Friday, June 27, 2008

Death to Lorem Ipsum & Other Adventures in Content

A discussion on the importance and use of content ...

"I feel sorry for the poor, poor words that no one wants to take responsibility for. And I feel especially sorry for site users who end up with a terrible experience because, after all the money was spent on UX strategy and interface design, the content still ended up sucking. — Kristina Halvorson

In May 2008, Kristina Halvorson from Brain Traffic spoke at Adaptive Path’s Queens of Content event. Her presentation “Content Strategy: The Mania, the Myth, the Method” shed light on current perceptions of content strategy in user experience, and provided great fodder for further exploration. I was particularly intrigued by what Kristina had to say, because while I agreed with the overarching message, I felt compelled to debate some of the finer points.

Kristina agreed to push the thinking further with a discussion about content, UX teams, and how the relationships can be strengthened to create experiences and projects that really sing. The resulting conversation start with content basics and closes with a bold challenge.

Kate Rutter [KR]: Hi, Kristina. Let’s start with what you ended with in your talk at Adaptive Path. This was my takeaway: user experience teams hold the charter to deliver great experiences, but bringing in “content” at the end-game undercuts the positive experiences that are delivered. It’s as if the movie poster is great, the trailer is thrilling, but when it comes to opening night, everyone is looking around asking “where’s the film?” How can we work together to change this?

Kristina Halvorson [KH]: To begin, let’s reframe this a bit. I think the point here is that, by waiting until the UX process is essentially finished to start really talking about the content, we’re not allocating appropriate time and resources for what can ultimately make or break the planned/designed “positive experience.”

KR: How do you define or describe “content”?

KH: Content includes the text, graphics, video, and audio that make up an interactive experience. Now, I’ll say right off that bat that the majority of content we’re asked to gather, write, and edit at Brain Traffic is text. This sounds simple enough, until you stop to consider that the required content for nearly every interactive experience includes not just headlines and articles but also help and support text, interface copy, product or service descriptions, menu nomenclature, text links, metadata, image captions, error messages, alt tags — you get the idea. Once you start to add up all the writing requirements for any interactive project, it can get really overwhelming, really fast.

KR: Yeah, that’s a lot of stuff. I’ve heard you say that content is everyone’s concern. But as we all know, when everyone is responsible, it often turns out that no one is responsible. And it sounds like many UE initiatives suffer from this problem.

So what roles are appropriate for being the standard-bearers for content? Who are these people and what skills do they need?

KH: First and foremost, all parties focused specifically on delivering the content — content strategists, Web editors, Web writers, and content QA folks — absolutely, positively must share the end goal of a superior user experience. This is a huge paradigm shift for most writers, who are used to writing about what WE do, how WE can help you, what WE have to offer. Yeah, well, nobody cares. All the user cares about is, of course, “What’s in it for ME? What can you do for ME? How can you help ME? What do you have to offer ME?”

So, at the highest level, these “standard-bearers” must understand the importance of UXD and be well-versed in the language, methodology, and documentation that accompanies the process."    (Continued via adaptive path, Kate Rutter)    [Usability Resources]

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