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Keynote - Orchestrating Content41:25 with Sara Wachter-Boettcher
Templates, trainings, threats: I’ve tried everything to get content from clients and colleagues sooner—and mobile hasn’t made things easier. Instead of planning pages, now we’re asking stakeholders to prioritize and manage a million bits of modular content. So how do we keep our subject-matter experts from feeling overwhelmed, prevent carousel-obsessed executives from endless homepage arguments, and get the content we need to make design and development decisions? The answer is in using content strategy as a means to orchestrate, not dictate. Orchestra conductors don’t control all the instruments or the people playing them. Instead, they: 1. Unify performers: Learn how to get your ensemble cast of content producers rallied around shared priorities and goals from the start—and see how understanding their politics and processes can improve every aspect of the project, not just content. 2. Listen and adjust: Having a great ear will help you hear problems sooner, so you can better allocate time and resources to the areas that will most shape the content’s overall quality. 3: Keep the tempo: It’s hard to focus on the notes in front of you and think about where the song is heading. Learn to help your players stay focused on the details, while showing them how their part helps the whole piece come together. Best of all, you don’t have to be a content expert to be your project’s conductor. In this talk, you’ll hear what you can do—yes, you—to bring harmony to the content process.
My name is Sara Wachter Boettcher and I run a content strategy consultancy 0:00 which would explain why I'm going to talk to you today about orchestrating content. 0:04 Now, I gotta admit, I actually feel a bit presumptuous opening up The Future of 0:09 Web Design talking about content, because content's kind of a mess. 0:14 And it's kind of a pain. 0:20 And it's probably not the number one thing to get everybody excited 0:23 about in the morning. 0:26 So instead maybe I thought we could start with something a little bit more 0:28 interesting, which is me talking about ways that I screwed up. 0:32 Which is usually a lot more enjoyable. 0:36 So this story starts out in the state of Arizona, where I lived for some time. 0:38 And when I lived in the state of Arizona I worked 0:43 with the Arizona Office of Tourism for a number of years. 0:46 I was working at an agency and we were redoing their website and 0:50 all of these things, 0:53 and so during this time, I had spent a lot of energy helping them with their content. 0:53 They were a state agency. 0:59 But their charge was to communicate with the public, 1:01 with people like you, about visiting Arizona as tourists. 1:04 About taking a trip to the Grand Canyon or, like, going on a cowboy ranch tour, 1:07 whatever it is that you wanted to do in the Grand Canyon State. 1:11 And so they had this website that a couple million people would visit every month 1:14 that was just bureaucratic, and hard to understand, and 1:19 written like state government tends to write things. 1:23 And it was not the best representation of actually visiting the state of Arizona. 1:26 It was not the best representation of what you could actually see and do there. 1:29 So I spent all of this time working with them, right, 1:34 like I was really digging in and I was helping them re-imagine what it meant for 1:36 them to communicate on their site. 1:39 And help them think about their audience and write in ways that will human and 1:41 compelling. 1:44 And think about they could be more visual in what they were communicating and 1:45 all of this stuff, right? 1:48 So I was working on this for a really long time. 1:50 And then back in around 2010 somebody finally goes, 1:52 what are we gonna do about mobile? 1:55 I didn't say that. 2:01 In fact, I don't even think I went to the meeting that came out of that. 2:03 Because I didn't really see that as being my job. 2:07 I was like, I'm working on the content, they're off having a technical 2:09 conversation, I don't know that that really applies to me. 2:12 Hm? 2:15 I didn't know that it applied to me until I saw what they ended up with. 2:16 This is the first mobile site that they had, and 2:21 this is the site that was actually built by a company that, built it for 2:23 free in exchange for them being able to run some advertising on it. 2:26 Probably wasn't the best situation all around. 2:30 But I got to this site, and I looked at it, and 2:33 I thought, you know, I live in Arizona. 2:37 I don't know what these regions mean. 2:42 I mean, Arizona is a land-locked state. 2:45 What the hell is Arizona's West Coast? 2:50 >> [LAUGH] >> I don't, what do you, what? 2:52 And I would look at that, and I would think, okay, I don't really get this. 2:57 I don't really understand these regions. 3:00 I guarantee that the people we have coming to this site, 3:03 the people who are trying to plan a trip to Arizona as tourists, 3:06 they don't know what Arizona's West Coast is either. 3:09 So, I started digging in a little deeper and 3:12 I started thinking, okay well let's say that you could figure out that you were 3:15 gonna go to the Grand Canyon, which is where a huge percentage of people go. 3:18 It's a lovely place, I recommend it. 3:22 But you were gonna go to the Grand Canyon. 3:24 And you figured out that the Grand Canyon was in Northern Arizona. 3:26 So you went to Northern Arizona and you said, you know, I'm gonna be driving 3:28 through Flagstaff on my way to Northern Arizona looks like on this map here. 3:33 Let's see what's in Flagstaff. 3:37 And you would actually get to the section about Flagstaff and 3:38 you would go okay well, it'll be dinner time, maybe we should stop for dinner. 3:41 You click on that little restaurant listing, you would end up like this. 3:46 I didn't skip a step. 3:50 This is all you would get. 3:51 Little America's Western Gold Dining Room. 3:53 And I looked at this and I thought, really? 3:56 Really? 3:59 This isn't the Flagstaff that I know. 4:00 Cuz this is the Flagstaff I know. 4:03 This is the San Francisco Peaks. 