Scott Kubie and I will be facilitating a full-day workshop on March 23 at the 2017 IA Summit in Vancouver called Practical Content Strategy. We led a workshop by the same name at last year's IA Summit, but our approach to this topic is constantly evolving.
This year's organizing committee asked us to answer a few questions about the workshop and we figured that as long as we were going to be talking about it, we may as well record the conversation. In case you've never heard us speak before, Scott's voice is the one starting things off. We've also written up a high-level summary below. Enjoy, and we hope to see you in Vancouver!
Listen to the Conversation
Details and Registration
- Where: The 2017 Information Architecture Summit in Vancouver, B.C.
- When: March 23rd, 2017 (It's a full day)
- Cost: $650
1) From your perspective, why is Practical Content Strategy relevant to the IA / UX community?
Michael: Content is everywhere, yes, and in particular, designers are realizing that words are everywhere. Content strategy helps people be intentional about the language throughout interactive experiences. It's not just about content strategy in the traditional sense, but about applying the skills you use as a content strategist to any sort of design or UX project. I’ve spent most of my past two years professionally coming into each project as the designer, then using content strategy as a way to approach what I’m designing. I think for UX folks in particular, they’ll find that content strategy is another way of approaching a problem and can become another valuable tool.
Scott: Many designers who find themselves working on interactive projects wouldn’t necessarily self-identify as “word people.” Learning about content strategy and how people think about words in a practical kind of way and as a part of the design process is for a lot of folks just a necessary professional development step. Maybe they’ve thought and learned a lot about design, but they haven’t yet applied those design skills to projects that involve publishing or ongoing communication. As for IAs, learning more about content strategy can help them understand and account for the impact that word choice has on editorial teams, writers, and other communicators within an organization.
2) What’s the biggest challenge in learning / practicing content strategy?
Scott: So many tools, case studies, methodologies. None of those are going to be a perfect fit for your situation and your problem. A tool is not a recipe. With all of the templates and frameworks available to content strategists, it’s easy to get misdirected and think completing the deliverable is the goal, rather than learning something from the process of completing it and sharing that understanding with others. That second step, of taking what you’ve learned and communicating it to other people and persuading them that it’s important, is a hard skill to learn. We can’t make people experts in one day but we can get them closer.
Michael: So much of what we do and learn is on the job. There’s really no other way to learn it than to dive in, be a part of that problem, and embrace it. What helped with this is when I started to sell content strategy more, so I had to help clients understand their need for it. People like best practices and things that are familiar, but content strategy isn’t about best practices. The challenge is stepping back and seeing what concepts and frameworks you can take back and apply to your own situation. If you try to apply what someone else did in their work directly to your situation, then I think you’re going to have a really rough time, but if you take the thinking and goal behind content strategy and apply that to your work, then you’re going to be much better off.
3) How do people factor into content strategy?
Scott: It’s all about people! You need to get the people you’re working with bought in to the value of what you want them to do. A challenge and tough skill of content strategy is facilitation. Not just running meetings well, but maintaining a deep awareness of what’s happening in the room and what’s in the heads of people in the room. Are they really understanding, or just signing off? Do they really buy into your strategy, or are they just nodding along to your presentation? Successful content strategy work tends to focus on the people you work with as much if not more than the end users.
Michael: An awful lot of digital work happens without consideration of the people. We need to have empathy for users, but a lot of times that's not the problem. The problem is not that the designers don't care enough or that they don't want the users on the end of their design to have a good experience. I think that the problem is often that we focus too much on that and not enough on the humans we're working with every day whose buy-in and approval is absolutely critical to making this thing halfway like what we envision it to be in the first place.
4) What is the most important thing that you want folks to take away from your workshop?
Michael: Organizations are made of people, so if you want to get organizational work done, you’re going to need the people. It’s not enough just to know content strategy. You can read books, article, or even be really good at making all the content strategy deliverables, but if you don’t take into account that human factor, if you don’t work through what’s practical and realistic for your company, than nothing’s going to happen.
Scott: Because content strategy can be extremely boring (as compared to visual designs and new technologies), your challenge and job as a content strategy practitioner is to get people to pay attention and understand what is important about what you’re telling them when you’re telling it to them. Your real job is to do whatever you can to make that happen. “I told you so” doesn’t hold any water in business.