Too often in our enthusiasm to get the look and feel of a website right, we forget that content makes up one of the primary elements of good design. Content planning (what, why) and delivery (How, When, Where) is an important part of designing and delivering great experiences.

At present, I am working on a number of web portals with the aim of creating a consistent, seamless experience for users as they interact with and transition between portals. Now, each of these web portals have a their own unique look and feel, its own Information Architecture (IA) and navigation in addition to being built on different technologies. While web portal A is a repository of general information, documents and templates, web portal B provides a number of reports and metrics on performance of products and services and web portal C is more of a knowledge base that offers online training and acts as a “help desk”.

The purpose of each of these portals is unique from one another, and users accessing these portals expect information to be displayed in a manner that suits their needs.


Great wireframes need great content

I had the (mis?)fortune of reviewing the wireframes that were initially developed for the above mentioned web portals. Wireframes provide a good visual aid and helps to communicate how information will be presented to your target audience, in addition to what the final design may look like. However, while structure, layout and design consistency is key, it is also important that they reflect how real content will be presented to the target audience. Wireframes fail if the dummy or sample content is not representative of the actual data. Using “Lorem Ipsum…” text as content adds little value to your wireframes and in fact results in confusion for both stakeholders as well as the development team. Wireframes need to include sample content that is indicative of the “actual” data that will be presented to users.  While this approach gives an idea of what the final design would look like, it also provides an opportunity to review content that will be offered  to your target audience.

One of the key take-away working on this project was the importance of getting stakeholders to sign-off on the content during the wireframe stage itself. Though it may seem difficult and content may not be 100% ready, it is important to convey to stakeholders what and how content would be presented on the website. This is specially true if you are working on multilingual websites or web applications.


User centered content

Similar to user-centered design, providing content that is relevant to your users enriches the over all user experience. While segmentation works well, and most marketers do a good job in segmenting their target audience, if this segmentation is based on user demographics rather than user needs it fails to provide users with real value.

A good example for user-centered content would be University websites that have more target multiple audiences. In this case the primary audiences could be categorised into:

  • Existing Students – Need to access reports, assignments, performance, join clubs etc.
  • Prospective Students – Need to find information on relevant courses, fees, facilities etc.
  • Alumni – Need for networking opportunities, jobs, workshops and events, etc.
  • Staff – Need to administer courses, student assignments, student performance etc

Each of these target audience accesses content to meet their specific needs. Segmentation based on demographics does little due to possible overlap in roles. Jenny, in her mid 20s, earning $5000 a month, could be a staff or an existing student. Then again a particular staff could also be a prospective or existing student looking to further their education.

In this scenario, content targeted to meet specific user needs would give better results as opposed to segmentation based on demographic.


Content influences design

In the above example, while the over all structure and layout would be consistent, content would change based on the target audience. This content would influence how, when and where information is provided to your users. From collapsible panels to functional widgets, from pdf files to streaming videos, from blogs to Twitter feeds, the options to present information is limitless. Your content, what it is and why it should exist , and when, where and how you present it, influences the design and eventually the experience delivered to your target audience.


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