline on its own.
Content Strategy (CS) determines what content is useful to have on the site and how it should be presented. What information do our users need to find on the site? When will they need these pieces of information? What else will they be doing at that time? Answers to these questions will help us determine what format might be most useful for the information to take and where it will be presented, which has a direct impact on IA and IxD decisions.
Information Architecture (IA) focuses on bringing organization to a pile of things: information, content, features, pages, etc. We must first identify all of the things going into a project and understand what they are, what value they provide, and how they are related before we go about organizing them. Through organizing all of the components going into a project, we begin to establish meaning around them for our users. So, of course, we also need to understand how our users understand the things being added to a webpage, an App, or software interface. How will they be exploring these things, in what order and why? What will they need to do with the things (content, buttons, dropdowns, images, audio, etc.) once they find them? In answering these questions, we begin to effect some of the interaction design and content strategy decisions.
Interaction Design (IxD) establishes user pathways and designs the functional elements that will help users complete tasks. In order to do this effectively, we must understand what tasks our users need to complete, and what information they will need in order to complete those tasks. How will users find and access the information they need? In answering these questions, the information architecture and content strategy decisions come into play.
We begin to see that useful content and interactions, presented in the right way at the right time, rely on all three UX disciplines working in tandem. On their own, each can offer some value but when considered together, they create a unique experience that serves specific user needs and business goals with an exact mix of content, structure, and interaction.
There’s something intangible about a well-crafted user experience that is almost impossible to describe. I’ve heard many terms for it - the wiz-bang, the special sauce, the magic layer, to name a few. Supporting user needs and business goals through a complete and succinct user experience has the power to achieve just about anything - to educate people, to bring people together around a common interest or value, to motivate people to take action, and to change behavior. It’s a big part of why I became a UX designer.
When I hear people say, “What about content strategy?” Do we need that?” the answer is always a resounding, “Yes.” But it’s not a separate line item, deliverable, or activity we do in a vacuum, it’s an important part of the larger UX solution we are crafting in combination with thoughtful IA and IxD. Everyone should be thinking about the role of content at every step in the process.
All of the disciplines related to UX have an integral part in almost every project. If you’d like to find out how development and content strategy are connected, check out Frost Simula’s post Does a Developer Need Content Strategy?