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Is Your Metadata Miles Away from Complete?

by Clinton Forry on April 21st, 2011

Whether your content is produced in-house or licensed from a third party, make sure it’s complete from top to bottom. Otherwise, you might send someone off in a JAZZ RAGE.

LISTENING TO MUSIC HAS CHANGED

I love music. After a lifetime of being hooked on CDs and LPs, I recently jumped into the realm of getting a music subscription online. The charm of these services is that they don’t require any downloads—all of the music is streamed on-demand.

Services like this are not new. They’ve been around for some time, actually.

I took the plunge because one of the services, Rdio, had finally created an online experience with the things I wanted. It’s easy to use. And easy to sync across different devices and locations. BUT, there are some common content issues that keep it from being a fantastic experience.

PROVIDERS NEED CONTENT

Services like Rdio work by licensing content, making it available each month to eager listeners for a subscription fee. Record labels strike deals with these online services to provide access to their catalog of titles.

Rdio has done their part, making the layout and features downright lovely. So lovely, in fact, that I’ve been going about as if I were a salesman for the company, begging people to sign up.

Being a jazz nerd, I immediately typed “Miles Davis” into the search box on my first visit. This is where the trouble started.

BUT SOMETHING MAKES ME KIND OF BLUE

First, some jazz history: Miles Davis played trumpet with bebop sax legend Charlie Parker early in his career. They made fabulous recordings. Rdio makes enjoying these rather difficult. To illustrate, here are the entries for Miles and Charlie Parker:

Miles Davis and Charlie Parker search results

Figure 1. Miles is agitated. (Click to enlarge/exasperate.)

Although it’s likely not the fault of Rdio, there are some serious content problems here. Content is duplicated. Other content has frustratingly incorrect or incomplete metadata. Some content suffers both problems.

Some of these distinctions make sense. But others feature almost comical misspellings or strange divisions (comma or hyphen or slash or semi-colon or … ).

A careful audit of this content prior to publication would have surfaced these content classification crimes. Miles himself would arrest you for such offenses against his music.

Miles Davis You're Under Arrest album cover

Figure 2. The Miles Davis album “You’re Under Arrest.”

At any rate, this many misleading options will bewilder even seasoned enthusiasts.

CONTENT MILESTONES OF THE UNWANTED SORT

Even more jazz history: In 1958, Miles recorded a classic album titled “Milestones.” Get it? Miles? Tones? Milestones? (This is as good as jazz humor gets, folks.)

That search I mentioned earlier? For Miles Davis? It yields 368 separate album choices. If you wanted to listen to the “Milestones” album on Rdio, you would be presented with yet another content conundrum:

Issues surround Milestones on Rdio

Figure 3. (Click to enlarge/enrage.)

When faced with 368 album choices, a listener can get overwhelmed, to say the least. They may switch from navigating the search results via text to relying on visual cues (in the form of album covers).

In Rdio’s case, album covers and artist names are considered metadata.  Inaccurate and incomplete metadata makes navigating the options difficult, if not impossible.

When metadata is incomplete or inaccurate, people will flee. They’ll unsubscribe from your service and take their money with them. You don’t want that.

METADATA TO THE RESCUE

In the interest of creating a satisfying user experience, the record companies would do well to clean up the catalog they license to services like Rdio. As newer editions of “Milestones” are released, this user experience will only become more unwieldy.

Complete and accurate metadata will make your life easier now.

New technology and its applications will find new uses for content in coming years. Make sure that your content—and by extension, your metadata—is complete and accurate. Because it just may make your life easier in the future, too.

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Posted in Content Strategy, Information Architecture, User Experience, Web Content

Content Strategy Is Not User Experience

by Erin Kissane on February 10th, 2011

"I'll show you weird markings."

Every couple of weeks, one of my colleagues in the content strategy community wigs out a little bit about marketing people co-opting “our” terms and processes for their own (presumably nefarious) ends.

