Content Strategy, Hearing Aids

The user experience doesn’t stop at the nav

If you’re reading this blog, it’s likely because you A) know me and want to hear what I have to say about content strategy and user experience design or B) found it by searching for some variant of “hearing aid reviews” on Google. Never let it be said that I don’t understand my audience. But until now, I haven’t been able to speak to the interests of both audiences at once. UNTIL NOW.

I’m doing some research to prepare for an upcoming talk at Busan Design Week in Korea, and found myself at the HTC website. Imagine my surprise when I see this:

Hearing aid compatibility! In the nav! This company is so committed to making hearing aid compatible products that they want to market this capability on the homepage of their website.

Now, if you’ve ever bought a hearing aid before (and, if I know my audience, I can safely say that half of you hope you will never need to, and the other half are trying to do so right now and it’s the bane of your existence) you know that hearing aids don’t work very well with phones. I have a well-rehearsed routine if I ever have to take a call on my mobile that involves removing my hearing aid and hooking it over my thumb. Also, please never call me. That’s why God invented text messaging.

But the promise of having a phone that would work with a hearing aid is a good sales pitch. I’m intrigued. Until I get to this page (click to embiggen):

Um. What?

Here’s my question: Will your phone work with my hearing aid? In no way does this page actually answer my question.

Because I make websites, I know exactly how this happened.

There was a meeting in which everyone agreed that it was important, and valuable, and responsible, that HTC showcase its hearing aid compatibility. Negotiations ensued, and it was decided that Hearing Aid Compatibility would have its very own place in the nav.

Someone set out to make a wireframe for this page. This person was told that there would be some text on the page, and a table of ratings information. This person mocked up a generic page to represent this information (put text here, put table here) and then went about feeling very user-centered and accessible because of the attention given to the disabled.

Someone else (perhaps the engineer or business owner responsible for hearing aid issues) was asked to provide the content. This person knows an awful lot about technical standards for compatibility, but perhaps not much about writing for a reader. The content got populated in the CMS, and everyone felt good about it.

Except me.

No one ever came back to ask if the content that got published actually met the user’s needs. Someone defined a requirement that — in essence — said “have a navigation category for hearing aids.” It didn’t say “ensure that our hearing impaired customers can determine which product will best meet their needs.”

The user experience doesn’t stop at the nav. If the content doesn’t answer the user’s question, you’ve failed.

Content Strategy

We are all content strategists now

Are you feeling left out of the party that is content strategy because you’re not a content strategist? I’ll tell you a secret: I’m not a content strategist either.

And yet, I’m still qualified to talk about why content is important to user experience. And you are too! If you don’t believe me, watch this video of my talk from IDEA 10. You can even follow along with the slides.

We are all content strategists now (on

Content Strategy

Department of Shameless Self Promotion: FIVE Upcoming Content Strategy Talks

Content strategy is on fire, and I am out there, fanning the flames. Please stay tuned for a promotional message from our sponsor, highlighting four FIVE upcoming events. They’re going to be fantastic. You know what would be even more fantastic? If you came to one of these!

UX Week, San Francisco, August 25

At this amazing event hosted by Adaptive Path, I’ll be leading a full-day, action-packed workshop on how to integrate content strategy into the UX design process. Working off a familiar UX process framework, I’ll show how content strategy fits into the mix with four entertaining, hands-on exercises.
Learn more and register now!

Planning-ness, Brooklyn, September 30

I have a particular fascination with how content strategy fits into advertising and publishing models. So I’m delighted to be leading a workshop at Planning-ness, an unconference aimed at planners and creatives. Branded content? Social publishing? Editorial workflow? See how content strategy enables all of these.
More about Planning-ness

IDEA 2010, Philadelphia, October 1-2

Wow. I am extra proud to be invited to speak at IDEA, a top-notch conference put on by my many friends in the Information Architecture Institute. Expect me to throw down the gauntlet for tighter integration between information architecture and content strategy.
IDEA program announced soon!