4:05 They're like 9,000 feet and covered in snow all the time, and gorgeous, 4:06 and all around the city. 4:09 It's also this historic downtown that's full of little shops and 4:12 restaurants and historic hotels. 4:14 It's right on Route 66 so it's like just, like classic Americana. 4:16 It's an interesting place. 4:21 It's a weird place. 4:22 And there's lots of stuff going on there. 4:25 And not only that, but I knew this content, right, 4:28 because I'd worked on this for like, two years already. 4:30 And I knew that we had all of this content, 4:33 that it existed, I could imagine it, that was about Flagstaff. 4:34 There was even this article about Flagstaff's new dining scene and all of 4:39 the like, fun and interesting new bistros and farm-to-table restaurants there. 4:42 So I looked at all of that. 4:47 And I looked at this. 4:49 And I was like, what happened? 4:51 What happened to all of that content that we spent so much time on? 4:54 And what I realized is that all that content was not portable to this site. 4:57 What I realized is that all of that content was stuck in just one place, 5:02 a CMS that was designed to really just display on the desktop. 5:05 And so, obviously I'm, I'm a suer professional, so I took it really well. 5:09 And I, immediately got to work figuring out what we were gonna do about it. 5:15 In reality I spent a long time being angry, spent a long time being upset. 5:22 I spent a long time thinking like, why do I waste my time with this stuff, right? 5:26 But what I realized was that if I wanted to actually have content that worked for 5:31 mobile, I had to make mobile my problem. 5:34 As a content strategist I couldn't ignore it, right? 5:36 So I started digging in. 5:38 I started digging into things like content models. 5:39 So I started thinking about what does our content actually look like? 5:42 What's it shaped like? 5:46 What are the concepts we need to be able to communicate here, and 5:48 how do those things fit together? 5:51 And I started like, mapping those things out. 5:53 And I started saying okay well, in Arizona all of these things that people might want 5:55 to see and do, they kind of connect around cities. 6:00 And how can we make that, this conceptual model of oh, I'm gonna be near Flagstaff, 6:03 I wanna know what are the historical monuments in that area. 6:08 How can we make those conceptual things 6:11 actually connected in the way that our content works? 6:14 And I also started thinking about modularity. 6:18 So I started thinking about okay, if we're going to display stuff on big screens and 6:21 small screens, how do we have littler pieces of things to deal with? 6:24 I started looking at that big old CMS, 6:28 and the big old pages of content that it had on it. 6:30 And I started thinking, 6:34 huh, how do we turn this into something that's more modular and easier to use? 6:35 So I started thinking, what are the different pieces and parts that we needed. 6:40 And we ended up with something a little bit more like this, right? 6:42 So we've got things like subheads and teaser content, little short descriptions. 6:45 .Everything broken down into parts that we could combine and 6:49 reuse in different layouts, however we needed them. 6:52 Now, I have to tell you that during this process I felt like things 6:57 were going really well. 7:01 I felt like I had it figured out, right? 7:03 Because what I had done was solve this problem. 7:05 We've got content that's stuck, 7:07 we've got content that doesn't fit together, content that can't travel. 7:10 And I have this little model that answers that question. 7:14 I felt like I was closing all of these loose ends, right? 7:17 [BLANK_AUDIO] 7:20 I felt that way, that is, until we got to training. 7:23 And when we went in to train people I had somebody actually raise their hand and 7:28 say like, great but I don't actually understand why I need to do this. 7:32 I've always just taken my press releases and 7:39 copied them from here and pasted them over here. 7:41 Why do I have to do something different now? 7:46 Why do I have to fill out all these fields? 7:49 So at this point, I'm not just like two years into re, redoing the content. 7:52 At this point, 7:56 I'm also this like additional layer in at figuring out the models and structures. 7:57 And so once again, I took things very well. 8:01 I smiled, I nodded, I said okay. 8:04 Okay. 8:07 Okay. 8:09 And I started thinking, what am I gonna do about that? 8:10 What am I gonna do about not just dealing with structuring and 8:14 organizing information, but what am I gonna do with that person who doesn't want 8:16 to change how they enter stuff into the CMS? 8:20 And so, I started thinking a lot about what this means. 8:22 And I started realizing that we really cannot possibly make our content work for 8:25 mobile unless we can get the people 8:31 who are working with our content to actually change their approaches. 8:36 And I think what that really means, to be honest, 8:39 is it means that we can't actually design for the web without doing that. 8:41 Because there's not this big distinction between like web and mobile anymore. 8:45 No matter who we are, no matter what we're doing, we need to get people to understand 8:50 how to work within the systems we're designing for them. 8:55 And so that's what I want to talk about today. 8:59 So when I say we're gonna talk about orchestrating content, 9:01 I don't just mean that we're gonna be orchestrating these content models, 9:03 talking about how these systems and structures fit together. 9:07 That stuff is really important, but I think that those things are solvable. 9:10 You get yourself a white board or some scratch paper, you start sketching 9:13 things out, talking it through, looking at the content, you can solve those problems. 9:16 What I think is often times a lot harder, and 9:22 honestly the place where I think we're struggling the most, 9:25 is figuring out how we can orchestrate the people who are involved with content. 9:27 The people who probably aren't at a conference like this today. 9:31 And it's not just about the people involved, but 9:35 it's also about considering their realities. 9:38 What are the constraints that they might be dealing with that are gonna affect 9:41 the success of the design work that we're doing? 9:44 How can we actually make things work for 9:48 the reality that they're gonna inhabit later? 