As a content strategist who comes from the world formerly known as “web design” (and now mostly called “user experience”), I’ve felt sympathetic twitches when I see these complaints. Not out of territorialism, necessarily, but I, too, dislike seeing the whole sweep of content strategy work reduced to “content = customer acquisition!” After all, we’ve fought to have content strategy recognized as a core component of user experience work.

So it was with this bias that I sat down, a few months back, to write a book. And one of the first things I had to work out was what I really meant by “content strategy”—and why I felt it didn’t rightfully belong to the folks with “social media marketing” in their Twitter bios. Along the way, I discovered something slightly upsetting, which is that content strategy doesn’t really belong to user experience, either.

Bear with me, UXers. You can put the diagram down for a second.

What We Talk About When We Talk About …

The thing is, marketing people talk about CS and mean “content strategy as it applies to selling things, building brands, and providing customer service in ways that make people want to buy more things.” A lot of this sort of content strategy revolves around distribution channels, messages, branding, and sometimes, editorial workflow. User-centered design principles may or may not be involved.

Enterprise content strategy people, on the other hand—the people working with data and DITA and knowledge management systems—talk about CS and mean data modeling, technical workflow, documentation, planning for content reuse, and content management, often on a very large scale. Their attention to customer service and support tends to be about increasing efficiency, reducing redundant effort, and achieving consistency. Again, user-centered design principles may be involved, but are unlikely to be a primary focus.

When people from the media world talk about CS, they tend to mean discussions of business models, distribution channels,  and the development of content as a product, with secondary focus on marketing and customer service (unless they’re all Paul Ford). User-centered design principles may come up, but they’re far from the center of the conversation, which doesn’t usually get into the details of user experience.

And content people who come from or work in the UX world say content strategy and mean bits of all of the above, but with user-centered design at the core of the work. Product design becomes feature design; messaging and branding become content goals and style guides; data modeling becomes content templates and page tables.

But this sort of content strategy isn’t the One True CS. And even when we do it within user experience projects, content strategy doesn’t fit neatly within the usual boundaries of UX. Content strategy must often precede true UX work, as when it involves the organizational communication planning that must happen before a web design project can begin.

And, of course, all that messy editorial planning and workflow stuff tends to continue long after interface design and front-end development are complete. No other part of a UX project necessarily involves the implementation of long-term organizational practices (unless you expand “UX” to the IT resources that support systems over time, which is a stretch).

The Marmot Wars

You might think of each of these separate kinds of content strategy work as gophers, or maybe marmots. Each tunneling toward a cherished meadow as quickly as its wee marmot paws can manage, until, suddenly, it pops out into the open air—only to discover STRANGE OUTSIDER MARMOTS WITH WEIRD MARKINGS stumbling out of their own holes and blinking in the sun. And then you get the posturing and barking and little finger-snapping marmot West Side Story dances, and it’s all very tiring and no one gets a snack.

My point is not that the marmot-meadow is big enough for everyone, though it mostly is. The differing models of CS do sometimes come into competition, especially when clients aren’t quite sure what they need. User science people will probably never get along with the folks on the ad-world end of the marketing continuum, and editorial nerds will probably continue to underestimate the value of data wonks (and vice-versa).

But, we should nevertheless recognize that content strategy is a big, big world. It’s not just that we all have different specializations and approaches, though that’s true. Content strategy is a big ol’ loosely connected network of practices, and it doesn’t belong to any of us any more than graphic design belongs to advertising or project management to aerospace engineering.

I’ve met more than a few real, actual marmots, and let me tell you—we’re smarter than they are. So let’s give the rodenty turf wars a rest and try talking about content strategy in ways that admit the possibility of other useful kinds of CS work.    

One Love

There’s value in looking beyond our industry-specific tunnels and expanding our own capabilities to include some of those other kinds of CS, so we have more to offer our clients when they need it. That’s one of the reasons I’m stupidly excited about Confab.

