IXD301 Week 8 Content Strategy, Design and User Personas

Content Strategy

This week we covered content strategy, user personas and user scenarios. There was a large focus on content strategy so I decided to read more around the topic by looking at The Elements of Content Strategy by Erin Krissane.

Image of the elements of content strategy

Basic Principles

Chapter one deals with the basic principles of content strategy. It highlights what makes content good. Subheadings include good content is appropriate, useful, user-centred, clear, consistent, concise and supported.

To make content appropriate you have to consider your business, your user, its context, its delivery method, its style and structure and most importantly its substance.

To make appropriate content for your user you need to provide them with appropriate content at an appropriate time. This means getting an understanding of user context.

The user’s context diagramMeaningful analysis of a user’s context means understanding the users’ goals and behaviours: What are they doing? How are they feeling? What are they capable of? This is presented in the above diagram.

When considering useful content it’s important to be specific about what you’re writing about and why you’re writing it. Producing something to sell products or even a specific product is too vague. While listing and demonstrating the benefits of a product is a far more specified and valuable approach. An even better approach may be showing how a product helps a very specific target audience e.g. nurses, students a specific vulnerable group.

Creating user-centred content is all about tapping into your users mental model, not the clients. This means drawing from the user’s vocabulary and cognitive framework. This means staying away from any narcissistic content designed filled with jargon and designed for internal use.

I principle that I found particularly insightful is that good content is concise. In this section, a distinguishment is made between publishing everything we can and publishing everything we’ve learned that our users really need. This for me is a very important insight that I did not have any understanding of previously. During my time at a marketing company, I often wondered why some campaigns were successful and some weren’t. I now feel quite strongly that the reason that despite a strong effort and plenty of content being produced for the client this was something that was being missed. The content was being produced around the needs and desire of the client, not the user and the focus was on quantity, not holding off to ensure that what was being produced was actually tailored to the needs of the user. I have, therefore, learned from first-hand experience that this is an incredibly important consideration when creating a content strategy and something I am excited to get started on and see the results that follow.

The Craft of a Content Strategy

As there are multiple disciplines that deal with content production there can be misconceptions around where content strategy and production finds its roots. The four primary areas presented on this page are editorial work, curatorial work, marketing and persuasion, and information science.

Editorial Work

What jumped out to me in this section is the importance of storytelling from an editorial stance. Telling stories is very important and is how we think and teach and connect as people. A firmer grasp of effective storytelling is provided here through three techniques: the inverted pyramid, 5 Ws and an H and Show don’t tell.

The inverted pyramid is the structure of a classic new story and promotes telling the important information first. That is information that is important to the reader. This is followed by less important information.

Image of post-it notes with 5 Ws and an H

5 W’s and an H outline what writers need to explain in every story. When applied to a product this might be “who it’s made for, why the intended audience should buy it, how it works, and when and where you can get it.”

Show, don’t tell emphasises the importance of providing evidence that your business or product works rather than describing how wonderful it is. This means focusing on results, statistics, case studies, personal narratives, and demonstrations of action.

Curatorial Work

A curator is “the officer in charge of a museum, gallery of art, library, or the like; a keeper, custodian”. They not only select, organise and manage priceless objects they also work to maintain the integrity of the pieces. Dan Zambonini puts it like this:

“these museum and gallery curators care for—rather than merely about—their collections.”

To ensure the items are cared for and about in the above-stated manner curators use meticulous processes for accepting, describing, and tracking the items. This is an approach that content strategists must adopt as well to ensure the quality of the content is maintained and no important aspects of the content are lost. This means incorporating orderly content-documentation processes in large projects as well as taxonomies and metadata as these prevent important information from being missed. This is done by recording the following:

  • Important information about content sources and types
  • When and why content is added or revised (consider ongoing revision and the larger communication strategy)
  • Tracking and reusing content resources (consider processes, reporting, analysis, and publishing tools required)
  • Using analytics and tools to understand assets being underused.

By applying the curatorial approach to long-term content management you can help to avoid a lot of problems showing up later in the production process by catching problems earlier on and developing new, well-evidenced content strategies to meet the needs of users. While I am only working on smaller individual projects currently I am sure this is an area most companies are striving to perfect and would therefore love to incorporate some of the documentation processes in my own work to gain some first-hand experience before moving into placement.

Marketing and persuasion

The aim of marketing is to persuade people to buy new products being brought to the market. Therefore marketing techniques are taken from rhetoric. Rhetoric is the “practice of writing or speaking to persuade”

Aristotle determined there to be three kinds of rhetoric. These are

  • The logos (rational argument) i.e evidence-based persuasion.
  • The pathos (emotional appeal) i.e. emotion-based persuasion.
  • The ethos (appeal based on reputation or character) i.e. trust is established by the individuals track record in an area.

