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Content Design What it is & why you need it

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Content Design What it is & why you need it Erin Abler Lead Content Designer, Office of Innovation & Technology City of Philadelphia @erinabler


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Content design The practice of shaping information to help people take action.


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Medicaid: Apply if you are aged (65 years old or older), blind, or disabled and have low income and few resources. Apply if you are terminally ill and want to receive hospice services. Apply if you are aged, blind, or disabled; live in a nursing home; and have low income and limited resources. Apply if you are aged, blind, or disabled and need nursing home care, but can stay at home with special community care services. Apply if you are eligible for Medicare and have low income and limited resources. http://www.plainlanguage.gov/testexamples/indexExample.cfm?record=86


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Medicaid: Apply if you are aged (65 years old or older), blind, or disabled and have low income and few resources. Apply if you are terminally ill and want to receive hospice services. Apply if you are aged, blind, or disabled; live in a nursing home; and have low income and limited resources. Apply if you are aged, blind, or disabled and need nursing home care, but can stay at home with special community care services. Apply if you are eligible for Medicare and have low income and limited resources. Government content is confusing.


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Medicaid: Apply if you are aged (65 years old or older), blind, or disabled and have low income and few resources. Apply if you are terminally ill and want to receive hospice services. Apply if you are aged, blind, or disabled; live in a nursing home; and have low income and limited resources. Apply if you are aged, blind, or disabled and need nursing home care, but can stay at home with special community care services. Apply if you are eligible for Medicare and have low income and limited resources. Government content is repetitive.


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Medicaid: Apply if you are aged (65 years old or older), blind, or disabled and have low income and few resources. Apply if you are terminally ill and want to receive hospice services. Apply if you are aged, blind, or disabled; live in a nursing home; and have low income and limited resources. Apply if you are aged, blind, or disabled and need nursing home care, but can stay at home with special community care services. Apply if you are eligible for Medicare and have low income and limited resources. Government content is hard to read.


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Medicaid: Apply if you are aged (65 years old or older), blind, or disabled and have low income and few resources. Apply if you are terminally ill and want to receive hospice services. Apply if you are aged, blind, or disabled; live in a nursing home; and have low income and limited resources. Apply if you are aged, blind, or disabled and need nursing home care, but can stay at home with special community care services. Apply if you are eligible for Medicare and have low income and limited resources. Government content is bad content.


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Why should we care?


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It affects the quality of our services.


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It affects our bottom line.


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It affects whether or not people trust us.


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It affects our ability to do our job.


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How do we fix it?


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Content precedes design. Design without content isn’t design, it’s decoration. “ Jeffrey Zeldman Founder, A List Apart (1998), Happy Cog (1999)


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Ad hoc rewriting is a crutch, not a solution.


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So, wait… how DO we fix it?


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User needs are our north star


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https://www.gov.uk/design-principles


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Content design objectives Understand user needs Organize information more intuitively Create new content for unmet needs Develop an underlying content strategy Manage content at every stage


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Conduct user research Analytics User interviews Task analysis Surveys


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Create user need stories As a: [type of user] I need to: [task/action] So that I can: [goal]


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Create user need stories As a: [type of user] Who is this for? I need to: [task/action] So that I can: [goal]


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Create user need stories As a: [type of user] Who is this for? I need to: [task/action] What will help this person reach their goal? So that I can: [goal]


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Create user need stories As a: [type of user] Who is this for? I need to: [task/action] What will help this person reach their goal? So that I can: [goal] What larger thing does the user need to accomplish?


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Create user need stories As a [type of user], I need to [task/action] so that I can [goal].


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Create user need stories As a [type of user], I need to [task/action] so that I can [goal]. As a homeowner, I need to know how much real estate tax I owe so I can make a payment.


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Create user need stories As a [type of user], I need to [task/action] so that I can [goal]. As a homeowner, I need to know how much real estate tax I owe so I can make a payment. As a small business owner, I need to know which taxes I’m required to pay so I don’t get in trouble for not paying them.


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Create user need stories As a [type of user], I need to [task/action] so that I can [goal]. As a homeowner, I need to know how much real estate tax I owe so I can make a payment. As a small business owner, I need to know which taxes I’m required to pay so I don’t get in trouble for not paying them. As a low income resident, I need to find affordable tax counseling so that I can prepare my tax return correctly.


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Gov.uk’s scoping rules Do people want this? Can people reasonably expect us to meet this need? Can only government meet this need? Is it explaining someone’s rights or obligations? Is it transactional or encouraging a shift to digital by default government services? https://gds.blog.gov.uk/2011/09/19/introducing-the-needotron-working-out-the-shape-of-the-product/


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Well-designed content turns a need into an action.