9:51 So to talk about that, I want to talk about three big things, 9:55 three big headaches that I have had a lot. 9:58 That I bet hm, bunches of you have experienced as well 10:00 that I think we can actually do something about. 10:03 That, I think we can actually change. 10:07 And, I wanna note that this is not just if you're a content strategist or that, 10:09 like, these are things you have to tell your content person. 10:13 These are things that I think anybody can start doing. 10:16 Anybody in any role on a project can start being more involved in, 10:19 that will not only help the content be better and have a better experience for 10:22 users, but also reduce some of that frustration and 10:25 BS that you end up with down the line when you're trying to design something. 10:28 And like, you can't make that work, cuz the content broke it, right? 10:32 So let's start talking about these. 10:36 The first one, is one of my favorite conversations to have, is at the very, 10:37 very beginning of a project. 10:43 And you get everybody in a room together and 10:44 you're gonna talk about what you're doing and why it's important and whatever. 10:46 And every single person, has a thing. 10:50 And every single thing, is the most important thing. 10:52 And you have 14 people at a conference table. 10:57 And everybody wants something that is an absolutely must have, 10:58 must be at the top, must be the number one priority on the page. 11:01 And you know, these problems, 11:05 these are why we end up with things like carousels, right? 11:07 Cuz it's like, okay, well all fourteen of you have a thing, so look, you have 11:11 a fourteen item carousel, like everybody gets to be on the top of the homepage. 11:13 I mean, carousels have become so derided, that, like, 11:17 people like Brad Frost have written these screeds against them. 11:20 People in our industry are so frustrated by all of this, like, well, 11:23 let's just shove more crap approach, right? 11:26 So, he says, you know, tools like carousels are used as appeasers to keep 11:28 everyone from beating the shit out of each other in meetings. 11:31 [BLANK_AUDIO] 11:34 Carousels are used because people aren't on the same page about what they're trying 11:36 to communicate. 11:41 [BLANK_AUDIO] 11:42 They're used because we have discord. 11:45 And that discord is what prevents us from having things that work well, 11:47 from having the nicely designed sites that we want to have. 11:50 [BLANK_AUDIO] 11:54 That discord slows down decision-making processes because you can't actually get 11:55 anything done, because everybody has a different opinion. 11:59 It increases the amount of iterations you have to do on something, because it's, 12:04 like, every time you try it this way, you try it that way, there's somebody who's, 12:07 like, hm, nope, doesn't address my need. 12:10 And it distracts all of us, right? 12:14 It distracts us from the real problems we're trying to solve. 12:15 It distracts us from our users, 12:19 because we get so hung up on the internal politics of things. 12:20 And what do we end up with? 12:24 We end up with stuff that just sucks. 12:26 We end up with these layouts with too many things on them, and 12:28 14 different rotating feature items. 12:30 We end up with navigation, it's hard to understand. 12:33 We end up with these departments who say things like, hm, 12:36 I'm actually not going to follow along with that new system. 12:39 I don't want to adopt that new global navigation. 12:46 I don't think we're going to follow along with that new pattern lab. 12:49 I don't think we're gonna do it. 12:54 And you also end up with these one-off requests, right? 12:55 You end up with the people who are like, okay, so my department, 12:58 my group, my product, my whatever is special and it's different. 13:03 So, that might work for everybody else, but 13:07 I'm going to need you to design extra things just for me. 13:09 We end up with a million different demands. 13:13 And I feel like, what happens is that we have this content reality, 13:15 these things that people think they need, 13:19 that doesn't match our design sensibility, and everybody ends up losing out. 13:21 Right? Nobody wins in this scenario and 13:24 it's painful. 13:27 So, what do we do instead? 13:29 I think the number one thing we need to be better at is to be able to unify 13:31 people up-front, 13:34 to really figure out how do we bring people together early on, in our projects. 13:35 And start thinking about unifying not just a few people, but the larger caste. 13:38 Not just the people who work, like on a tight little project team, but 13:44 who are all the people who are involved with content? 13:47 Who are the people who are going to be creating stuff, and managing stuff, and 13:49 entering it into the system later? 13:52 A lot of times, though, these conversations about what it is that we 13:56 need to do on a site, or what's going to be a priority, or which features 13:59 we're going to, to go for, they end up being conversations with hippos. 14:04 If you're not familiar with the hippo, 14:08 the hippo is the highest paid person's opinion. 14:11 And a lot of times, it's like no matter what it is that you 14:14 thought you're gonna do, the hippo comes in and they're like [SOUND] nope, right? 14:16 I want my thing. 14:20 And they're important cuz they have like a seat before their title, or whatever. 14:21 And then everybody's like oh okay, 14:27 well I guess we have to do the thing that they wanna do. 14:28 And a lot of times, these are the only people that we're really talking to. 14:31 We're not necessarily talking to this larger group and 14:34 understanding where they're coming from. 14:37 We're not necessarily talking to that person who told me 14:39 that she didn't understand why she needed to enter in those fields in the CMS and 14:42 just wanted to paste her press release. 14:45 So, one of the things that I think is incredibly important when you want content 14:47 to work is to really take a moment, and pause. 14:52 [BLANK_AUDIO] 14:54 And set-up one-on-one time to talk to people. 14:55 To talk to people about what's working for them now, and what's not. 14:58 To talk to them about their goals. 15:01 Talk to them about their frustrations. 