The fact that so many of the sharpest minds from the far reaches of Big Tent Content Strategy are all going to be in one place—and I don’t just mean as speakers, either—can only mean good things for the curious content specialist.

With rapid growth comes weird pressures and the potential for irrational infighting, and we are definitely in a spell of rapid growth. We need a gathering of the tribes. And I daresay we could use a big party, while we’re at it.

So I hope to see you there—or around, online—whether you come from social media marketing or the geekiest depths of the data-wrangling world, WEIRD MARKINGS and all.

("Gopher" image via Flickr user Fil.Al (cc: by 2.0))

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Posted in Brain Traffic, Content Strategy, User Experience, Web Content

Shrink to Fit

by Lee Thomas on January 27th, 2011

Whether it’s the printed word, television, or text messages, a new medium is often cause for debate: Some people lament what might be lost and warn of lurking dangers. Others celebrate the new possibilities and buy a new gadget from Apple.

So, it’s no surprise that new communication tools based on short formats—like Facebook, Twitter, and text messages—would prompt such a discussion. What are all those status updates, Tweets, and texts doing to our brains? Are they rotting our attention spans? Making us more distracted than a cat at a laser light show? Changing the very way we think?

Cat dancing with lasers

Mittens is so totally into Floyd.

There’s a thoughtful piece about this over at Tom Johnson’s blog, I’d Rather Be Writing, discussing contemporary reading behaviors and short formats. The post was prompted by feedback Tom received suggesting that he shred some already sparse content because “no one’s going to sit through this.” In the accompanying thread, Tom and his readers discuss the more vs. less balance in different media and situations in detail, so I won’t try to summarize here. Suffice it to say that, as content strategists, the issue of enough vs. too much never goes away.

How much? How many? How often?

My favorite comment in the above thread comes from Tim Rich, who proposes the following mantra: “As little as possible, as much as necessary.”

Tim’s handy phrase caught my attention because clients still ask: What’s the “right” number of navigation buttons and content categories? What’s the “right” length for a piece of web copy? How far will users scroll? How many clicks are too many?

Say it with me now: It depends.

That answer is a running joke, but it’s also true. One-size-fits-all works for a pretty small number of things. (Scarves, for example.  And possibly, eye patches.)

Most situations call for some kind of assessment. Certainly that’s true of messy human endeavors like communication, knowledge, and understanding—all of which are interlaced with content.

As content strategists, we know there’s no simple answer to the question, How much content do we need?  We have to assess a host of factors, including audience needs and tasks, business goals, the delivery medium, the nature of the content, the environment in which the content is accessed and used, and so on. And then we have to use human judgment, skill, and craftsmanship in our attempt to find the right balance.

Some clients can handle that kind of ambiguity—offer up a metaphor about tailors or house builders, and they get it; they see the value in a thoughtful, customized answer to complex questions.

Other clients want us to cite best practices or to emulate what the competition is doing. Best practices are useful, sure, but applying them blindly and without consideration for the particular situation misses a whole lot of opportunity and may even cause damage.

Less is more. Except when I want more.

Maybe Goldilocks was fickle. Then again, maybe she really knew her own mind and didn’t want to settle for something that didn’t fit her needs.

Recently, I wrote about the benefits of a less-is-more content strategy. I wasn’t advocating a “gut-and-cut” approach to content or for brevity above all. Like cocktails, politics, and reality TV, maxims should be consumed in moderation.

In the post I commented on the value of ditching excess in order to make room for what’s essential. The thing is, what’s essential changes with every situation, and imposing strict limits based on what’s “right” is arbitrary and counterproductive. Random examples:

  •  Most books aimed at young adults are under 200 pages. There are exceptions. When the content is good and in demand, attention spans stretch to accommodate 784 pages. Sales were good.
  •  Most help content is short for a reason: users want quick answers in order to get a task done and move on. But there is such a thing as too sparse. I’m looking at you, Spøklaår nightstand.

