Designing an attractive and intuitive product isn’t the only way to improve user experience. Some users need more than a good-looking or great-working product to be convinced; they need an explanation. Why your product? What problem does it solve? This is where creating engaging content comes in.
Content is everywhere around us, but it is often misunderstood when misdesigned. As designers working on content, our goal should be to craft straightforward content for users of all levels to understand. That’s why content design is an emerging field with growing demand.
- What is content design?
- The principles of user-centered content creation
- Information architecture and content organization
- Tone of voice and branding in content design
- Content testing and iteration in content design
What is content design?
Content design is a multidisciplinary approach to creating, structuring, and presenting digital or written content in a way that effectively communicates information and meets user needs. It is a customer-centric approach to problem-solving in which you provide your audience with the information they need when they need it.
The goal of content design is to provide meaningful and relevant content that resonates with the target audience and helps them achieve their goals. It is an important part of the product development cycle because companies can help users understand how to use a product.
How is content design different from UX writing?
Content designers consider user experience, storytelling, and effective communication when creating content that is both engaging and valuable. However, before content designers begin their work, they require a guide to help them plan, create, and distribute content. This guide is called a content strategy, and it is essential to the content design process.
UX writing is more concerned with enacting a content strategy than writing the copy itself. The role of a content designer can be more high-level, planning the content and building a strategy (though it can also involve creating the content depending on a company’s needs).
So, let’s go a bit deeper into what that content strategy can look like before we give you an overview of content design.
What is a content strategy?
A content strategy is a comprehensive plan that outlines how an organization will create, manage, distribute, and measure content to achieve specific business goals. It connects the organization’s content efforts to its broader marketing, branding, and communication objectives.
Content strategy is a continuous method of transforming business objectives and goals into an actionable content plan that achieves those objectives.
The role of content strategy in content design
Here’s how content strategy influences content design. Instead, here’s how content designers use content strategy to improve the user experience:
- Content strategy ensures that content designers create content that aligns with the organization’s goals and is relevant to the intended audience. It defines the target audience, their needs, and the key messages to convey
- Content strategy also plays a role in defining brand guidelines, tone of voice, and style preferences
- Content strategy determines the most effective content formats and distribution channels based on audience preferences and behavior. Content designers then create content tailored to specific platforms and user habits.
- Content strategy ensures that content designers create current, accurate, and relevant content, which helps increase user trust and satisfaction.
- Content designers use content strategy to understand user journeys and address user needs at each stage of the development cycle to make content more relevant and valuable.
Now you can see why so many companies are calling for content designers. A content strategy requires a lot of forethought, from style guide creation to determining the correct distribution channels. Owning content isn’t easy!
The principles of user-centered content creation
How are UX design and content design intertwined? They’re both user centered at their core.
User-centered content creation focuses on putting the target audience’s needs and goals at the forefront of the content development process. Content designers keep these principles in mind while developing (or refining) their content strategy.
Conduct thorough audience research to understand the target users’ characteristics, preferences, and pain points. Use surveys, interviews, analytics data, and other forms of research to gain insights into user behavior. Content designers may partner with research teams to accomplish this.
Cultivate empathy for users by putting yourself in their shoes. Understand their challenges and motivations, and use that to create content that speaks directly to their needs and emotions.
Define clear content objectives aligned with user needs and business goals. Content creators should understand which actions they want users to take after engaging with the content and tailor it to support those objectives. Based on the results of their user research, they can analyze and generate objectives. For instance, those objectives can be:
- To educate: Content such as blog posts, articles, and so on can be created to help users learn more about a product and its features. If research shows that the majority of users do not fully understand how to use a product, the designer can create a process for creating blog posts as well as content that addresses this issue.
- To support the customer journey: You can support the customer journey by creating detailed user guides, FAQs, and how-to videos that address frequently asked questions and issues. Create personalized onboarding content for new customers to assist them in making the most of your products or services.
- To drive traffic and SEO: Include relevant keywords and phrases in your content to make it more search engine friendly. Create comprehensive guides and resource hubs that will become industry go-tos for information. Share content snippets on social media to drive traffic to your website.
Develop user personas that represent typical users within the target audience. These personas help content creators keep end users in mind while crafting content and ensuring it is relevant and relatable to its intended audience.
Regularly conduct usability testing to gather feedback from users on the effectiveness of your content. Usability testing helps identify areas for improvement and ensures that the content is user friendly and easy to navigate — it’s a UX staple.
Information architecture and content organization
Effective information architecture and organization are crucial aspects of user-centered content creation. Planning content organization is obviously one of the cornerstones of content design, and this will likely be a collaborative effort with the whole UX team.