15:03 Talk to them about how this new site, or this enhancement, or this new thing, 15:06 whatever it is that you're making, could actually make their lives better. 15:10 [BLANK_AUDIO] 15:14 I think it can be really difficult to pause a project, to kind of like not 15:15 immediately dive in to these big brainstorms and talking about features and 15:19 to pause and talk to people and really get at the heart of things. 15:22 But I think it's incredibly valuable, even though, 15:27 sometimes, people get a little emotional. 15:31 And I'm not, I'm not exaggerating here, maybe a little, but I have 15:33 had people cry in these sessions because I've had people tell me things like, 15:38 I just don't know why its so hard. 15:42 I just don't know why nobody understands how horrible it is to use this CMS. 15:48 I don't know what to do because it takes 15:52 four weeks to get a typo fixed on our website, and I can't figure out why, 15:54 and I am frustrated and I'm at the end of my rope. 15:59 And I just want things to be better. 16:02 When you have really honest conversations with people, one-on-one, and 16:04 you let them open up about what's working and 16:08 not working, yeah, people might get a little emotional. 16:10 Yeah, people might tell you some stuff that's kind of like, okay, 16:14 can't necessarily fix all of the problems. 16:17 But what you'll hear from people is the truth. 16:20 And you'll find out about the stuff that's probably gonna get in your way later on. 16:23 You'll find out about the stuff that 16:27 is going to end up helping you make decisions and prioritization. 16:30 I really think that talking through people's feelings in these sessions in 16:34 these sessions can be just as important as talking to them about the features 16:37 that the site is gonna have. 16:40 You can help people feel heard. 16:42 And, you can get rid of some of that, like, combativeness, 16:43 when you actually pull people together. 16:48 Because they've had a chance to sort of air things in advance in a safer place 16:50 that doesn't derail these larger conversations which is often what happens. 16:54 When you take the time to do this, it prepares you for being able to pull people 16:58 together, for being able to actually bring everybody together, to get things done. 17:02 So, that when people come to the table, it's less about talking things through. 17:07 It's less about their venting which I know happens in a lot of meetings. 17:12 And it's more about saying, okay, we're actually ready to do things. 17:16 We're actually ready to start making some choices. 17:19 I like to always bring people together as often as I can, 17:23 as often as anybody will let me into working sessions or workshops. 17:25 And when I say that, I don't just mean, like, project team collaboration stuff, 17:31 even thought that's really important. 17:34 But, I mean getting that broader group together. 17:35 People who aren't necessarily web experts. 17:38 And asking them, okay, let's make some choices about what we're doing here. 17:39 One thing that I found really useful, is an activity that's a mad lib. 17:45 And I've done this lots of different ways. 17:49 And I've seen other people do similar things. 17:50 So, this is something that you can totally adapt into a million different directions. 17:52 But, if you ever played mad libs as a kid you know that there's like a little story, 17:57 and the story has blanks in it, and below each blank it'll say, like, 18:00 verb or adjective, or whatever. 18:03 And you have a friend, you know, answer. 18:05 Okay, give me a verb. 18:08 Give me an adjective. 18:08 And you fill in the blanks, right? 18:09 And get to the end and you have this funny story. 18:10 In this example, what you do is you let people fill in the blanks and at the end 18:13 what you get is a story about strategy and focal areas, and what matters. 18:17 In this example, we're talking about audiences and 18:23 what we want them to do, and how we're going to make them feel. 18:26 [BLANK_AUDIO] 18:31 And what kind of content we need as a result. 18:33 What I like to do is, I get people in a room, get them broken down into like, 18:37 you know, groups of four, so kinda small groups, and have them work through this 18:43 together in a short period of time, maybe like half an hour. 18:47 And then, share them back and kind of collaborate and 18:51 merge them together, make some choices about what we're gonna actually go with. 18:54 And one of the things that I found that I was shocked at when I first started doing 18:59 this, is that you can have, 19:02 like, a four-hour conversation with people about, who are our audience? 19:03 And, what are we trying to do here? 19:08 What, what do we need for content? 19:09 Anything like not go anywhere. 19:11 But, when you give people a short period of time and 19:14 blanks to fill in, they get down to business. 19:16 And they start really talking honestly about what actually matters. 19:18 And they drop all that pretense of like, well my thing has to be important, 19:23 my thing has to be important. 19:25 And they focus in on what's 19:27 actually important to the people you're designing for. 19:28 It give people a sense of purpose that otherwise is often missing. 19:31 And it gets down to the bottom of some of these questions, right? 19:34 These questions about, who are we, even? 19:36 And who's our audience in this site, this experience? 19:39 And, what should that look like, and what should that accomplish for us? 19:42 [BLANK_AUDIO] 19:46 When you do this kind of work a lot of times, I have seen groups feels like, 19:48 okay, so we did this workshop, we did all the stuff. 19:51 But, I don't know what happened to that. 19:54 It doesn't necessarily get used throughout the project. 19:56 What was the point? 19:59 Or where, where did that go? 19:59 One of the things that I've tried to do is give people more reminders, 20:01 simple things that they can look out throughout the project. 20:04 So, not just like a big strategic brief like, okay, 20:08 here's a 14 page PDF that talks about our strategy! 20:11 But really simple stuff that someone can pull out at any moment and say, 20:15 wait a second, does this match? 