Forget Agile or whatever for just a minute. This is the most important process conversation you’ve never had.

Digital leads and their teams love to talk process. We’re always wondering, how do we build faster, better, leaner, happier? We carry out heated debates about the best methodologies, put boatloads of effort into implementing our chosen processes across our teams, and spend untold hours attempting to mold our days to fit the workflow we’ve agreed to follow.

But, for all of these conversations about development and design processes, there’s one monumentally critical piece of the puzzle that never gets discussed, pondered, or even considered, let alone rolled into any kind of actual team process. And that is content strategy.

A Surefire Way for Your Process to Fail

Whether you acknowledge it or not, words dominate every digital product. So how do the real words that support your most important interactions get into your interfaces? I’ll take a guess. It will be easy because most digital teams use this same non-process:

  1. Content comes last. – Words of any kind aren’t considered until your team suddenly comes across a place where they realize something will need to be communicated. You designate a space for some words and fill it with lorem ipsum so you can come back later to actually write the content.
  2. Little thought is given to how important interactions are communicated. – When your team has to write a word in a button, navigation area, or heading so that your interface makes sense, they write the first thing that comes to their mind and keep moving. This wording will almost certainly be overly technical or internal and will be what that interaction is called for the rest of time.
  3. Practicing strategy-less content strategy. – Someone—probably a business analyst or product lead or designer or member of your development team—eventually comes in and writes words in the spaces already set aside with lorem ipsum. This is the space they get, whether the actual information or action needing to be communicated fits well or not.
  4. Tada, you’re done with words. – Content strategy accomplished! Poorly, but your interface has words.

No amount of talking about development or design processes will get you out of the mess that this non-approach to content strategy creates. So many interactive experiences fall short of success because most teams are this careless about the real words that real people need to use their product.

A Simple Change Will Make a World of Difference

Presenting and communicating interactive content—the basis of content strategy—requires careful thought through each phase of a project. You cannot tack this thinking on at the end and expect quality results. You must morph your process to include content strategy thought and definition every step of the way.

Embrace this simple yet fundamental change and you’ll make huge strides toward better, more successful digital products.

Really, It’s Simple

You already know how to incorporate content strategy into your process because you already likely approach every other discipline this way. Definition, design, project management, development, etc. are all woven into your process and contribute to the strength of your end result.

Content strategy should be no different. Consider it in the very same way you would consider any other critical part of your interface.

Establishing Accountability for Content Strategy

You almost certainly don’t have content strategists on your team. Most organizations don’t. That means you must ensure that someone on your team has clear ownership of the thought and effort that goes into content strategy. At first, this can be the most communication-savvy member of your existing team. It’s okay—for now—if that’s a business analyst or designer or developer.

Eventually, if you’re successful with incorporating content strategy into your process, the time will come that you will need to hire a content strategist. You should go ahead and plan on it. But that’s a different post.

The Right Way to Make Content Strategy Part of Your Process

If you truly make an effort to incorporate content strategy into your team’s process, your approach to all word-related decisions will change in these ways and more:

  • Content leads definition. – Your team makes exactly zero decisions about structure or layout before understanding all actions, instructions, and messaging needed.
  • Content strategy aligns business goals with user needs. – Early attention is given to balancing business requirements and the needs of real people, including how they absorb and process information, to make the product work better for everyone involved.
  • No more lorem ipsum. – You define real words early, directly in wireframes and prototypes alongside the interactions they support. Every time.
  • Guide your users. –Words are constantly working to let people know where they are in your product, what they should do next, and where they can go from there.
  • The right words doing the right job. – You produce concise, straightforward, contextual, and refreshingly scannable microcopy.
  • Bite-sized, digestible content chunks. – If an action, set of instructions, or other information seems like too much to take in, even by one iota, your team splits it into smaller chunks.
  • Human speak, not technical or internal jargon. – Your everyday users can immediately understand every word in your product without double-guessing, definitions, or effort.
  • Content strategy contributes to standard components and patterns. – Actions and information are presented consistently, helping to create standardized UI patterns.
  • You wonder how you did it before. – Content strategy solves problems that have plagued your team’s projects for ages and leads to superior results. Your team considers content strategy a vital part of your overall UX effort.

The Most Important Conversation You’ve Never Had

Do you ever wonder how those market and industry leading experiences succeed? Why they are the benchmarks people refer to every time, the ones people love to use? We’re about to blow their cover. In a very real way, these digital giants’ success rises head and shoulders over everyone else’s because they have embraced content strategy as an integral part of their design and development processes. They think about, plan for, and discuss content strategy as part of a greater whole.

Start having this new conversation about how content strategy fits into your process. You’ll be amazed at how fast your team’s digital products start to rise in the ranks of experiences that are useful, sought after, and even loved.

About truematter

Our team has been doing the real work of user experience since the earliest days of the commercial web. We’re out to make your digital products a whole lot better.

You’d better believe that content strategy is discussed in every one of our process conversations.

Author: @baileysendsword
Graphic: @djosephmachado