“As little as possible, as much as necessary.”

Tim’s mantra is reasonable and useful. It may be only slightly less ambiguous than “it depends,” but it is more to the point. An answer like that might help clients understand that content strategists aren’t trying to apply a set of one-size-fits-all rules. Instead, we’re trying to create bespoke solutions that fit the needs of audiences and businesses in specific situations.

(Image above adapted from adorable! by Flickr user brianschulman (cc: by-sa 2.0) and Ministry Of Sound – Laser Light Show with DJs Deep Dish by Flickr user Anirudh Koul (cc: by-nc 2.0))

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Posted in Content Strategy, Editorial Strategy, Information Architecture, User Experience, Web Content

Tidings of Content & Calm

by Lee Thomas on December 16th, 2010

Hello, December … hello, chaos. Take the usual 9-to-5 and everyday commitments, and add all the extras that come with the winter holidays: Weeks filled with social gatherings. Packages to wrap, address, and send. Air travel. And of course, the list of gifts to hunt down and buy. It’s enough to make an introvert like me cry into his figgy pudding.

Or it would be if I let it. A couple of years ago, I decided to trim my holiday activities. Most notably, I suggested to my family that we forego gifts, and to my yuletide joy, they agreed.

Now I glide through the holidays with less dashing through the snow, more relaxing by the fireplace. Yes, we gave up gifts, but we all got something we really want: more time and less stress. 

Give more with less

So what does this have to do with content? Publishing more stuff, more often, is easier than ever with today’s tools. But do audiences need it all? Do they want it all? Or are they getting a lot of pink bunny pajamas instead of the Red Rider BB gun they really want?

Perhaps there’s something to be gained by following one of the guiding principles of minimalism:  choose the essential.

Part of a content strategy should be determining what not to publish—what to cut from the website, what to trim from the page. This means focusing (again) on the essential content people really want and getting rid of the excess. Why? Because it gets in the way.

Some stakeholders may resist such cuts, given the nearly unlimited space available online. But letting go can lead to greater gains in the end.

Google’s gift

For example, take Google. Back in the day, Google attracted attention for its famously minimal home page design. While a competitor crammed more and more on to its home page—and tried to be all things to all people—Google gave audiences something truly valuable: an oasis of simplicity amid the increasing clutter of cyberspace.

That clear focus helped users get to what they really wanted: search results for their particular need. Things turned out okay for Google. Meanwhile, (for multiple reasons) that competitor is struggling.

That’s not a new example, but I was reminded of it recently when Gmail streamlined its home page. I noticed the change immediately. At first, I couldn’t put my finger on why, but the site just felt calmer and cleaner (even more than usual). The difference is subtle, but when I compared the before and after it became clear how Google’s trimming helped:

  • Focus the message. The same benefits are there, but fewer distractions (visuals and words) mean the benefits can stand out.
  • Focus the user’s attention. Fewer distractions also help users scan quickly and get to where the real action is: account sign-up or sign-in. Behind which Gmail starts making money with paid ads.

Gmail screenshot comparison

(Screen images from Google's Gmail Blog)

Ready to reduce?

If clutter and excess are weighing down your web content, it may be time to trim. Help the good stuff emerge stronger so your audiences can find and use it. Here are a couple of places to start:

  • Site metrics. Do the metrics show long-forgotten pages or whole sections of your site that are no longer generating traffic? If so, maybe it’s time to retire that content.
  • User profiles. Knowing what audiences want is hard. They’re not homogenous—what they want changes, and there are a lot of circumstances involved. Still, revisiting user profiles and comparing content to what users want is worthwhile. If the profiles are out of date, maybe it’s time to invest in some new user research. With a clearer idea of what audiences really want, you can cut content that doesn’t make the wish list.
  • At the page level. Google’s post states that they cut 250 words in streamlining. Chances are your web editor would love an invitation to do the same.

