A little horror story about design and content
What if the designers of clothing designed without keeping the human body in mind? They would make art, perhaps, but certainly nothing useful.
What if the creators of water bottles didn’t take the volume and characteristics of water into account? They would create something utterly unusable as a water bottle.
What if a wallet can’t keep money and cards safe? The coins keep falling out of it, and paper money would be damaged. It could only hold two of the ten cards you need with you. Truthfully, I owned such a wallet at one point. It was awful. And costly.
Do clothes make the man?
The human body in clothes, the water in bottles, the money and cards in the wallet -they are the content. In all of these examples, if done well, the design of the product -the container if you will, is informed by the content it needs to contain. When it’s not, the product fails and gets low ratings in the webshops where you bought it.
When the container dictates the content
It still happens in digital design, though. Let’s say we’re making an app. A lot of thinking gets done (design thinking, even. Whoa!), a design gets made, everybody pats everyone on the back. And then they call in a writer to create the content in those pretty boxes and for those neatly defined labels. The writer starts putting words on things. But it’s hard because sometimes there isn’t enough space for all the characters that are needed. Or there’s a better way to convey a message. Or there shouldn’t be any content at all. The writer sits at their desk, sighs and thinks to themselves “why didn’t they call me in earlier?”. In the adjacent room, the patting on the back continues, now also performed by managers who sign off on the design.
When the writer emerges with their content, hands it over to development, and we get to see the final result, it all becomes clear. Something doesn’t feel right. It’s like an ill-fitting jacket. But it needs to go live now because that was the plan.
The app is now live. It gets low ratings in the App Store. People are saying that it doesn’t work for them. The product has failed.
Everyone looks at the writer: “We were so happy, everything was perfect, but then you came along”. “We should find a better writer,” the team decides, “this one’s no good!”.
But you and I both know: it’s not the writer’s fault. They were called in too late in the game. If the writer had been involved in the whole process, they would have contributed their views and tried out their words in the design. They would have let you know what’s needed in terms of content. What it would have looked like as words on a wireframe or in a prototype. What would have happened when it went through translation.
Content is design
When the words are there – even if they are not the final ones, UX designers will be able to optimise flows. Perhaps they can also eliminate a step. Maybe they need one more. Visual and UI designers will be able to (quite literally) take the content’s measurements, and build their design informed by these measurements.
It would have been an excellent collaboration, resulting in a great product with remarkable UX. Everyone, the team, management, and the user, would have been happy with the result. We would have had proud smiles, raising of glasses, tears of joy.
So next time, get your writer in the room at the start of your project. Hear their ideas, let them play with words, test them, iterate. I promise you, your process and product will be so much better for it.
(Granted, I may have oversimplified some elements in this story, but the moral holds through).