20:18 One of the things I like to do for 20:21 content is to give people some principles to work with. 20:22 Oftentimes there might be like three or four or five of them, 20:25 that are just really areas that we've said, this is what we're doing here. 20:28 This is an example of one 20:33 that is adapted from a site that works with high school students. 20:36 Helping high school students figure out where they might want to be looking at for 20:40 universities and colleges, like where they might apply. 20:44 And so for them there are a few principles, but one of them was this. 20:46 Our content's gonna keep it simple. 20:50 You know, students have a lot going on, clubs, jobs, sports. 20:52 We need to make their life easier, not more stressful. 20:56 And so what this does is this gives this really succinct little nugget that we can 21:03 pull out at any moment and say, you know, I hear you talking about this thing that 21:07 you wanna do, I hear you talking about this new kinda content that you need, 21:11 I hear you talking about this new feature, even that you want to have. 21:14 Does this align with this principle? 21:17 Are we making things complicated for people? 21:19 Is this gonna help simplify, or is it gonna make it more challenging for them? 21:22 And that helps with decisions in a way that that 14 page PDF is just never going 21:25 to do because nobody's ever going to refer back to that on a daily basis. 21:30 I really think that what you need to have before you can 21:35 get to content that's any good, is some sense of common ground. 21:38 Some sense of like, shared expectations and priorities. 21:42 And it's the only way that you can get away from that like, 21:45 my thing matters most mentality. 21:47 It's the only way that you have any hope of getting away from the, you know, like, 21:50 1 million carousels website design. 21:53 So the second thing that I wanna talk about is 21:55 a problem that tends to happen a little bit deeper into projects. 21:59 This is the problem where we start designing something, 22:02 we have this great idea about something that we think is going to look great and 22:04 work great for our users. 22:08 But then, at some point somebody goes, wait a second. 22:11 [BLANK_AUDIO] 22:13 I have to do this now? 22:16 It's like this. 22:17 We go into these meetings and we're like, okay, it's gonna be really easy. 22:20 No problem, guys. 22:25 All I need you to do is go into the CMS and 22:26 you're going to need to pick a topic and pick a category. 22:28 Did you get that PDF with all of the tags that you could use? 22:31 We sent it like, last week. 22:34 Did you get that? 22:35 Make sure you open that up because you're gonna need to pick at least four of them. 22:36 Make sure you get these eight required fields fit, filled in. 22:39 And also you're going to need to go to this other screen to add that 22:42 additional metadata. 22:44 Okay? Great. 22:45 And people look back at us and they're just like- 22:48 >> [LAUGH] 22:50 >> I'm gonna do this precisely one time. 22:51 And that's in this room during this training. 22:54 And I'm never gonna remember to do this ever again. 22:56 Or they'll say, you know, why do I have to do a summary? 23:01 Like, why do you need a 25 word summary of this thing? 23:05 And then you're like, trying to explain to them, well, 23:07 because the summary is actually gonna be used on these landing pages. 23:09 Or this excerpt is gonna pull in here, and pull in over there. 23:12 And you're describing like, this huge back story. 23:15 And they're just like, I don't get it. 23:17 I just wanna, I just wanna paste my pre, PDF in the field that I always pasted my 23:20 PDF what, or my press release, like why do I, why do I need to do this differently? 23:24 I don't get it. 23:28 So, we can start to change this when we take it upon ourselves 23:30 to listen to people throughout the design process, and 23:35 actually adjust what we're doing, based off of what we hear. 23:38 It's not just about giving people training afterward, but 23:43 actually taking that, those considerations into account while we design. 23:46 Because I think when we get people to participate, in our work, 23:49 we start weeding out problems earlier. 23:53 We start realizing the things that we're coming up with that are unrealistic. 23:57 Or the things that we're coming up with that people aren't gonna understand and 24:00 you're gonna need additional practice to learn how to do. 24:03 We start being able to make stronger designs, 24:06 because we know more about how they're gonna be dealt with later. 24:09 But this can be really hard, right? 24:13 It can be hard to bring people in who aren't designers into a design process. 24:14 One of the first things that I like to do, when I wanna talk to people about content 24:19 and users and flow and design, is to make sure that I'm establishing a shared lens, 24:24 that I make sure people are seeing things the way I'm seeing things, or 24:28 at least a little closer. 24:31 An activity that I love to do, 24:34 that I do in a very stripped down format, is like a journey map. 24:35 A lot of you are probably familiar with journey mapping or customer mapping, and 24:39 lots of different words for 24:43 different activities that are really common on experience work. 24:44 What I do is one that is very content-focused, and 24:48 that you can do really quickly like on a wall with Post-Its like this is. 24:50 This is an example of 24:53 a journey map with content for higher ed, for a university. 24:58 And what it starts with is, what does the person actually do, right? 25:03 Like, what do they actually need to do to interact with us as a university? 25:07 And it doesn't just start with, user goes to our website. 25:11 It starts with things like, a person talking to their guidance counselor, 25:15 somebody making a long list of schools they might be interested in, or 25:20 taking the SATs, these early stage things. 25:22 Right? 25:25 When you get people who work in organizations, 25:27 who aren't necessarily working in design, who aren't necessarily 25:29 used to dealing with users, to do this, it starts allowing them to see things through 25:32 a user's perspective in a way that oftentimes is really lacking. 25:36 It's making it difficult for them to understand design decisions later. 25:39 So you have people do this, right. 