Fa-la-la-la-la

Cutting back can produce some unexpected benefits, including clearer focus and happier audiences. Users may be joyful about less quantity, more quality. When looking at content for places to trim, there’s a refrain that runs through my head (and oh boy, do I wish I could say it’s, “You’ll shoot your eye out!”): Give users what they want. Cut the excess. Choose the essential.

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Posted in Content Strategy, Editorial Strategy, User Experience, Web Content

Improving Your Content’s Signal-to-Noise Ratio

by Christine Anameier on November 4th, 2010

If you grew up in a certain era, you probably remember fiddling with the dial on a car radio, trying to tune in a station. When you found the signal: hooray, music! And in between? Noise. Sometimes, web content can seem a lot like the static you hear between stations.

Is your website broadcasting loud and clear? Even if your content is terrific, presenting it the wrong way can make it seem like static. Let’s look at what you can do to make your signal heard.

Even good content can be noise

When we talk about web content, we talk about messaging and audiences—what your site is trying to say, and who you’re saying it to. If something is clearly off-topic or doesn’t apply to any of your audiences, it’s noise. Most people who work on content will accept that verdict, if grudgingly.

Where things get a little touchier is when something is only marginally relevant. Or relevant to the wrong audience. Or not clearly focused. The information you needed yesterday may be noise today. Perfectly good content will be noise to somebody.

The bottom line: When you’re looking for information, everything that’s not what you need at this very minute is noise.

Noise gets in the way

When there’s too much noise, it’s hard to find the signal. With that car radio, we all had days where we got fed up with the static and popped in a cassette.

Sometimes content is labeled vaguely, and this only compounds the problem. If people can’t tell at a glance whether something is what they’re looking for, you’re probably making them work too hard.  And if you make your audience work too hard, they’re likely to wander off and find a site that gives them more help.

If your site has too much static, they’ll pop in the cassette—and, for that visit at least, you’ve lost them.

Boosting the signal

So, how can you break through the noise and get the most out of your content?

Segmentation. We often recommend segmenting content by audience, if your audiences can self-identify, like “Patients” and “Doctors.” (Or sometimes you may need to organize your content by task, or by where the content falls in the purchase cycle.)

Prioritization. Understand your audiences and their tasks, and decide what your website is trying to do. Then make the site structure— and the page structure—reflect those priorities.

Clear labeling. Specific and accurate link text, page titles, and headings are essential. They’re like the numbers on that radio dial. Without them, your audience is just fiddling around hoping to stumble upon something worthwhile.

Content Strategy Signal to Noise Ratio

In many cases, improving your signal-to-noise ratio doesn’t mean deleting a lot of your content. It means finding a better way of organizing and presenting what you’ve got.

Chances are, you’ve got the information people are looking for. Put a good clear signal out there, and they’ll keep tuning in.

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Posted in Content Strategy, Information Architecture, User Experience, Web Content

RSS in the Olden Days

by Angie Halama on October 1st, 2010

Hand-written headlines in a newspaper office window.

(Click image to enlarge.)

Before CNN scrolling news headlines. Before aggregators. Before Tweetdeck.

Way back in 1940 the Brockton Enterprise newspaper was providing a handmade news feed to passersby on the street: by posting headlines in its office windows.

I spotted this picture in a blog post of vintage color photos. I had no idea that newspapers had ever done this, and I don’t know whether it was a common practice. But what a great strategy for selling papers: entice people with the headlines so that they want to read more.

It makes me wonder how often they updated their “feed.” Every time the daily edition was released? As soon as a story broke? Did people purposely visit, or “subscribe” to, this corner to find out what was going on in the world?

Oh, and who was the lucky one hand-printing all those headlines and pasting them up in the window? Clicking “publish” never seemed easier.   

The method may be old-fashioned, but the strategy is as modern as, well, today’s headlines.