The above principles of rhetoric are described by Krissane as being embedded in our culture of communication. Marketers use this by combining what they need to say with rhetorical approaches, i.e how they say it. An example of this is provided in the table below.

Image of table with the three major kinds of rhetorical appeal as applied to hypothetical client situations

This provides very clear examples of how rhetorical approaches can be used to promote core ideas/ the unique selling points of a business or product. This can even be applied to my own services as a designer particularly if I plan to progress into freelance work or develop my own product.

Information science

Information architecture derives its basis from information science. The following three areas of information science are included in this section:

  • information architecture
  • content-management
  • cross-training

Information architecture

This is the design of structures for information and includes navigational structures and content taxonomies. Information architecture should be employed to help users find what they’re looking for and complete tasks. To create an effective information architecture the development of items such as wireframes, site maps, page diagrams, user flows and user research can be incredibly helpful. Time taken on areas such as user research can then be used to inform user personas.

Content Management

Content management is an important role that must be carried out by a person however it is helped vastly by content management systems (CMS). While people who deal with content management do use systems, as outlined by Krissane they also:

  • Develop CMS requirements
  • Define information workflows
  • Deal with version control
  • Manage the preservation of information (archiving and backup)
  • Implement and optimize site-search tools and processes
  • Define and maintain taxonomies, tagging systems, and metadata

This is a job that is taken on by people in a variety of roles. The importance of this area is clear and how it feeds into a UX designers role is also abundantly clear to me. Even while working on small individual projects I can see the importance of content management and the point has been further emphasised above in the content-documentation processes that should be considered in the role of content strategist.

Cross-training

This section looks at the importance of inter-disciplinary approaches and involvement in content strategy. This means that content strategists need to understand, even in part, visual design, accessibility and special access requirements, making content discoverable etc.

Tools and techniques

There are loads of amazing tools and techniques that help with content strategy in this chapter. Here i will look at a few that jumped out at me.

I fount the section on the things we make particularly valuable. A long list of deliverables are provided at this stage that might be carried out while creating a content strategy. To name only a few these included:

  • Accessibility guidelines
  • Competitive analyses
  • Taxonomies
  • Usability tests
  • User personas
  • User research findings
  • User research plans
  • User scenarios
  • Wireframes
  • Workflow recommendations

Above are some of my topped ranked approaches for attempting in my own content strategy for my elements app. This is something that I will need to think strategically about when moving to future projects as stated by Krissane when you get comfortable creating certain deliverables you tend to reuse them whether they are best suited to a project or not. This is definitely something to keep in mind in future projects.

User Personas

Image of Alan Cooper

User Personas were invented by Alan Cooper and are presented by Cooper as a way of summarising the key attributes of different user groups. Their purpose was to help avoid designing for an ‘elastic’ user. That is a target user base that changes with the changing beliefs and ideas held by the designer/ design team.

and first described in his book, ‘The Inmates are Running the Asylum’. Cooper presented them as a way of summarising the key attributes of different user groups. Their purpose, he said, is to avoid designing for an ‘elastic’ user: a design target that bends and stretches according to the whims of the design team.

“Developing for the elastic user gives the developer license to code as he pleases while paying lip-service to ‘the user’. Real users are not elastic.” — Alan Cooper (1999)

This provides a context for why user personas are important but what is a user persona? An article on Just in Mind suggests this.

“A user persona is an archetype or character that represents a potential user of a product.”

This help design teams to create their designs focusing on the needs of the user. User personas have been around since the mid-1990s in marketing however they are now an important part of user experience research. User personas are used by UX researchers and designers to put the data, goals and frustrations they have gathered about and from users into context. Creating user personas can also be an effective way of scoping out the range of users.

User persona example

I have included what I felt was a good example of a user persona above. It is advised that the following be included in a user persona:

  • Persona name
  • Photo
  • Demographics (gender, age, location, marital status, family)
  • Goals and needs
  • Frustrations (or “pain points”)
  • Behaviours
  • Bits of personality (e.g. a quote or slogan that captures the personality)

It is also suggested in the Just in Mind article on the topic that adding user personas to the design process helps promote learning about the goals and needs of the user and can provide a designers checklist.

 

User Scenarios

image- creating a user scenario

 

 

“A user scenario is a situation that captures how users perform tasks on your site or app.”

User scenarios describe the user’s motivation for using a product this will include their task, goal or question they need an answer for. It then suggests possible ways to accomplish the previously mentioned objectives. It is a development of the user story. User scenarios can also be helpful in presenting a context for the intended user experience which is particularly helpful when presenting to stakeholders.

One way to go about writing a user scenario is, to begin with, scenario mapping, an example of this is provided above. This can be particularly helpful when multiple teams and team members are involved as it allows them to change ideas and create strategies. These should be based on the target users as established by the user personas. The aim of the scenario is to define a key task that the user is trying to achieve. The goals are then put into context by adding a description of the steps taken by the user.

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