I seem to be running into and responding to a number of articles posted on “interaction design” these days. This article, “User Experience: What is Usability,” is apparently excerpted from a course called “User Experience: The Beginner’s Guide.” It starts out with a lovely pie chart that tries to summarize a definition of UX and usability, but what I love most in this article are the 5 usability dimensions attributed to Whitney Quesenbery:
- Error tolerant
- Easy to learn
While these 5 dimensions are meant to help evaluate how usable a product is, you could consider content as a product, and evaluate how usable your content is. Is it accurate and complete? Does it take little time to read and complete? Is it enjoyable or interesting? Does it help prevent errors? Is it easy to learn? Yep, applies to content as well as a product overall.
Content is king. Clarity is king. No, wait, CONTEXT is king. I had to laugh when I read yet another claim to the throne in writing clear content.
At the end of this article, “The Most Essential Ingredient in Interaction Design? The Words,” by Jerry Cao, Kamil Zieba, and Matt Ellis, they have a section titled “Context is King,” that includes a most wonderful checklist for writing “interface copy” (there it is again, the focus on copy or words in the web interface), which I will once again expand to be most all content we produce as technical communicators. This article is actually a reprint of a chapter in an eBook, “Interaction Design Best Practices: Mastering the Tangibles.”
In this “Context is King” section, the authors state:
“the first step to any writing endeavor is to know both your audience (your target users) and your medium (web page content, sidebar, pop-up, etc.)”
This last parenthetical statement leads me to think they are even venturing into content marketing and not just web interfaces or content in general. The checklist that they present is actually from a separate article by yet another author (Des Traynor), and really centers on some of the journalistic questions of Who, When, and a couple of What questions. It also asks about “tone” or writing style as well as the “format” or medium in which you get to communicate.
This article, From Google Ventures: 5 Rules For Writing Great Interface Copy, by John Zeratsky on the Fast Company Design site was written specifically for user interface copy, but I think it can apply to most content that we write as technical communicators. It certainly is written from the web interface perspective, but I think many of its guidelines apply across the board.
It’s first rule is “Clarity is King.” This builds off of the ubiquitous “Content is King” idea making the rounds, but here Zeratsky speaks to the issue of length. It matters not whether you keep it short or let it run long, it just matters that you communicate clearly. The guidelines within this rule about specificity, jargon, front-loading keywords, and laziness definitely help support this first rule, but the 4 other rules certainly follow in its primacy. Here’s my summary of his other rules: Skip the personality, get to the point, people will read clearly written content, and don’t wait to write the content (write it in the design phase).
I recently wrote about SEO for writers and editors, which talked about where we should put our keywords in our content. However, the following image, which appears in “How Important are Keywords in 2015,” by Pratik Dholakiya, is one of the best explanations about how to optimize your content for SEO:
Obviously, you have to identify and choose the right keywords to highlight in these locations (which you can do through web site analytics, to see what your users are actually searching on and coming to your content from), but in my mind SEO is all about putting the right terminology in the right places in your high quality content. Location, location, location!
How many of you read the title of my post as written, and how many of you sang the title of my post with the two different pronunciations? And, yes, I went with potato instead of tomato, because I like potatoes better than tomatoes.
I read this most excellent article about personas on the UX DesignEdge site, “Personas: Dead Yet?” by Everett McKay. It just showed up in my Twitter feed at the end of April, but I see that this article was originally published over 4 years ago in 2011. It just goes to show you that the good stuff just comes back around again.
In the end, McKay suggests that personas as overly long personal stories of target users is indeed dead. However, he suggests that a more streamlined, focused, and ultimately simpler persona remains, which he calls a user model. He recommends giving this target user a name, mostly because that was the only detail from the overly detailed persona descriptions that ever stuck with the rest of a development team, but then include a list of key facts relevant to the scenario – a bulleted list of short statements about this target user.
He also emphasized that as a UX designer you have to train your development team to really use personas to make design decisions and make them a part of your design process. Here, here. Long live the user model! I mean persona. You say persona, he says user model.
It seems that simplicity is a popular theme this year. It’s certainly a keyword, or maybe buzzword, that makes me want to go check out an article. This time, the UX Booth newsletter posted an article by Jenny Reeves titled “Making Simple Ideas Simpler,” which their summary statement says will help us “find the path to simplicity.”
This path involves including affordances and conventions to our content strategy, information architecture, or interaction design. She speaks specifically of interaction design in apps, but I think it can apply to web site design, and ultimately content design as well. She pulls the ideas or definitions for affordances and conventions from two great researchers (Krug for conventions and Norman for affordances).
A convention is a design element that users have already encountered or that is so ubiquitous that it is a standard design element that users expect to see. She gives “the hamburger icon” as an example for menus. I think I know what icon she is referring to, but I would have appreciated a screen grab to show it to me (instead she linked off to another great article about icons, but still no picture of the hamburger icon).
An affordance is a design element that “‘make sense’ to users because they remind them of objects they use in daily life.” She gives the example of the magnifying glass icon as an example of a search capability. Often, affordances will become conventions, if they resonate with enough users that it is used more ubiquitously.
She says that the path to simplifying a user experience includes replacing affordances with conventions, and including affordances for other areas of the design. I agree that simplicity can easily come from applying conventions, especially conventions that are based on affordances, that draw from our users own models of their world.
I took the link in the following Tweet to read the article about “The 5 Characteristics of Great Content,” by Scott Abel (@ContentWrangler), and did not let the #contentmarketing hashtag dissuade me:
I had read through half of the article before scrolling back up to see that it was posted on the Acrolinx blog. I didn’t connect this right away because I knew that Scott Abel did not work for Acrolinx, and it was his Tweet that got me to go check out the article in the first place.
These revelations are important because this article reads as just great technical content for writers and editors to apply in their work. The characteristics do have a bit of a content marketing flair to them, but they do echo many technical communication principles as well. I also realized as I finished reading the article that every single characteristic is checked for or evaluated by the Acrolinx “grammar checker” tool. I’m loathe to restrict it to that label, because it is a programmable, customizable, and much richer grammar checker, which really might deserve the label of information quality checking tool. (I really need to write up a blog post about grammar checkers!)
I really liked that this article did not once mention the Acrolinx tool, or any of its features or reports, and just let the technical content be great content. It could be published in his own blog, or elsewhere, and it could communicate good, useful information for technical communicators of all types. So, this content marketing, which I recognize this to be content marketing because I know and use the tool that they are marketing, is even more effective because it is just great content.