Information architecture is obviously a discipline unto itself, but it’s something content designers need to know. To achieve your best information architecture, take note of the following strategies:
- Hierarchy and categorization: Organize content into a clear hierarchy with main categories and subcategories. This logical structure helps users find what they need efficiently. For example, Apple has a well structured website and has categorized all their products well for users to find easily.
- User flow: Consider the user’s journey and how they navigate through the content. Ensure the content flow aligns with the user’s mental model, leading them seamlessly through the information. Medium has a very intuitive user flow because users can find top trending articles, recommended topics, and people to follow all on one interface.
- Visual hierarchy: Use cues like font size, colors, and spacing to create a visual hierarchy that first guides users’ attention to the most critical elements. Ecommerce sites are good examples of websites content design with visual hierarchy. They use attractive images to get user attention.
- Search functionality: Implement a practical search feature that allows users to find specific content quickly. Make sure the search results are relevant and well organized. YouTube and Google are very good examples of websites that have implemented a practical search function to make it easy for users to find things.
- Progressive disclosure: For content-heavy pages, use progressive disclosure to reveal information gradually, showing only essential details upfront and offering more in-depth knowledge upon user request. LinkedIn makes for a good example because user profiles are summarized on certain pages and only upon request to view more is more information disclosed.
- Content grouping: Group related content to provide users with a cohesive and contextually relevant experience. An example of a website that groups content excellently is Pinterest. They also let users group similar content they find useful by making boards.
- Consistent navigation: Maintain consistent navigation elements throughout the range to help users quickly move between sections and pages. Facebook and Messenger have a very consistent navigation panel; you can view stories, type a message, and also view your news feed with ease.
Why does content design need information architecture?
Information architecture and content organization are critical aspects of content design because they play a crucial role in ensuring that content is presented intuitively. If your users can’t easily navigate your content, they’re out. So, here’s why you need that clear architecture:
Better user experience
Well-structured information architecture and content organization enhance the overall user experience. Users can easily find the information they seek, reducing frustration and improving satisfaction with the content and the website or platform. Imagine you are designing a website for a large online bookstore.
Without a well-structured information architecture, visitors might struggle to find the books they’re looking for, leading to a frustrating user experience. For instance, Wattpad has primary menu bars that organize website contents and group them, while the secondary menu contains dropdowns to reduce cognitive overload.
A clear content organization benefits all users, including those with disabilities. Properly labeled and organized content makes navigating and understanding the content more accessible for screen readers and other assistive technologies. If your hierarchy is unclear, screen readers may select the wrong options.
A logical content hierarchy and effective organization enable users to discover related content or explore additional topics that interest them. Content discoverability increases engagement and encourages users to spend more time on the website.
Users often skim through content to find relevant information quickly. Well-organized content structure, with clear headings and subheadings, makes it easier for users to scan and locate the necessary information.
Adequately structured content can improve search engine rankings. Search engines favor well-organized content with relevant keywords, making it more likely for the content to appear in search results. This is because website crawlers can understand content priority by heading level, menu navigation, etc.
Solid information architecture and content organization make managing and updating content easier. Maintaining a logical structure as websites grow becomes crucial in avoiding content duplication and ensuring that the website remains user friendly. If your architecture is messy, it takes more time to fix than create efficient architecture from the get-go.
How to create logical content hierarchies
We’ve learned that information architecture is one of the big levers for content design, and we’ve learned why. Let’s get into how content designers make clear information architecture:
- Card sorting: Conduct card sorting exercises with users to understand how they naturally group and categorize the content. This technique helps create a content hierarchy that aligns with users’ mental models.
- User personas and user journeys: Consider user personas and typical user journeys while organizing content. Understand what information is most relevant and needed at different stages of the user journey.
- Clear headings and subheadings: Use descriptive and concise headings and subheadings to categorize the content. Headers should provide a clear overview of the content below them and allow users to jump directly to the sections they are interested in.
- Limited number of menu items: Keep the main menu items manageable and user friendly. A cluttered navigation menu can overwhelm users and make it challenging to find the desired content.
- Content grouping and clustering: Group related content together in logical clusters, making accessing all relevant information in one place more accessible.
- Visual aids: Use visual aids, such as icons or images, to assist in content labeling and to create a more engaging and user friendly experience.
Accessibility and inclusive content design
Accessibility and inclusive content design are essential to creating digital content that ensures equal access and usability for all users, especially those with disabilities. Considering accessibility and inclusivity in content design is a legal and ethical responsibility that helps improve the overall user experience for diverse audiences.
You can design inclusive content by adhering to established web accessibility standards, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. These guidelines provide best practices for creating accessible web content.
