Session Spotlight: Sarah Bloomer interviews Content Magic presenter, Jill Vacarra

Sarah Bloomer, favorite UXPA speaker and Principal of Boston-based Sarah Bloomer & Co., recently gathered some intel from Jill Vacarra about upcoming UXPA 2014 tutorial, Content Magic: Ways to Enchant Users and Transform UX.

For some full-day in-person Content Magic, register for the July 21st tutorial. New registrants get 10% off with code 'tutorial10'!

Sarah: Why should UX practitioners care about Content?

Jill: UX pros spend a ton of energy creating usable, engaging interfaces that are conduits for Content. But without good Content and Content governance processes, even the most thoughtful UX design delivers a mediocre experience. Content Strategy evangelist Karen McGrane (an early mentor of mine) likens this to a gorgeously wrapped gift box with no present inside. I love that!  Users want the beautiful, usable package, but they must have their presents too! Yet the job of creating and wrangling Content is a huge undertaking that most UX pros (and their clients and internal stakeholders!) aren’t equipped to handle. This tutorial maps out how Content Strategy and Content creation fit into the UX process so that the end result is a perfectly wrapped present that has real value to users.

Sarah: I’m intrigued by the title of your tutorial. How does Content Magic transform UX? For example, as a UX designer, sometimes I find the Content falls short, or I can’t get writers to conform to good Content design practices. How do you help UX practitioners work better with Content providers?

Jill: There’s a wonderful Arthur C. Clarke quote: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Content creation for good user experience is still a bit of a mystery to many UX Pros and even to Content Authors. This tutorial gives the “magical spells,” the insider tools and processes people need to develop on-brand Content in a way that’s sustainable and repeatable and that can be distributed across teams. We combine this with a strategic “Content first and future-ready” approach that integrates Content into the overall UX process.

Sarah: What does it mean to take a “Content first and future-ready” approach?

Jill: Content first means that, from day one on a project, Content creation and planning is woven into the UX process. Information Architecture, Design, Content and CMS Dev project components support and enhance each other from the start.  When Content comes late to the party, you get oodles of avoidable 11th hour snafus. Stuff doesn’t fit and needs to be redone, new page levels need to be created, etc. Then with responsive sites and multiple screen sizes - fuggedaboutit! That’s where planning future-ready Content comes in. You separate Content from the presentation layer. And you consider different (sometimes as yet unknown!) screen sizes while planning Content elements and hierarchy to ensure Content displays well and is usable across devices.

Sarah: What’s the best way to motivate UX teams to collaborate in the interests of great Content?

Jill: The key first step is to insert Content Strategist collaborators into the process from the get-go. Then Content is no longer a silent odd man out. Content Strategists ask the right questions. They negotiate with Information Architects, Designers, Developers and Stakeholders so that Content needs and issues are identified and discussed openly. Then, the UX team is no longer working in a vacuum and guessing how to create a well-designed UX container for mysterious Content.

Sarah: What about the people creating Content? Do they know that UX matters and how Content impacts UX?

Jill: It’s true that many Content Authors are not UX-savvy and are not aware of how Content impacts UX. They often develop Content in a vacuum of their own, outside the UX process. Then they hand over that Content and all kinds of chaos ensues. Content doesn’t fit the IA and design, or is written in a way that’s not at all appropriate for online reading. Part of what the Content Strategist does is to bring Content Authors into the fold as well and give them tools and guidelines to follow as they create Content.

Sarah: What’s an example of a tool or method you think represents your approach and how does it help drive success?

Jill: One tool we use is our Content Tonality Brief. It’s based on the Creative Brief that you typically see in design projects, but it’s much more granular and focused on Content voice and character. Clients will say: “We want the Content to be witty.” Great! But “witty” is a very subjective term. The Content Tonality Brief really hones in on the different brand attributes that inform site Content flavor. In order to hit the right tone, the Tonality Brief adds more description to your brand attributes, plus examples and DOs and DON’Ts based on user needs, client preferences and business goals. The Tonality Brief is used to generate team consensus and then as a touchstone throughout the project so that all the multiple Content Authors work in alignment.

Sarah: What key ideas do you hope participants take away from your tutorial?

Jill: Content shouldn’t be an afterthought. Think of Content first and throughout the UX process whether you’re a UX practitioner, a Content Author or somebody managing a team of UX Pros and Content Authors. Content Strategy and creation might seem dauntingly mysterious and “magical,” but there’s a mindset and concrete set of do-able, repeatable steps that fit naturally into the UX process you’re already doing. Add Content Magic to your process and your UX will be all the better for it!