25:43 You have them lay this out. 25:44 And then we start talking about content, and we start saying, okay, what content 25:45 do we actually have, right now, that can help people at these moments? 25:50 Do we have content that would help people at each of these moments? 25:54 If we don't, what content do we need? 25:58 What are the pieces that are missing? 26:02 What are our gaps? 26:04 So this is an incredible useful conversation to get people 26:07 thinking differently about the content that they have and the content they need. 26:09 It's incredibly useful for getting them to think from a user's perspective. 26:13 But I found it's also insanely useful for another thing, 26:16 which is a thing that I've found to be exceptionally important for mobile. 26:19 Which is that it allows them to have this conversation that's not about saying, 26:23 okay I've got a stack of pages, right, page, page, page, page, page. 26:27 But more, okay what would it take to be able to deliver 26:31 that one thing that we know a user needs at this moment, actually at that moment? 26:35 It allows us to say, okay we know you have this content tucked away in this sub, sub, 26:41 sub, sub, sub, sub, sub subsection. 26:45 How are we gonna make that more available to people when they need it? 26:48 And so what that allows us to do is to have these conversations 26:53 that are around things like this, actually modeling out and 26:56 making our content modular like we talked about at the beginning. 26:59 Getting people to understand okay, so if you want to be able to have excerpts 27:02 of these you know, course descriptions so somebody investigating a major can find 27:07 them here, then we need to actually have excerpts of the course description. 27:12 They're able to see their content in a new light and 27:16 start thinking about how they're gonna break it down into pieces and parts. 27:19 Because they can see that need, right? 27:23 They can see, okay, I see why we need a chunk of content here. 27:24 And they're doing that before you're trying to train them on using a CMS. 27:29 Before you're like, you just need to write a 25 word summary and put it in that box. 27:32 They're understanding how that might be valuable, how that might be used later. 27:35 Doing this also allows you to write real-ish content. 27:41 There's a lot of people who will talk about like oh, do we need content first? 27:45 What does content first mean? 27:48 Do we get the content first? 27:49 You don't get all of the content first typically unless you're working on a very, 27:51 very, very small website. 27:54 But giving some realistic examples of what the content is going to look like and 27:55 feel like, helps you work with something real. 27:59 Something realer than a kitten photo and 28:02 the word test which went live on the Chago, Chicago Tribune site one day. 28:04 >> [LAUGH] >> Excellent work. 28:08 Because you know, if you're trying to use dummy content like this, 28:10 if you have dummy content pulled into your design, 28:13 it's impossible to tell if your actual content's going to work, right? 28:15 Because you can make dummy content do anything. 28:19 When you get realistic content in there you can see, does your model hold up or 28:21 does it fall apart? 28:24 How does it work at different break points? 28:26 How does it work when you try to move between different screens? 28:29 Does it end up making sense or not making sense? 28:31 I think getting a realistic picture of content 28:35 into our design process is absolutely essential. 28:37 Because then everybody gets that sense of what things are gonna feel like and 28:40 everybody has a working model to work from. 28:43 But the other piece of that, is making sure that 28:46 you're taking your realistic content, the stuff that you want to use, 28:49 that's a rough draft let's say, and vetting it against the current reality. 28:52 And this is where people who work internally are es, 28:56 exceptionally important. 28:59 Because if you want to get your content to actually match this new model, right, 29:01 you're restructuring, you're creating these modules, 29:06 you've broken everything down. 29:08 You might be dealing with this. 29:10 So you might say, okay, we're gonna have this new content model, so what you need 29:12 to do is take all of these pages, and we're gonna need you to write a summary. 29:17 You're gonna need to add these tags. 29:20 You're going to need to break it up and have a short headline and a long headline. 29:22 And that might make a lot of sense for the design. 29:26 That might make a lot of sense for the content. 29:29 But if you have 500 pages where that has to happen, 29:32 if you have 5,000 pages where that has to happen, does that become unrealistic? 29:35 Are people going to be able to do it? 29:40 Would it make more sense to scale back the design decisions that you're making so 29:42 that they can actually achieve that and manage that within the content? 29:46 I'll give you an example. 29:50 I was talking to a friend recently and she was working on a project, 29:51 she's also a content strategist, she was working on a project with a designer, and 29:55 I'm working really closely with her. 29:59 And this project was to redesign a product focus site. 30:00 And this product focus site was, one of several, several sites this company has, 30:04 that pulled from the same product database, right? 30:08 So you can imagine there's one product database, and 30:11 multiple different sites that need to use that database. 30:13 So they're redesigning one of them. 30:16 And the designer goes, well. 30:17 Why don't we just add a little, 30:20 like little teaser blurb here on these landing pages for each of the products? 30:22 And my friend goes, that would be great but 30:26 their product database actually doesn't have that. 30:30 There is no teaser blurb, like we don't have that piece of content. 30:32 And the designer's like, oh, but it would really work so much better, 30:34 let's just have them make it. 30:38 And my friend goes, you know, okay. 30:40 This product database is managed by people 30:46 who are not the people who are managing this website project we're working on. 30:49 So, we need to talk to them. 30:53 The database doesn't have a field for that yet, so they would have to add that. 30:55 The people who create the content that go in the database, they would have to 30:59 actually start writing those, and they might have to go back into the, you know, 31:03 back product catalog and write them for those, as well. 31:07 And the other websites that are also using the same product database, 31:10 they don't have a space to display that content. 