I went on a content design course run by Content Design London. It was good and I felt inspired. But I felt my colleagues, many of whom do not have ‘content’ in their job title, but still write content for our website, would really have benefited from the course more than me.
I decided that I could at least use my notes to write an FAQ for them about content design.
This is of course a hilarious joke, because nobody in their right mind would publish an FAQ on a website! Or would they?
What is ‘content design’?
- It’s using data to give your audience all the information they need and nothing they don’t.
- It’s writing in a way the user expects to be written to.
- It leads the user to carry out a useful action.
Who does good content design?
Content design is said to have its origins at Gov.uk. They transformed the many government websites into a single digital platform that worked for their users, the entire British population. We will come back to them in a little while.
Give us an example of heinous content design
Pour yourself a drink, lean closer and hear the inspiring story of a UK charity’s decision to delete its most-visited page. The story is about vanity metrics; why we should look beyond the numbers of pageviews a website page gets. There’s a happy ending.
Loads of people were landing on the Citizens Advice Bureau’s ‘Basic rights at work’ page from Google. But the Google searches that got them there were for specific problems. These phrases were mentioned (briefly) on the page, but they were not solved.
Most users landed on the page and immediately left.
There are some pages on the website I work on whose ears are burning at this point.
The Citizens Advice Bureau deleted the page and wrote a blog about it.
How did the Citizens Advice Bureau replace their most popular page?
Not completely sure, but it was probably something along the lines of how Gov.uk designs pages.
Look at this page on a specific type of government benefit from Gov.uk. It’s great. It tells you in simple terms what child benefit is and how to apply for it.
Now look at this page. Gov.uk publishes an ‘Info’ page like this on many of its pages. You just put /info/ in the url after the ‘uk’. The info page shows some page statistics, including what users went on to search for after looking at this page. Pretty cool. Even more interestingly, if you scroll down, the info page shows why the page exists:
- The user need, expressed in the formula: ‘As a <type of user>, I need to [what does the user want to do?] so that [why does the user want to do this?]’
- The acceptance criteria: ‘The need is met when the user…’
- The justification for publishing the content: ‘This need is in proposition because…’
The info page exists as a quick reference for content producers coming to the page maybe 5 years later when everybody else has moved on and set up agencies about designing content. The new content producer can see why the page exists, and some top line usage stats before getting to work.
So are you actually going to change the way you work?
I’m particularly taken with the publishing of acceptance criteria on website pages.
Acceptance criteria exist so that you know when the work you are doing is finished. But they are great for other reasons, such as:
- They help whoever is developing the content to get a firm grasp of what they want in their mind before work starts.
- You can refer back to acceptance criteria later in the process to prevent ‘scope creep’.
My plan is to introduce acceptance criteria to my colleagues. And how can they refuse? Before you start a project, you should know what the definition of done is. There is no logical argument against it.