Content Design is Necessary Magic


Content design art

Imagine you are a Quest Maker, a wizard with the instruments of design at your magical fingertips. You have employed research to identify what grave evil is afflicting the kingdom and how we might be saved. With experience design, you have identified and built a possible solution – a hero’s journey filled with character-building obstacles and opportunities for the “Chosen One” to save us all. It’s all planned out. You used sticky notes. 

But how does the hero know that they are the “Chosen One”? When they learn of their fate, should it be through a formal decree or mysterious omen? Are they new to this world or a seasoned veteran? Do you need to gain their trust before leading them to adventure? And how?

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All these questions and more can be answered with the magic of content design. 

   The Heart of Content Design

Content is more than words and images. At its core, content is information. Content designers determine what information and when, where, and how we communicate it to our audiences. They craft messages, develop voice and tone, structure content, create personalization strategies, and define SEO keywords – everything we need to communicate effectively and deliver information. With the magic of content design, your hero would receive the right message, at the right place, at the right time.

  This is Where the Magic Happens (Everywhere)

When crafting your grand quest, who should call upon the powers of content design? When? The answer: Everyone, all the time.

We all know the design process isn’t as neat and tidy as the double-and triple-diamond diagrams suggest. The feedback loops, iterations, fog, and chaos are the reality of the design process. It’s an adventure story on its own. There is a common assumption that content design is a distinct chapter towards the end of the story, relegated to the part in which words and images replace the placeholders and Lorem Ipsums in the prototype. In reality, content design happens in every chapter of the design process. And everyone in that process has a little bit of content design magic within them.

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Research and Language

Researchers understand that the questions you ask your participants must be worded carefully. While researchers often can clarify their questions as an interview continues, the language used can set the tone for the entire conversation. For example, your language can make participants feel welcome, respected, listened to – or make them feel excluded, defensive, or ignored. If a participant doesn’t understand the questions in a survey, they won’t give you the answers you seek. They may not answer at all. Like all content, the content you use throughout your research should be understandable, relatable, and meaningful. 

Synthesis and Communication

Content design can also help transform your research findings into a meaningful narrative. Organizing insights and research synthesis require strong information architecture, one of the foundations of content design. This can look like tagging your research using a robust metadata scheme – for example, labeling and categorizing data by keyword, participant type, etc. As “Quest Master”, you may have a compendium of notes from interviews with locals and veteran heroes. Using tags and good information architecture practices would help you organize and re-organize your notes as needed. But to tell the stories found in your data to the king and queen? Such clear, unambiguous communication of information once again calls on content design. 

Experience and Information

Experience and service design, likewise, require careful attention to content. Content is the bridge that connects your audience to the service, program, or website you have carefully designed. It is content that tells your audience what the experience is, why they should care about it, and how to interact with it. If the experience you have designed is a quest, then it is the content design that answers the myriad questions about what information the adventurer needs and how to best deliver it.


  Content Design for Good

Content design is important, but not unlike most magic, it takes care and concentration. You can create content that is understandable and usable, but it means very little if the adventurer does not trust the message or the voice behind it. Content design helps shape the relationship you have with your audience. What you say and how you say it can easily build trust and respect – or alienate the people you are trying to reach. 

Good content is inclusive content. It’s more than just “using the right words.” Inclusive content helps us develop an inclusive mindset and create more inclusive spaces, both internally and externally. It shapes who has access, who is involved, who can participate, or who can lead. Imagine the loss of would-be heroes if the call to adventure was designed with one type of adventurer in mind. When you send your wisdom and queries to the kingdom, ask, who you are writing for? Who are you excluding? 

We may create grand designs and world-saving quests, but without strong, inclusive content, they will cost us. They will fail the people we are trying to help. Instead, we must infuse our design process with the magic of content design. In each messy chapter, we can better support our research, transform our knowledge into effective stories, and more clearly communicate to the people for whom we have designed. The words we choose contribute to the narratives that shape our experiences and our world. Only with the power of content design can our quests shape our world for good. 

About author

Caitlin Gebhard 

Senior Content Strategist at Mad*Pow
A strategic design company, on the important connection between content and design. According to Caitlin, there is a very clear connection between content and design. Visual design or experience design can’t stand alone. Content has to be carefully thought through. Having a content strategy is an integral part of design – they aren’t separate at all. Caitlin can talk about why making your content thoughtful and meaningful in terms of design is essential.

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Theme image credits: Photo by Amandine BATAILLE on Unsplash


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