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Posted in Editorial Strategy, Uncategorized, User Experience

Is Paper.li Good News, or Bad News, for Content?

by Angie King on September 15th, 2010

A recent Brain Traffic Twitter exchange with @dmnguys introduced me to the world of Paper.li. Since then, I’ve been trying to figure out whether I like the service or not. One thing’s for sure: it’s no substitute for curation.

WHAT IS PAPER.LI?
According to their website, Paper.li is an online service that “organizes links shared on Twitter into an easy to read newspaper-style format.”  You can create these “newspapers” to aggregate content for Twitter users, lists, or hashtags. Paper.li automatically generates these feeds into a homepage that emulates the feel of a traditional newspaper’s website.

WHAT I LIKE ABOUT PAPER.LI
As Mathew Ingram writes on Gigaom.com, Paper.li is “a great way to catch up on interesting links my network has found — especially if I have been away from Twitter during the day and am wondering what I have missed.”

I’ve only been using Paper.li for a couple short days, but I can already agree that this is the main benefit of a service like this. Other things I like about Paper.li:

  • View by topic—If you want to see things only related to Technology, you can do that without paging through your full Twitter feed.
  • View by media—Gives you a snapshot view of videos and photos, without clicking a link first.
  • Create multiple newspapers—You can create up to 10 “newspapers” to follow the people, hashtags, and lists you’re most interested in.
  • No follow required—You can follow any Twitter list on Paper.li without actually following it from your Twitter account.

WHAT I DON'T LIKE ABOUT PAPER.LI
This list is meatier than the “What I like” list. Sorry, Paper.li.

Daily Tweets, without context—If you want to share your Paper.li site on your personal Twitter stream, you can click the “Promote It” link below the masthead. This requires you to sign up for daily promotional Tweets, and won’t let you do a one-time promotion of your page. Sure, you can go in and “manage” the papers you are promoting to turn off the daily Tweets—but that’s a bit laborious.

Additionally, Paper.li Daily Tweets provide absolutely no context for the content that appears on your Paper.li page. This absence of context is exactly what drew me to Paper.li in the first place.

Here’s the @BrainTraffic  / @dmnguys exchange that inspired this post:

The fact that the Paper.li daily gets “no input from us” doesn’t bother @dmnguys. Automatic generation of a Tweet absolves them from providing context. But as a user and an indirect subject of their Twitter stream, the Paper.li Daily Tweet ended up confusing instead of enlightening me.

Without the proper context around the “featured” Twitter handles and why they are being featured, the Daily Tweet doesn’t provide any value to followers. At least, not in my book.

Not all “stories” translate—Paper.li attempts to replicate the first paragraph of the links shared by your Twitter community. This lead-in doesn’t always translate well, so you end up reading a bunch of nonsense until you click the link. For instance, Kristina posted a link to some favorite articles the other day.

Her Tweet said:

Paper.li translated her Tweet as follows:

Um … WTF?

Not customizable—Because Paper.li automatically generates the sections of my daily “newspaper,” I have no say in what appears as my lead story. Also, I can’t hide or rearrange any of the topical sections.

No central dashboard—I created two Paper.li dailies, but am unable to access them without a direct URL. I expected Paper.li to keep a list of my previously created “newspapers” somewhere, especially after I’m logged in to the site. (In case you’re curious, the two papers I created are: Angie King Daily and contentstrategy Daily.)

PAPER.LI IS NOT CURATION
Granted, nobody said it WAS curation. But my experience with Paper.li just proves the importance of curation over aggregation.  Without an editorial eye overseeing the publication of my Paper.li page, the content loses value. I actually prefer just paging through my Twitter stream over trying to make sense of the no-context, automatically generated list of junk that displays on my Paper.li page.

But I can’t blame Paper.li for trying to meet a need. It just wasn’t MY need. Probably because I’m not a robot.

