Designers: Swimming in the Content Strategy Pond

Tosca Fasso   August 18, 2011

No overfeeding allowed! (image via Glassholic)

We admit it. Content strategists do a fair amount of talking about our work—what we do (and what we don’t do), what it means, and why it matters. But we’re not the only ones having these conversations. Copywriters are asking about it. Clients are insisting on it. But, interestingly, some of the most illuminating discussion is coming from visual designers and information architects.

Today is so yesterday

In the short run, content strategy complicates a designer’s job by adding considerations, such as how—and how often—the current content will change, who will change it, and how they will do so. In his post, Why Designers Should Care About Content Strategy.

Stephen Landau, Creative Director at Substance in Portland, OR, says that if these questions aren’t asked from a design standpoint, “…you’re designing for now, you’re not designing for the future.”

Designing for now is exactly what many of us have done for years. The alternative (designing for now AND the future) is not only more difficult, it’s more time-intensive. But the result is the opportunity to build infinitely more thoughtful and enduring solutions. Landau elaborates, “If we, as designers, know the strategy for what will be created next, we can create design solutions that work both today and tomorrow…Successful interactive designs are beautiful because the content is constantly being updated, and the design takes this under consideration.”

Independent design consultant Christine Thompson echoes Landau’s concerns with designing only for the now in her post, What Does Content Marketing Mean for Designers, “As people in the digital asset business know all too well, your future possibilities are constrained by the design choices you make at the point of content creation or capture.”

Killing the content muffin-top

What’s true for low-rise jeans is true for online experiences: the perfect fit for one is an embarrassing disaster for another. Designers know that to avoid a mismatch between the content and the container, you need to consider not just the amount of content but the format, and where the audience will encounter it. In the post mentioned above, Thompson asks, “How many creative teams or marketing departments are ready to execute content strategies that nimbly support multiple devices, with differing viewing or playback capabilities?”

While we may not know the answer, we do know that this question is increasingly being asked by agencies and in-house teams alike. Our work is changing: it’s not just the rise of dynamic content and connected devices that is increasing the need for content strategy. It’s also the fact that the internet has simply been around for a while now, so there’s significant legacy content to consider. Web experiences aren’t necessarily a fresh start anymore. There are “refreshes,” “migrations,” and “updates” to contend with. And designers have recognized that content strategy is a key component in creating the right fit.

In essence, Landau and Thompson have both articulated a significant shift in the way we do our jobs. Designing context-dependent experiences takes more time, and, truth be told, more strategy. Projects that require a fast, furious, bang-it-out-over-the weekend approach are going to shortchange our clients more than ever before, and it’s up to us to make them aware of it.

Common ground

In his thoughtful post, Letter to a Content Strategist, User Experience Designer Dan Brown confesses, “I’m frustrated with the characterization of content strategy as ‘good writing’ or ‘operational issues.’ They are unnecessarily limiting, even if taken in the context of the web. I know there’s a design component here, a newly emergent set of challenges that comes with preparing information to be delivered online. Content strategists are designers, just like I am.”

Excuse us if we blush. On a superficial level, we’re flattered that some of our esteemed design colleagues believe that content strategists are designers as well. But when designers take the time to publicly express their opinions about what we do, they are essentially holding up a mirror. Content strategists need to decide if we are going to live up to our colleagues’ expectations. It’s up to us to look those reflections in the eye, own what we see, and make our design partners proud.

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3 Responses

  1. […] by Theresa Putkey, who’s written before about the intersection between IA and CS, and also Tosca Fasso’s Scatter/Gather post about the relationship between designers and content strategists, and it’s been a veritable […]

  2. […] how we establish audience strategies across media and sites, or when considering the thoughts that Tosca Fasso writes about at the Scatter/Gather – Razorfish blog where designers and developers… a simple Lorem Ipsum “content goes here” model that was borrowed from print publication […]

  3. […] by Theresa Putkey, who’s written before about the intersection between IA and CS, and also Tosca Fasso’s Scatter/Gather post about the relationship between designers and content strategists, and it’s been a veritable […]

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