Iceweb, Reykjavík, October 7-8

I’m doing not one but TWO talks at this phenomenal conference in Iceland. Hop over to Reykjavík, pay your respects to the volcano, support the Icelandic economy, and see me give both a workshop and a short talk on content strategy. And an extra special bonus level of awesome: more content strategy talk from the inimitable Relly Annett-Baker.
Give it up for Iceweb

Content Strategy Forum, London, September 5-7 2011

It’s more than a year away, and I am already bouncing up and down with excitement. While it hardly seems possible that we could improve on the CS Forum in Paris, we’re going to take it to eleven at the next European event in London. This time with 100% fewer volcanic ash clouds from Iceland (I hope.) Also this time with me as a headliner, sharing the bill with the renowned Gerry McGovern.*
Register for more info

* Elizabeth McGuane, Gerry and I insist that this event is organized by Together London. Any involvement from the nefarious cabal of people whose last names start with McG is entirely imagined. I swear.

Content Strategy

Content Strategy at UX Melbourne: Avoiding the 11th Hour Sh*tstorm

One of the most enjoyable events I’ve done recently was a UX meetup in Melbourne. This talk—about how we screw ourselves over by not planning for content—is one of my personal favorites. The audience in Melbourne was a hoot and had some great questions. On the off chance that you weren’t in Melbourne that night, here’s the video.

Karen McGrane on Web Content Strategy or “Avoiding the Eleventh hour Sh*tstorm Problem” from UX Melbourne on Vimeo.

Content Strategy

In Defense of Lorem Ipsum

Lorem Ipsum is one of those things like silicone breast implants or orange spray cheese in a can that just seems wrong. It’s fake. It’s unabashedly fake. It calls attention to itself by being so fake, making you look at it in wonder, asking: “What is that? Can that be real?”

We don’t like fake, right? We like organic cheeses, and, well, organic breasts, and we’re 100% in favor of real content in our designs.

What you put in your mouth or have surgically inserted into your body is your business. What you put in your wireframes or your design comps? Well, that’s a heated public debate. With respected thought leaders asking us to pinky-swear that we’ll never, ever use Lorem Ipsum ever again, I want to say a few words in support of greek text.

A Symptom of a Bigger Problem

I’m a word person, okay? I start with the content, and design around it. I often show draft copy in design reviews. And yet, I still use Lorem Ipsum. I believe wholeheartedly that greek text has a place in the interaction designer’s toolkit. Even content strategists can find a place in their hearts for it.

Now, look. if you’re running a project where you mock up designs, get them approved, code them up, build a CMS, hook it all together, and then everyone looks around and says “Who’s got the content? Wait, this content doesn’t match the designs and it won’t fit in the CMS!” then you have a problem. A big problem.

But you know what? Lorem Ipsum is not the cause of your problem. It’s a symptom. The real problem is an overall process that treats design and content as separate tracks without appropriate communication, collaboration, and checkpoints along the way. Thinking you’ll solve your content strategy problem by signing a purity pledge that you’ll never use Lorem Ipsum is like saying “you’re a crapass designer and the solution is you should quit using drop shadows.” A step in the right direction, perhaps, but one that focuses on changing a superficial behavior rather than fixing the underlying problem.

Why They Say You Shouldn’t Use Lorem Ipsum (and Why It’s Okay)

The internet mob is out in force, waving sticks and torches and demanding Lorem Ipsum’s head on a platter. Why so much hate for nonsense text?

Designs can’t be evaluated without real content

I’ve heard the argument that “lorem ipsum” is effective in wireframing or design because it helps people focus on the actual layout, or color scheme, or whatever. What kills me here is that we’re talking about creating a user experience that will (whether we like it or not) be DRIVEN by words. The entire structure of the page or app flow is FOR THE WORDS.

—Kristina Halvorson, Death to Lorem Ipsum & Other Adventures in Content, Adaptive Path

For those who would argue that it’s impossible to evaluate designs without real content, let me ask this: why then, is it okay to evaluate content out of context of the designs? To review copy decks devoid of color, typography, layout, and styling means that readers are missing out on the important signals communicated by design—cues to priority, weight, and hierarchy of information, but also emotional and aesthetic appeal. If content strategists want to ask designers to stop using Lorem Ipsum, maybe designers should insist that content strategists add style sheets to their copy decks that match the proposed design direction.

Or maybe not. How about this: build in appropriate intersections and checkpoints between design and content. Accept that it’s sometimes okay to focus just on the content or just on the design.

