What is content design and why should it matter to you?

Content design is answering a user need in the best way for the user to consume it.

As outlined by the founder of content design, Sarah Richards, it’s a way of thinking. It’s about using data and evidence to give the audience what they need, at the time they need it, and in a way they expect.

Broken down into four steps, content design is:

  1. Data and evidence
  2. What the audience needs
  3. At the time they need it
  4. In a way they expect

Content design isn’t:

  • Just words
  • Just design
  • Content strategy

Content design is:

  • A way to find the best solutions for user needs
  • An approach that allows you to be user-focused
  • A research-backed method that delves into user psychology

The common denominator? The user.

Business goals

Every business has goals. KPIs, conversion rate, sales targets, etc. Profit is a big end-goal for most businesses and content design helps to change the thought process on how you meet those goals.

Once you create content that truly speaks to your user, your progress towards goals will inevitably increase.

Content design relies on user testing, user research, and user journeys to reach data-backed decisions.

There’s a misconception that content should speak to the brand, and be about what the brand wants. Take that misconception, scrunch it up into a little ball, and throw it in the bin.

Great content, that is user-focused, creates great user experiences. Great user experiences lead to increased conversion. Increased conversion leads to growth and goals. 

Before any content is created or published live, the question content design forces you to ask is: “What content is the best solution for this need?”.

Don’t confuse content with writing

Content design is about implementing various elements — it’s not just about writing.

It’s more about research and discovery than it is about mere taking guesses. We look at how users interact with content, how they navigate it, how they engage with it. We don’t assume we know what the user wants, we don’t assume they want what we want.

By using research and data, we can make informed decisions.

A while ago, creative agencies operated in factions: the writer would write, the designer would design, the publisher would publish.

As the digital world moves forward, so should we. Content design opens up a more collaborative and fluid environment. This collaborative process works across research, design, copy, UX, and even non-creative departments, such as finance and engineering.

Content design is about how people interact with content. Therefore, it’s wise to use people as a prime research tool. This can be friends, family, colleagues. Watch how they interact with demo content — there’s no research like real-world user-research.

At Outlaw, we help brands present their users with the best solutions for their needs, in the best way possible. Ready for a free web audit? Start yours here.

Why does content design matter?

In the digital world, it’s impossible to give great user-experiences without great content design.

Content design is changing the internet for the better. Don’t treat our users like fools; people are wise to things like keyword-stuffing and click-bait nowadays.

If your content strategy is to create keyword-stuffed webpages, your trust factor will dramatically fall, and users will likely abandon your content. Our advice: change your strategy.

Users want easy access to the content they need when they need it.

If you can’t explain a valid user reason for a piece of content, then it shouldn’t be published.

That might all sound a bit black and white. “What about the grey area?” we hear you cry. When it comes to user-focused content, there is no grey area. It’s either user-focused, or it’s not.

Nobody outside of Google’s NDA forms really knows how their algorithm works. But, what we are starting to see is that Google likes engaging, relevant content. Keyword-stuffing is something Google will penalise you for. 

Be smart with your content. Smart content doesn’t always mean more content.

User needs and simple language

A major element of content design is to use psychology to make better content decisions.

We know this can be tough to hear, but those brand guidelines you spent so long creating might not actually resonate with your target audience.

Sometimes you might be targeting a specific user by using brand language because that’s what you want. The result is often that your user needs have been forgotten about in favour of your brand wants.

That’s not to say you should ditch your brand personality. The happy-medium is finding that balance between speaking to both the user and the brand.

Brand language might be jargon to your user, so be mindful when it comes to building your content. It’s all about being mindful. Don’t be too hasty, sit and think “Does this work for my user?”.

If content is easy to navigate, engaging, and helpful, we can pinky-promise you that it will work better than anything that’s information-overload.

Oh, and the over-use of adjectives and the fluffy language? Re-think them. Don’t tell your user that you’re the best, show them.

The best way to test your content is to monitor users using it. Always learn about the people who will use your content. How do they interact with it? How do they engage with it? Do they follow-through on the call-to-action?

Understanding user needs

If there’s one take-away from this blog, let it be this: Always create content that’s authentic for the user.

Keyword-stuffed content is losing its appeal — plus, the evidence is starting to show it’s bad for SEO.

Your purpose should always be to inform, engage, and captivate your user.

Content that genuinely fills a user-need is more likely to be found and helps people get the right outcome.

Users hate spam.

Users hate having to hunt for what they’re looking for.

If you make your content too confusing, you risk your user abandoning it.

Building trust with users should be a priority with your content decisions. A lot of the time, users engage with a brand based on what it will say about them using it — let it say something good.

Reading and accessibility 

Accessibility is a major factor in all content. It’s vital that you make your content accessible for all users. There’s no excuse for exclusion.

People who are blind will rely on a screen-reader to navigate your content. Is your content going to make sense when a screen-reader reads it out? How much of the ‘fluffy’ stuff needs to be read out before the main point of the page is obvious?

Download a screen-reader and try it out. Does your content make sense?

People who have dyslexia might feel overwhelmed by web-pages that use a stupendous amount of words. Can you say it better with photography? If so, use it.

Regressive reading plays a major role in users abandoning content. This is where information is convoluted, complicated, and long. The person reading this type of content will likely get halfway through, then try to start again before giving up entirely.

Using simpler terms allows your users to scan your content easier, and take in more information at a quicker pace.

Create for the user first, search engine second

Always, always, always remember that your language is for the user, not the search engine.

Use clear, distinct language to create relevant content that fills a user need.

A user-focused tone is a necessity.

Use the right tone to inform, connect, and help the user.

Simple doesn’t mean boring.

Help your user by giving your content a clear structure.

A way of thinking

Content design isn’t a mere technique, it’s a way of thinking.

Your goal is to work towards content that is user-focused and not stakeholder compromised.

Gather data, question, make informed decisions.

Put your audience first.

Ready to begin?

At Outlaw, we live by the motto “Dare to be different”. We’re not your usual marketing agency. We’re user-focused and create short-term and long-term content solutions that help your business to grow, progress, and succeed.

Start your free web audit here.