An Event Apart: “Use Your Words”

Kristina Halvorson speaking at An Event Apart Seattle 2018 on April 4, 2018.

UI is language. Interaction is conversation. Content is the fuel that powers our designs. So what happens when the writer’s not in the room, or missing from your project team altogether? Good news: you don’t need to settle for lorem ipsum or half-baked prose. In this talk, Kristina will share language principles and content design tools anyone can put to work—yes, even the “non-writers” among us. Using examples from popular products and well-loved websites, we’ll uncover the secrets to stellar content that anyone can create, no matter your role or area of expertise.

Notes

  • Content strategy guides the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content

  • Content design — Content design uses data and evidence to give the audience what they need, at the time they need it, and in a way they expect
    • Editorial
      • Who are our target audiences?
      • What is our point of view?
      • What brand and legal standards do we need to comply with?
      • What is our voice and tone?
    • Experience
      • What are our users’ needs and preferences?
      • What does our content ecosystem look like?
      • What are our customers’ journeys?
      • What formats will our content take?
      • How will design patterns shape our content across screens?
      • What metrics will we use to measure performance?
  • Systems design — Systems design is the process of defining the architecture, modules, and data for a system to satisfy specified requirements
    • Structure
      • How will we organize content for browse-and-find?
      • What tags are most intuitive for users?
      • How will we categorize content for efficient management?
      • How will we structure our content for future reuse?
      • What are the requirements for personalization, dynamic delivery, AI?
    • Process
      • How will content move through its lifecycle?
      • What tools will we use to create, deliver, and maintain content?
      • How and when do we care for our existing content?
      • Who gets to say “no”?
  • Inclusivity: Who needs your content?
    • Avoid inappropriate assumptions by practicing intentional inclusion
    • “Inclusive behaviors are those practices and behaviors that leverage and honor the uniqueness of people’s different talents, beliefs, identities, and ways of living” — Institute for Inclusion as quoted in “The Inclusion Principle” on A List Apart
    • Non-inclusive writing makes people feel:
      • Less important than others
      • Defective
      • Inappropriately stereotyped
      • Excluded
      • Unvalued
      • Abnormal
      • Biased against
    • 4 areas to pay attention to with intentional inclusion
      • Gender
      • Race
      • Sexual orientation and identity
      • Accessibility
    • W3C Accessible Writing Guidelines
      • Provide informative, unique page titles
      • Use headings to convey meaning and structure
      • Make link text meaningful (no “click here”)
      • Write meaningful alt text for images
      • Create transcripts and captions for multimedia
      • Provide clear instructions
    • Tips for intentional inclusion:
      • Use non-specific pronouns — “they” vs. “she” or “he”
      • Address the user directly — “you” and “your”
      • Avoid gendered nouns — “server” vs. “waitress” or “waiter”
      • Use acceptable labels for race and ethnicity — Get guidance from members of the groups you are describing
      • Acknowledge a range of sexual identities and orientations — Avoid exclusive labels and language
        Keep content clear and concise
  • Intent: What are they trying to do?
    • Understanding top tasks
      • “Top tasks are the small set of tasks that matter most to your customers. Make these tasks work well, and you’ll be on the right track. Get them wrong, and chances are you’ll lose the customer.” — Gerry McGovern, “What Really Matters: Focusing on Top Tasks”
      • Tips:
        • Don’t use brands or jargon
        • Avoid product names or groups
        • Eliminate overlap
        • Avoid lofty concepts and goals
        • Be concise
      • Calm of continuity — being consistent with the format/wording of all the menu items
    • Start with the verb
    • Choose wisely
      • Choose top tasks wisely that you are going to include
    • Control yourself
      • Don’t feel like you need to fill up space when your top tasks take up little space
  • Meaning: What are you trying to say?
    • Hone in on substance
    • Nobody cares
      • Nobody cares about you, they care about themselves
    • Get to the point
      • It’s easy to write 200 words, it’s much harder to write 25
      • Use the formatting tools you have at your disposal to make things readable — using bulleted lists instead of long paragraphs, etc.
    • Avoid clichés
    • Don’t state the obvious
  • Context: Where is the user in their journey?
    • Watch your tone
      • Your voice is who you are
      • Your tone is something that changes depending on context
      • Voice & Tone
    • Respect their process
    • Be consistent
  • Constraints: What can’t you change? — some things can’t be changed
    • Legal requirements
    • Brand requirements
    • System requirements
    • Accessibility requirements
    • Human grammar
  • How can we get started
    • Start with substance
    • Practice good hygiene
    • Sketch with words — flesh out your design with actual, real words
      • Headings for pages and sections
      • Key verbs and nouns
      • Buttons and link text

Speaker Links and Resources

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