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Posted in Content Strategy, Editorial Strategy, Uncategorized, User Experience, Web Content

Content Creation: Quality vs. Quantity (or “A Recipe for Content Deliciousness”)

by Erin Anderson on August 20th, 2010

Last night, I had dinner at one of Brain Traffic’s favorite local restaurants: Brasa Rotisserie. They’re part of a growing number of shops opting for a “limited offerings” approach to dining. That is, they offer a few dishes, and they do them goshdarned well. They use locally-grown, organic ingredients. They slow-cook their meat, and price the dishes reasonably.

I tend to appreciate that less-is-more approach with regard to more than just my dinner. That’s why I shop at my neighborhood co-op instead of the megasupermarket across town. It’s why I like wearing dresses instead of trying to assemble a pants-shirt-belt outfit every day. Life is complicated enough, already, jeez.

The same don’t-bite-off-more-than-you-can-chew, quality-vs.-quantity sensibility factors into many of the recommendations we make to our clients as they undertake the complex task of planning for content on their website.

Your content can’t please all of the people all of the time. (Sorry.)

It’s common for publishers of web properties (large ones, especially) to feel the pressure of becoming all things to all people. After all, different departments within a company have different priorities and different ideas about what the end user really needs.

But without clear rules and a solid decision-making process about what should stay and what should go, the situation can quickly devolve into a “too many cooks in the kitchen” scenario (ahem).

Pretty soon your users get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information on your site, and they leave feeling frustrated, but still hungry for something substantial. The information they wanted may have been there all along, but it was hiding behind a bunch of stuff they didn’t actually need or care about.

But with a content strategy in place, it can please some of the people most of the time.

So how can you satisfy your users by giving them only useful, usable, information that’s also easy to navigate and search? A strategy is necessary. That’s all there is to it.

Whatever form that strategy takes, it should cover the whos, whats, whens, wheres, whys, and hows of everything you serve up. For example:

  • What are your users’ goals?
  • What content do you offer to satisfy those goals?
  • Who makes the content?
  • Who fixes it when it’s broken/outdated?
  • Where is the best place on the site to share the content?
  • Why would your users choose you over another organization?
  • How can you use your site content to build on those competitive differences?
  • How do your users find you when they find you? How long do they stay when they get there? 

If you can’t keep tabs on all your content in these ways, make less of it for a while. Minimize the content elements you can’t easily govern … until you have the resources or the budget to do so.

The key is to set standards your organization can easily support and routinely evaluate.

Most importantly: Set standards (and a schedule!) for evaluating quality. Make a plan for adding/subtracting content elements to reflect current demand while innovating in your area of expertise. (If you’re the bomb at slow-cooking meats, make that your thing. Then whip up a few side dishes to give that carne some context.)

In summary, make sure the content on your site helps your users accomplish a task. Ditch everything that gets in their way. Bam!

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Posted in Content Strategy, User Experience

Top 10 infographic resources

by Christine Benson on May 7th, 2010

We're infographic junkies here at Brain Traffic, and it's not hard to figure out why: Successful infographics are the marriage of great design and useful information. In other words, infographics are visually appealing content.

Converting your information to an infographic benefits your users by communicating your message in a visually compelling form. Whether they show up in internal deliverables or online, infographics seem to get everyone excited. Whenever I'm ready to create a new graphic, I use these resources for ideas and inspiration.

Great Lists from other sites
1.  Smashing Magazine They've done several infographic round-up posts, but this is the one I keep going back to.
2.  Six Revisions There's a strong consumption theme running through this collection. I've sent the coffee and beer graphics around to family and friends on more than one occasion.
3.  Blog of Francesco Mugnai 50 great infographics. Nothing else. 

 Sites dedicated to Infographics
4.  Flowing Data  Great graphics and advice about how to create them. Props to Nathan Yau .
5.  Chart Porn There's a humor category. (swoon)
6.  Cool Infographics  Lots of resources for creating graphics as well as examples. Check out the tips for designing infographics
7.  We love Datavis The browsing on this one is not my favorite (the thumbnails are tough to decipher without clicking), but the graphics they pick are really strong.
8.  How Toons Cartoons are not infographics in the traditional sense, but these are so entertaining I had to include this example.