31:14 So is that going to throw a wrench into 31:17 anything if people start putting important information there? 31:18 And, ultimately are we going to be able to do all of that stuff for 31:21 all of the thousands of products that exist? 31:25 Is it gonna be worth it to do all that stuff for 31:29 all the thousand products that exist? 31:32 And the question, I mean, the answer to that could be yes. 31:34 It could be no. 31:37 But a lot of times, I think, we get into these design decisions where, 31:39 like, wouldn't it be great if? 31:41 But it's a really huge if and we're not figuring out the answer. 31:42 We're not necessarily figuring out whether that's possible. 31:47 So, when you start talking to people early on about how the changes to 31:50 content are going to affect them, you start knowing that there's actually 5,000 31:53 pages of things that they are going to have to deal with, and 31:56 do something with in order to make it work. 31:58 And that is an important information if you actually want to have a design that 32:01 is sustainable. 32:04 The people can actually live out for the long term. 32:05 And I don't think you have good design. 32:08 Unless people can be sustainable with it. 32:11 The design actually doesn't work. 32:13 If immediately people don't follow along with what it makes them do and 32:15 break it and it looks like crap, right. 32:18 Like I don't think that was a successful design. 32:20 Cuz it didn't work in the real world. 32:23 This brings me to the last thing that I want to talk about. 32:24 And this is the problem of content often being the elephant in the room. 32:30 The elephant has become this, 32:35 like, unofficial mascot of content strategy because it is, 32:36 it is always this big huge thing that everybody sort of tip toes around. 32:39 Even now, right, even now that I'm onstage and 32:45 talking to you about content strategy and talking about all this deep content stuff. 32:46 It's still a lot of work. 32:50 Even if you do all that early stage alignment. 32:52 Even if you do all of that work to be like, okay, we've got a vision. 32:55 We've got some principles. 32:57 We're focused. We've got realistic content. 32:59 The reality of content. 33:02 Is that it's hard, and it takes time. 33:04 It takes time to get people to actually get all of their ducks in a row and 33:07 get it done. 33:13 And so a lot of times, I would find that I would get into these conversations and 33:14 I would be like, okay, here's your strategy, here's your guidance, 33:17 here's some tips, like, here's all the stuff. 33:20 And people would be like, on it. 33:22 Totally on top of that. 33:24 Absolutely. 33:26 Definitely starting, probably next week. 33:27 Absolutely. 33:29 Totally working on it. 33:30 We're definitely on time. 33:32 Right? 33:33 And then, okay so then, months would go by right, and 33:34 you're like cool you guys are working on your content? 33:37 Yeah we're working on our content. 33:39 Okay. 33:40 Months would go by and you do all this design work, development work. 33:41 You're like getting close, you're getting close, you're getting close. 33:43 And then suddenly, it's, like, the week before the content is due, and 33:45 they finally crack open the assignment, and they look at it, and they go, oh, no. 33:48 Oh. 33:55 They're like, they're like a college student, 33:56 and I'm sure none of you ever did this, like a college student 33:58 who has a term paper due in the morning, it's 11 P.M., make a pot of coffee. 34:02 They open up that assignment, right? 34:07 And they go, [NOISE] 12 pages? 34:10 Oh. 34:13 What have I done? 34:15 Because it's a lot of work. 34:17 And it's really easy to put things off. 34:19 Like it is so easy. 34:21 I put things off all the time. 34:23 I love to put things off. 34:25 So I have a lot of empathy for the people I'm working with who also love to put 34:27 things off that are big and hard and different. 34:30 And so what we need to do is actually take it upon ourselves to help people keep 34:34 pace in their projects, to keep that tempo. 34:39 A lot of times I think this is like, falls squarely in the not our job category. 34:41 Like, it's not my job to project manage people to get them to actually 34:46 produce the content and check in on a daily basis whatever like, probably not. 34:50 Probably not specifically my job, 34:54 except you say that when it doesn't get done, everybody suffers. 34:56 So what I like to do is to think about ways that I can help keep people on task. 35:01 One of the first things I love to do is to get people to actually kickstart 35:06 that writing process. 35:09 So it's not like here's an assignment, 35:10 here's a bunch of stuff that you need to go do. 35:12 But it's like okay, let's get started, together. 35:14 So, of course, I'll pull people together and 35:17 I'll say let's actually focus on how we're going to rewrite this stuff. 35:19 Because, I think, that a lot of times, when we're asking people to do things 35:23 differently, when we're saying, yeah, we know you used to write these, like, 35:26 massive pages of stuff, now, can you write these little chunks of things instead? 35:29 That can be kind of confusing. 35:33 It can be kind of a big shift. 35:35 And for us, it might not seem like a big shift, because we're so used to, 35:39 like, doing design work and working on the web, that we see this done all the time. 35:42 But if you have written stuff in big, long pages every day of your life, 35:46 for years, that can suddenly feel very different. 35:50 So I like to do a few different activities. 35:54 I'm gonna tell one of them today. 35:56 This one is really just like a modularization activity, 35:57 where I say okay, let's practice in this room. 36:00 I'll give everybody an assignment that's based off of their subject 36:03 matter expertise. 36:06 So if you happen to work on a specific product, or you work in a specific team, 36:07 I'll pull a page of existing content from that section. 