Tone of voice and branding in content design
This is one of the biggest differentiators in content design: your company’s tone of voice and branding. You’ve likely noticed trends in tone and branding even as you read. How can you make your branding stand out? Be different!
When used effectively in content design, tone of voice and branding do the following:
1. Establish a brand identity
The tone of voice plays a significant role in establishing a brand’s identity and personality. It helps differentiate the brand from competitors and creates a unique voice that resonates with the target audience.
Duolingo, a language learning app, is a great example of using tone and voice to establish a brand identity. They use a playful tone and funny characters to encourage people to learn languages.
2. Build consistency
A consistent tone of voice across all content channels creates a cohesive and recognizable brand image. This consistency fosters brand recognition and trust among the audience.
Google maintains a consistent and authoritative tone of voice across all its products and services. They are also consistent with their colors so they’re easily recognizable.
3. Evoke emotions
An engaging and well-defined tone of voice can evoke emotions and create a deeper connection with the audience. The right style can leave a lasting impression on readers, whether it’s humor, empathy, or inspiration.
Airbnb uses their content to tell stories of unique travel experiences, creating an emotional connection with their audience. Users see other people taking fun vacations that encourage them to shop for their own.
4. Improve user experience
A consistent and relatable tone of voice enhances the overall user experience. It makes content more approachable, easy to understand, and enjoyable, encouraging users to interact with the brand.
Slack uses a friendly and approachable tone in their user interface and help documentation. This makes their platform user friendly and encourages users to explore and use it effectively.
5. Support content goals
The content designer can tailor the tone of the content to suit different content goals, whether building brand awareness, driving conversions, or providing customer support. It helps shape the narrative and influence the audience’s actions.
HubSpot, a marketing software company, is a good example of this. Their blog posts are informative and educational, while their social media posts are often conversational and engaging, which corresponds to their content goals for each platform.
How to develop a consistent and distinctive tone of voice
Creating a consistent brand voice is not always easy, but these techniques can help you develop a distinctive voice. Here is how content designers make their strategy holistic:
- Brand personality and attributes: Identify the brand’s personality traits and attributes. Research the brand you are creating content for, and find out if the brand is playful, professional, authoritative, or friendly. Understanding these traits will guide your tone of voice.
- Audience analysis: Understand your target audience’s preferences, demographics, and pain points. Tailor the tone of voice to resonate with the audience and address their needs effectively.
- Brand voice guidelines: Develop comprehensive brand voice guidelines that outline the tone of voice, preferred language style, and specific words to use or avoid. Share these guidelines with all content creators to ensure consistency.
- Create personas: Develop fictional brand personas to humanize the tone of voice and envision how the brand would speak if it were a person. This exercise helps maintain a consistent and relatable voice.
- Use storytelling: Add elements to your content to make it more engaging and compelling. A consistent tone of voice will make your brand’s stories more memorable.
- Test and iterate: Continuously monitor the audience’s response and adjust the tone of voice as needed. Feedback from users and analytics data can provide valuable insights for improvement.
- Train content creators: Educate your content creators, writers, social media managers, and customer support teams about the brand voice guidelines. Provide training and examples to ensure everyone understands and embraces the brand’s tone.
- Be authentic: Stay true to the brand’s values and purpose. Authenticity in the style of voice fosters trust and credibility with the audience.
Content testing and iteration in content design
Content testing and iteration are crucial aspects of content design that ensure the content meets user needs, remains relevant, and delivers its intended objectives effectively.
Regular testing allows content creators to validate their assumptions and ideas with real users. It ensures that the content is user-focused and aligns with the preferences and expectations of the target audience. Through testing, content creators can identify which parts of the content are successful and resonate well with users and which areas need improvement or refinement.
Regular improvements based on user feedback enhances the user experience, and continually refining content based on user needs ensures it remains relevant and useful.
Content creators can optimize content performance data to improve engagement, conversions, or other desired outcomes by analyzing content performance data. On the other hand, iteration allows content creators to stay up-to-date with changing user behaviors, industry trends, and technological advancements, ensuring that the content remains fresh and relevant.
Iterative improvements are often more cost-effective than creating entirely new content. It allows content creators to build on existing assets and make targeted adjustments. Also, regular testing and iteration keep content in line with user expectations and ahead of competitors, giving the brand a competitive advantage.
Content strategy should be based not only on your organization’s goals but also on the needs of its users. As content designers, we must also understand user experience research and design. It is critical to discover what your users want.
Once you have the answers, you can define your content creation process. Content designers must keep content relevant to solving problems and completing tasks for users. Focusing on the techniques for organizing web content, customers will convert to your brand in no time.
Header image source: IconScout
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