The content-first approach: How to get a competitive edge through great UX
- Steven Shukor
Don’t take it personally but most people aren’t interested in you or your organisation. Online, they’re only interested in what you can do for them.
- Can you answer my question?
- Can you help me complete my task?
- Can you entertain me?
In other words, they’re looking for content.
But the web is a crowded place. To stand out, you need to create the right content for the right people on the right device.
Easier said than done. As any content specialist will tell you, content is arguably the hardest thing to get right.
But by starting with content, you’ll increase your chances of creating stuff people really want.
What is content first design?
As the name suggests, it’s about starting your design projects with content. It’s about planning the content you’ll need before designing a single pixel.
Content is more than just words. It’s images, videos, online forms, quizzes, chatbots, graphs – even microcopy.
The content-first approach forces you to consider some key questions at the outset:
- Who’s my audience?
- What are they interested in?
- What information do they want?
- What devices do they use?
These are not easy questions to answer. Some will be assumptions that need testing with users. But they are best answered upfront before you commit stuff to code.
How to do content-first design
The way we do it at Nomensa is to plan content so that it’s ready to be served on different devices.
That includes smartwatches, chatbots, digital voice assistants and even interfaces that have yet to be invented.
We’ve done this for many organisations including the Met Office, Visit Wales, the Argyll Club and UCAS.
The idea is to get the right information to the right people on the right device.
We do this by separating content from presentation. This means content is not tied to a specific template for a specific device.
This gives content much more flexibility.
What is structured content?
Structured content is content that’s been broken down into small pieces of information called content chunks.
Content chunks give you the freedom to assemble your content any way you want - a bit like Lego bricks.
By starting with content, you can plan your content chunks upfront so you can build-in the flexibility you want.
What is a domain model?
A domain model is a map of a subject - a visual representation of the things people are interested in within a specific subject.
For example, with Rightmove the subject area is property. With IMDb, it’s movies. With Spotify, it’s music. And so on.
The domain model captures the language people use to describe things and the relationships between these things.
It’s not a map of a website. It’s a map of a subject. It helps to build a shared understanding of the project among your team.
Once you’ve got your domain model, you’re ready to start planning your content by creating a content model.
What is a content model?
A content model is a map of the types of content you want to create and the relationships between them.
If you’re creating a website to sell bathroom products, this is where you need to decide:
- What information you’ll need on every product page, like a title, image, price and description
- How you’ll link between, say bathtubs and taps and other related accessories
- If you want FAQ pages for things like orders, returns and buying guides
- If you want a blog section to offer bathroom inspiration
- As with the domain model, try to get everyone back in the room to fine tune the content model.
Mapping encourages team participation but at some point you’ll need to capture the content model’s requirements in a detailed spreadsheet.
Our friends at GatherContent have produced a template for you to document the requirements outlined in your content model.
The content model is a foundational document - a stable point of reference to guide teams through the often choppy waters of a project.
Benefits of content-first design
With a content-first approach everyone benefits, including:
- Stakeholders: you’ve used their subject matter expertise to help shape the project. They feel invested.
- The delivery team: content designers, visual designers and developers have a shared understanding of the project.
- The business: your content chunks reach more people with more relevant content than ever before.
Ultimately, the content-first approach benefits the user. You’re creating content they want and connecting it in a way that makes it easier to find, browse and share.
Can we help with your next content-based project? Give us a call on +44 (0) 117 929 7333 to start the conversation.
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