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To meet a need . . . Be specific Be informative, not descriptive Keep to the point Be clear about what comes next


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Our user need As I need to So that I know what to do am prepared to deal with one if it happens. someone potentially affected by a future emergency,


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1 1 Mixed themes & multiple headers Before . . .


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2 1 Mixed themes & multiple headers 2 No explanation of unfamiliar term Before . . .


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1 Mixed themes & multiple headers 2 3 No explanation of unfamiliar term Different descriptions cover the same subject Before . . . 3


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2 3 1 Mixed themes & multiple headers 2 3 4 No explanation of unfamiliar term Different descriptions cover the same subject Indirectly related content dominates the page Before . . . 4


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…and after 1 1 Clear organizational premise


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…and after 1 Clear organizational premise 2 Plain-language description 2


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…and after 3 1 Clear organizational premise 2 3 Plain-language description Consolidation of repetitive content


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…and after 1 Clear organizational premise 2 3 4 Plain-language description Consolidation of repetitive content Related content moved to its own subsection 4


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How do we clean up content?


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Revision is creation. incremental


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The best ways to revise content are also the best ways to create it.


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Support scanning People only read 20-28% of text on a page. We look for clues that we’re on the right track before we actually commit to reading. Jakob Nielsen, http://www.nngroup.com/articles/how-little-do-users-read/ Why How Use brief, clear headings. Break lists into bullet points. Use sentence case, not all-caps.


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Jakob Nielsen, http://www.nngroup.com/articles/f-shaped-pattern-reading-web-content/


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Put the important stuff first People scan content in an F-shaped pattern. Readers will decide for themselves if they want more detailed information. Why How Put critical information in the first two paragraphs. Start subheadings, bullet points, and paragraphs with informative, noticeable words. Jakob Nielsen, http://www.nngroup.com/articles/f-shaped-pattern-reading-web-content/


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Use white space Cramped page layouts make it hard to tell which content is the most important. Dense, lengthy text is less likely to be read. Why How Keep most paragraphs 2-3 sentences long. Work with a designer to create an intuitive visual flow. Jakob Nielsen, http://www.nngroup.com/articles/how-little-do-users-read/


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Use active voice People want to be spoken to, not at – and certainly not about. It’s human nature to be impatient. Dan Carlin, http://www.crocstar.com/2015/02/online-writer-skills/ Why How Use “you” and “your” when talking to the reader. Name the doer before the thing being done.


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Talk like a human Bureaucratic language is often obscure. Everyone needs context when learning something new. Why How Use common words and contractions. Provide context and explain the unfamiliar. Aim for an 8th grade reading level – 5th or 6th grade when possible.


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Fight complexity Long, complicated phrases take longer to read and more concentration to understand. Unnecessary details only delay action. Why How Shorten sentences to 15 words or fewer whenever possible. Aim to instruct or explain, not to describe.


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Choose format purposely Text isn’t always the best way to help someone take action Why How Make processes and transactions interactive Use digital forms to collect information Use meaningful visuals, not random stock photos


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How can we tell whether it works?


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F A Failure of recollection is common. Innocent misrecollection is not uncommon. People often forget things or make mistakes in what they remember. http://www.plainlanguage.gov/examples/before_after/jury.cfm


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D C A preponderance of the evidence. More likely than not. http://www.plainlanguage.gov/examples/before_after/jury.cfm


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A brief guide to writing well Write something. Anything.


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A brief guide to writing well Write something. Walk away from it. Seriously. At least 5,000 steps.


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A brief guide to writing well Write something. Walk away from it. Reread it. Wonder what you were thinking.


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A brief guide to writing well Write something. Walk away from it. Reread it. Revise it.


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A brief guide to writing well Write something. Walk away from it. Reread it. Revise it. Have someone else read it. Befriend that coworker who finds fault with everything.


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A brief guide to writing well Write something. Walk away from it. Reread it. Revise it. Have someone else read it. Revise it.


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A brief guide to writing well Write something. Walk away from it. Reread it. Revise it. Have someone else read it. Revise it. Have a lot of people read it. Get feedback. Get data. Get humble.


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A brief guide to writing well Write something. Walk away from it. Reread it. Revise it. Have someone else read it. Revise it. Have a lot of people read it. Revise it. Repeat as needed.


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Key points Ad hoc rewriting is a crutch, not a solution. Well-designed content turns a need into an action. The best ways to revise content are also the best ways to create content. To improve, seek feedback. And finally…


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Don’t just make content better. Make better content.


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