Fake data breaks down in real life

Using dummy content or fake information in the Web design process can result in products with unrealistic assumptions and potentially serious design flaws. A seemingly elegant design can quickly begin to bloat with unexpected content or break under the weight of actual activity. Fake data can ensure a nice looking layout but it doesn’t reflect what a living, breathing application must endure. Real data does.

—Luke Wroblewski, Death to Lorem Ipsum, Functioning Form

For better or for worse, websites are templated. Content management systems and other publishing platforms make it possible to display different content in the same template. When you’re publishing thousands of articles, or product pages, or user profiles, each with variable sizes and business rules for different content elements, it’s easy to see how unexpected scenarios can break the design.

This is a complex problem, and the solution isn’t as simple as just avoiding Lorem Ipsum. Using test examples of real content and data in designs can help, but this doesn’t guarantee that every outlier will be caught and fixed. A prototype or beta site with real content published from the real CMS is the only way to really be sure—but you’re not going to get there until you go through an initial design cycle.

I’ve found that Lorem Ipsum actually helps in the design stage, because it calls attention to places where the content is a dynamic block coming from the CMS (as opposed to static content elements that will always stay the same.) A block of Lorem Ipsum with a character count range provides a tangible reminder to double-check that the design and the content model match up.

Or how about this approach?
Consistency from Business Guys on Business Trips

Distracting copy is your fault

If the copy becomes distracting in the design then you are doing something wrong or they are discussing copy changes. It might be a bit annoying but you could tell them that that discussion would be best suited for another time. At worst the discussion is at least working towards the final goal of your site where questions about lorem ipsum don’t.

—Kyle Fiedler, Lorem Ipsum is Killing Your Designs, Design Informer

If the copy becomes distracting in the design it’s because it’s working.

Lorem Ipsum doesn’t exist because people think the content is meaningless window dressing, only there to be decorated by designers who can’t be bothered to read. Lorem Ipsum exists because words are powerful. If you fill up your page with draft copy about your client’s business, they will read it. They will comment on it. They will be inexorably drawn to it. Presented the wrong way, draft copy can send your design review off the rails.

Telling a client to ignore Lorem Ipsum is a one-time thing. They quit reading it because it doesn’t make sense. Telling a client to ignore draft copy can be a never-ending battle. I show draft copy quite frequently, and in every meeting I usually get a handful of confused questions about it. I’ve had terrible situations where work-in-progress showing draft copy gets passed around to client stakeholders who haven’t participated in review sessions, and then fielded angry phone calls about the “wrong” content appearing in the designs. Show draft copy—I’m not telling you to only use Lorem Ipsum—but make sure you’re prepared to handle the questions, confusion, and even meltdowns that can result.

Permission To Use Lorem Ipsum

Lorem Ipsum: a sign that you’re a traitor to all that is good and right and holy in the world of web design, or an occasionally useful tool that, used intentionally, may help solve some problems? I’m going to go with the latter. If you’ve got a problem with content strategy, fix the bigger problem. Otherwise you’re just treating the symptoms, not curing the disease.

Update October 5, 2010:
Now, new and improved! Read it in Belorussian!

Content Strategy, Presentations

Content is King, or, if you don’t have a content strategy you’re living in a fairy tale.

This year, I was invited back to Malmö Sweden to give a new workshop at the From Business to Buttons conference. Because I was so close to the home of Hans Christian Andersen, I organized the presentation around a fairy tale. Like most fairy tale people, the ones in my talk made some mistakes.

I’m super excited by all the momentum around content strategy right now. From our local NYC meetups to Kristina Halvorson’s new book, there’s a community of people that I am delighted to be a part of.

Business Models, Content Strategy

Content + Commentary

I’ve worked with many publishers over the past few years, and one of the biggest challenges traditional media brands face is in adapting to social media and user generated content. Even opening up articles to comments from readers is a perilous step to some.

Our team at Bond Art + Science decided this was a worthy subject for some research and analysis. This report evaluates the landscape and makes recommendations about how to benefit from the new media landscape.

Content + Commentary: How Media Brands Invite, Manage, and Benefit From 
User Commenting and Participation Online