 Print Infographics
9.  Feltron Annual Report Nicholas Felton does a report every year. It’s pretty amazing.
10.  Good Magazine You know about Good, right? No? Just go there. Go there NOW. 

 Bonus – Interactive graphics!
I know I've already named 10, but I have to end with my all-time favorite interactive infographic. It's the New York Times Olympic Medal count – there's one for the Summer and Winter. They’re both so amazing, I love to go back to them even when it's not an Olympic year.

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Posted in Content Strategy, Resources, Uncategorized, User Experience, Web Content

Don’t put content in your users’ blind spot

by Angie King on April 23rd, 2010

So, you’ve done your research. You know what content is important to your users. You put that information on your website and pat yourself on the back for providing useful, useable content.

But wait. Don’t congratulate yourself just yet. Because simply putting content on a page doesn't guarantee users will find it. It could be hidden in a "content blind spot."

What’s a content blind spot?
Content blind spots occur when the information is there, but users can’t see it. In general, users scan and skip content, looking for clues before committing to read. But if the clues are missing, users won’t find the content.

Problems that prevent users from finding content include:

  • Information is not where users expect to find it, based on past experiences on that website or the web in general
  • Links do not look like links (e.g., link text not underlined or not blue)
  • Copy is “hidden” inside a graphic element or photograph
  • Page titles and links do not use relevant keywords or common user terms

Just like those little Smart Cars that hide in your Prius’s blind spot on the freeway, content stays unseen until someone changes their position. While driving, that means you or the Smart Car needs to speed up, slow down, or change lanes. Likewise, content stays hidden in a blind spot until either the user changes their approach to accessing the information, or you change the way it’s displayed.

What it’s like to experience the content blind spot
While doing our taxes, my husband asked me how much interest I paid on my student loan in 2009. I went to WellsFargo.com to find out.

I get all my bank-related documents electronically, so I knew right where to find that sort of information—or so I thought. I logged in to my student loan and went to the Statements & Documents tab. Once there, I saw a link called “Available Tax Documents.” Bingo.

 

 
“Hey! I’m looking for information to help me file taxes. The 'Available Tax Documents’ link will give me what I need.” (Click image to enlarge.)
 

Wrong. I went from feeling triumphant to confused within seconds—or however long it took a “Tax document not available online” error message to load.

After a few more failed attempts, I called customer service. A friendly representative walked me through the exact same process I had just gone through. I got the same error message. She was confused. I was confused. She transferred me to another department. The call was disconnected mid-Muzak stream. I was fuming.

I gave up. But my husband was convinced the information had to be online. I handed him my laptop, and wished him luck.

He found the information in two seconds.

 

 
“Oh. The information I was looking for was there along. Now I’m mad at Wells Fargo for making me feel stupid.” (Click image to enlarge.)
 

How the content snuck into my blind spot
I totally missed seeing my 2009 tax info because I had expected to find it in the Statements & Documents tab. Then, the tab rewarded my incorrect assumption by providing an “Available Tax Documents” link.

I didn’t even look for the information on the Account Activity page. Why? Because I was used to looking at a similar page for my checking account, and there is no “interest paid” information there. It’s just a summary of my balance. So why would I look on that page for interest information on my student loan account?

How to avoid the content blind spot

My experience is just one example of how content can “hide” from your user. To avoid this type of content blind spot:

  • Be consistent in where you put similar pieces of content throughout the site
  • Use relevant keywords and user terminology—especially when labeling links and navigation
  • Don’t mislead users with links that don’t deliver what they promise

If you put content in your users’ blind spot, they’ll leave your website feeling angry, confused, and frustrated. And without the information they needed. Not everyone has a husband with eagle eyes, you know?

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Posted in Content Strategy, Uncategorized, User Experience, Web Content