36:12 And that will be your assignment. 36:15 Everybody in the room gets something a little bit different. 36:16 And I'll show them their existing content right, that big, long block of text. 36:18 And then I'll give them, okay what other fields do you need to fill in? 36:22 What are the actual chunks they need to do? 36:27 By the way, this works best on a large format sheet of paper. 36:29 This is actually kinda cramped for the real world. 36:31 But you actually have them do this side by side. 36:34 And outline that sort of skeleton of their content. 36:36 And when you get people in a room doing this together, you get some real benefits. 36:40 First off, it kind of breaks down that wall of starting. 36:44 Right? Because they've started already. 36:47 They don't go back to their desk and be like huh, I don't know where to begin. 36:49 They've already begun. 36:53 But second, it also gets them to get, do better at giving feedback to one another 36:55 and get better at identifying when content isn't working. 37:00 Because they're able to say like hm, I really like what you did here with 37:03 this summary but this section still feels like it's really long and wordy. 37:06 How could we break that up more? 37:10 And so people get a lot more practice at identifying problems in their content, 37:12 because they're working it through out loud with one another. 37:16 It helps keep people from being overwhelmed and confused. 37:19 And it helps people find their rhythm, find their pace, get more comfortable. 37:23 Start feeling like content can be achievable and not just this big elephant. 37:27 And finally, when I get people to talk about their content I feel like a lot of 37:33 times we end up with these project plans that look a little bit like this. 37:37 Where maybe you have some content tasks in there, right? 37:41 So like maybe it's like okay we're gonna do some content modeling, 37:44 we're gonna get some draft contents. 37:47 But they're very one sided. 37:50 Often times, we deal with content strategy in a way that's very much focused on what 37:51 we need to do in this project. 37:55 Often times, what we're missing is what I would consider the sort of, 37:57 like, parallel path of content. 38:00 Which is saying, how is content then gonna need to work within an organization? 38:02 And how can we help them plan for this to be successful? 38:06 How are we going to break this down into chunks that people can manage? 38:11 And it's simple. 38:14 It's having conversations that are like, 38:15 okay, which content needs to be approved by which people? 38:17 How many people does it need to go through? 38:21 Which of the teams have to sign off on it? 38:23 Well, let's think about, instead of saying, okay, 38:25 you need to do all of this work before our launch date, it's saying, okay. 38:29 Let's categorize this into a few different content projects. 38:33 A few content projects. 38:36 And let's kinda stagger them a little bit, and break them down a little bit. 38:38 You don't necessarily have to own all of this stuff. 38:41 But you can get people started down this path, so 38:44 that they can actually see how their content is not that elephant. 38:46 And it is a bunch of smaller things that they can actually achieve. 38:49 And it also gives you these moments. 38:53 These moments where you can say, 38:55 these are the times when we need to make sure things align. 38:56 Where we need to say, okay, does the content that people are actually producing 38:59 align with what we're building in the CMS. 39:05 Does the content look like what we thought it would look like, and if it doesn't. 39:07 What do we need to do about that? 39:12 Do we need to go back and ask people to adjust what they're writing? 39:14 Do we need to make a tweak to our design? 39:17 But we do that at these moments, that are decidedly well before the day when 39:19 we're actually supposed to launch and all the content looks like crap, and 39:23 nothing's aligned correctly and everything's too long. 39:26 Ultimately what I'm talking about here, is practice. 39:30 Great content takes time and energy and it takes doing it over and over again. 39:34 So, what we can do, in our roles, is to help people build that muscle memory. 39:40 Right? To help them 39:45 get more comfortable doing the kinds of work 39:46 that we need them to do to make content work on the web and for mobile. 39:49 And that's how we enable people to bring content to life. 39:53 By helping them practice doing it. 39:55 Actively. I think a lot of 39:57 times we assume that our work is about building stuff, right? 40:01 We're making sites. 40:05 We're making apps. We're designing. 40:06 We're building. 40:08 But you know, just like I learned when I was first trying to get people to do 40:11 mobile structured content. 40:15 It's not just about building the systems, I 40:17 think it's also about building confidence in the people that our work affects. 40:19 The more that the web touches every single thing in an organization, 40:23 the more people become kind of part of web work. 40:27 The more people have to be comfortable with this. 40:31 So one of our greatest strengths, 40:34 because we're the people who are already comfortable with this, is that we can help 40:35 others build confidence and get more involved and feel like they get it. 40:39 Like they deserve to be there. 40:42 Help them build good habits. 40:44 And I think that it's when they do that, 40:47 that we're actually able to build a future. 40:48 That we're actually able to design the things 40:50 that are gonna matter down the line. 40:52 Because I don't know exactly where the web is going. 40:54 But I know that our work is only gonna get more intertwined with people, 40:57 with services and organizations. 41:00 It's going to get more and more difficult for 41:04 us to separate ourselves from all of that. 41:06 And the first place that, that causes us problems, or 41:07 the first place we can be successful. 41:11 Is in our content. 41:13 So I hope all of you are ready to go out and start thinking about content 41:15 a little bit differently and making that more of a case in your projects. 41:18 Thank you. 41:21 >> [APPLAUSE] 41:22
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