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Building a Structured Author Experience

At this year’s CS Forum in Melbourne, Rachel Lovinger gave a brilliant talk about 10 (well, 8) things she has learned in 10 years as a content strategist. It inspired me to consider what we know as content strategists, as compared to what our users (particularly the editorials teams) know.

Rachel stressed the importance of author experience, explaining how necessary structured content is, in order to have easily findable, and thus usable content. She went over the basics of structured content, reminding us that it needs to:

  • Be stored separately from any display infrmation
  • Have content types identified
  • Be stored in discrete, manageable chunks

All of this is very important to us, as content strategists. But I suddenly remembered a client who told me how frustrated she was to work with Oracle, where she needed to build “links” and “assets” that could then be pulled into “sections” that could then be pulled into “pages.”

Our authors don’t care if their content is structured. Continue Reading

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Communicating via Horn

I was biking with a friend over the summer, on a back road with no traffic. We took advantage of the empty road, biking side by side in the lane – according to Massachusetts state law, on roads without a bike lane we are able to take up the full lane, but we wouldn’t typically do that at a busier time of day, out of safety concerns.

As we came back towards a more populated area, we stopped at a stop light. Suddenly, as a car approached us from behind, there was a loud, angry HONK. We both jumped, and quickly moved to the side, feeling that mix of shame and defensiveness that comes from being honked at. But as the driver passed, she waved to us in a friendly way. Her honk had only meant to let us know she was there, not intending to reprimand us for being in the road. Continue Reading

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Transitioning to UX

One of the best questions to get to know a fellow UX-er is “what was your major?” The answers are often unexpected, and tell you more about the person you’re speaking with, as well as more about the field of UX.

My answer, of course, is theater. For most people, this sounds like the exception to the rule. But there is no content strategy major. Not even a major that “most” content strategists studied in college.

Everyone finds their own way to UX. My story is just one example, one possible journey. Continue Reading

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No New Stories

“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

― Mark Twain

Every so often we hear this fear, or this realization: there are no new stories. It’s true, perhaps, but that doesn’t mean there’s no place for storytelling. The next time a client (or your team) is worrying about what new “original” content they can provide for their customers, point them this way. Continue Reading

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There’s no Wrong Way to Convey Information (except when there is)

Videos, infographics, articles, Facebook posts… we have so many ways to share information at this point. I firmly believe that the medium, channel, and content type should be determined by the user’s needs or behaviors. For example, emails are likely to be more successful than video when the user is likely to be in an office. This is more informative than making decisions based on stakeholder interests. With that in mind, I’ve written before about the value of steering clear of “let’s make videos” and instead thinking “let’s explain how to build a treehouse” and then choosing the best method for conveying that information.

Similarly, when focusing on UI, there are numerous interactions we can choose from. Our job as user experience practitioners and content strategists is to find, test, and finesse the best content medium or interaction to convey the information.

But sometimes there’s more than one two best way to convey something. What do you do then? Continue Reading

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How to Write Useful UX Articles

As the managing editor at UX Booth, I see a lot of article submissions. Over the years, I’ve started to get a sense for whether or not an article will be relevant and valuable for UX practitioners. Only it’s not “a sense.” It’s actually an observation of patterns, and one I apply to articles I find and personally read in addition to those we publish on UX Booth.

With that in mind, here’s a quick list of tips for how to write compelling and useful articles for the UX community. While this article is by no means comprehensive, it is a guide I hope will be handy and perhaps amusing – and if I’m lucky, fellow authors will find it both relevant and valuable. Continue Reading

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What Goes in a Content Style Guide?

A true style guide should include not only the visual brand elements, but the content guidelines. Since the voice represents the brand, content guidelines are a key component to any style guide. Last year, I recommended some of the content strategy deliverables that should find their way into a style guide to help both designers and content creators create their own guides.

I’ve since observed more and more style guides that get crammed with information, only to sit on the figurative shelf, unseen and unused. While this sometimes comes down to a lack of governance or undefined workflow, it’s also sometimes the fault of the guide creator. We put so much in the style guide, it becomes unusable.

With that in mind, how do you decide what goes into the style guide? Continue Reading

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Live from CSForum: Content Modeling

Content Modeling: Make Content Smarter, by Angus Gordon

Take a look at the Facebook fields for creating an account. There are fields, one for each content piece. This is different from if they just provided a giant field for everything. If they did that, they would still collect the information, but it would be far harder for them to then use that information to deliver content related to your users, connect you to other similar users, know when your birthday is, etc.

All those things are structured content.

  • Structured content is chunks - breaking down content into components
  • Structured content is constrained – formatted, with set allowed values, sizes, character counts, etc Continue Reading
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Live from CSForum: 10 things I learned in 10 years as a Content Strategist

10 things I learned in 10 years as a Content Strategist, by Rachel Lovinger

  1. Everything is content. It’s not just copy, it’s metadata, and medium. “The Medium is the Message” – Marshall McLuhan It’s the IA, the breakdown, etc.
  2. Content is communication. Traditional media was a broadcast communication model. You just hope the message was received. In digital media, there’s more flow. We share media, they respond. It’s multidirectional communication.
  3. Content strategy is concerned with content systems. “Content strategy is to writing as IA is to design” – that’s useful to those of us who understand it. For everyone else, content strategists build a framework for everyone to be able to work with content.
  4. Author experience is critical to content strategy. Authors are internal users, but we still need to think about them. If we don’t, the content won’t (can’t) be maintained. We need to give them intuitive tools that they will understand.
  5. Content needs to be structured. Display information needs to be separate from content types and attributes.
  6. Intelligent content needs metadata. There are 2 distinct focuses within content strategy: front end, and back end. What makes it content strategy (and not just publishing) is that content decisions are tied to bigger strategic initiatives and measurable goals.
  7. Content strategy isn’t a practice, it’s a methodology. You might work in science, but you’re a specific type of science. Similarly, there are all sorts of jobs/roles that use content strategy.
  8. We’re still young. There’s a lot of uncharted territory – we need people who can do all of the many things.