Product creation has become a much-studied and optimised science nowadays. From ideation to prototyping to design and development cycles, aided by oodles of iterative testing, Product Managers and Engineering teams work in Agile sprints and deliver feature releases in regular cycles.
UX is an important part of this process. With features across competitive products being near-identical, understanding what the user needs, and designing all the touch points and interfaces so that the overall experience is engaging and sticky, has never been as important as it is today.
Part of creating a meaningful experience lies in the content. It’s not enough to design beautiful screens and intuitive navigation. It’s also important to get the content right. One of the earliest proponents of great content said:
..and we couldn’t agree more!
Unless they’ve created content previously, many product designers start off with an incomplete understanding of content and are satisfied with covering the superficial aspects in projects. These are worth reviewing:
Style: Formal? Informal? Something in between? It depends on product usage, user demographics, user intent with the product and users’ needs that are fulfilled by the product. For example, while designing informational content for a medtech product for patients in a hospital setting, the language has to be very direct and succinct, aided by simple images and icons. There is no space for ambiguity.
Geography: Content style and language varies from country to country as well. European and UK products and sites may prefer a more formal tone to an American site that may be informal. Of course, the usage of the same language varies wildly when products cross the Atlantic Ocean!
PIC: Timetable vs. Schedule: Nuances that Make for Sticky Product Experiences
Translation and localisation: Just 20% of the world speaks English. Sooner or later, as a designer, you will come across projects that require translation to other languages that 80% of the globe speaks. Localisation – adapting a product or service to the desired local ‘look and feel’ and culture – is a layer beyond translation.
As apparent, these facets are necessary, but nowhere near sufficient. In fact, they only scratch the surface for getting it right with content.
The opposite of good content is…product failure!
Somewhere down the line, the content needs of a product rapidly spiral out into a separate project of its own, requiring a content strategist, or even a team of strategists, depending on the project size. Many a time, this need is ignored at the start. “Content writers” are pulled in to write web page or help content towards the end. This can be a huge problem that is fixed with band aids – trying to retrofit poorly prioritised or categorised content into ill-designed sitemaps; using incomplete requirements to understand the user persona; or building help systems without comprehending the product. Hastily written content with little or no editing and proofreading can hurt the brand, forget helping as it was meant to. Any or all of these misfires can contribute to the failure of the project.
What a Content Strategist Does
A content strategist does not just write content. The strategist is involved in every phase of experience design, from requirements gathering, information architecture, branding, governance, marketing, post-sales customer support and more – virtually every step of the product lifecycle from cradle to grave requires the thoughtful creation of relevant content. She prioritizes content, categorises it into buckets based on user needs, audits old or current content, plans for writing new content, designs content structure and finally curates, summarizes, writes, edits and publishes it.
Indisputably, the content strategist role needs representation at the design table from Day 1. She can also be an important bridge between the UX, engineering and business teams – ergo, in many cases, the Product Manager may start off as the Chief Content Strategist before building a team as necessary.
As the depiction above illustrates, different kinds of content are critical for different functions and different phases of the product life cycle. Indeed, with content nowadays being overloaded with meanings to include imagery and video, the scope of engaging content that enables product success has enlarged even more.
We’ll describe the content listed in each category above in subsequent blogs. For now, we leave you with another quote to ponder on:
If you’re embarking on product design, do it right and invite a content strategist over from Day 1. We can recommend a good content strategist or two.