Content Strategy for Interfaces

The design of your idea – its simplicity, usability and ability to hook and delight people – is the reason your product could succeed when others fail. But design isn’t just about color swatches, logos or the placement of buttons and labels. It’s about creating an environment that tells people the story of your product and shows them how to use it. Too often, interfaces are considered only from a visual perspective and language is squeezed in as an afterthought. The result tends to be that the words and visual elements don’t play well together.

Good design solves problems, and using words in a smart, strategic way is a critical part of crafting a good user experience.

In this lesson, we'll explore some lightweight techniques you can use to think like a content strategist while still moving fast.

  1. Audiences, Outcomes and Determining User Needs

    Take some time to think about and answer the questions in this article under "Audiences" and "Outcomes". Before you can begin to craft language that's persuasive and makes sense, you need to understand the people you're speaking to and what you want them to do.

  2. Voice and Tone: Showing Your Users That You Care

    Imagine that your startup is a human being with a personality. Write down words that describe the kind of person it would be. Is it playful or serious? Quirky or conservative? Once you've written down a list of adjectives, create a "this but not that" list to continue to refine your voice.

  3. Voice and Tone

    Open a document and create two columns. In the first column, list all the main types of content in your product. Some examples: buttons, labels, links, dialogs, error messages and help content. In the second column, list 1 to 3 requirements for each content type, keeping your voice attributes in mind. For example: You may want all your buttons to start with a verb, be no more than 10 characters long, and contain a noun so that people always understand the action they're initiating when they click.

    Congratulations! This simple document along with your voice list is the beginning of your content standards. Keep your list as a shared document so that as you develop new content types, you or your team can add them to the list.

  4. Creating Valuable Content: An Essential Checklist

    Meet with the people on your team who care about the usability of your interface. Share the voice document you've created, your lightweight content standards and the valuable content checklist. Brainstorm practical ways your team can regularly integrate content thinking into their work. This isn't about creating a process, but about working smarter to create a better user experience.

  5. Testing Content

    Organize a lightweight usability test of your content. This might involve friends and family, people on the street, or your actual customers. Get them to read a core piece of your content (a product description is a great place to start). How does it sound when it’s read out loud? Do people get tripped up over any of the words? What do they think it means? How does it make them feel? Do they have any questions? Try to keep an open mind and understand that words are hard. You may need to adjust multiple times before you land on something that resonates with people.

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