There can’t be great UX without great content

Back when I was an idealistic content-focused designer in a financial rewards UX team, I had this crazy notion that content needed more thought than the last-minute rush from whichever marketer was available right before launch.

Sometimes I won the argument to get involved in projects earlier, many times I didn’t. Trying to convince upper management that content wasn’t an afterthought felt a bit like the Wheel of Time. As soon as I’d swayed one manager, another sprang up who wasn’t interested in past results, and the cycle began again.

The Making UX Work podcast by Joe Natoli discusses this subject with UX and Content Architect Anne Dougherty. They both share some of the same frustrations and solutions I’ve had in the past. Never overlook your customer support teams, guys.

I feel better when I hear other content creators who’ve had the same problems as I’ve had. The authority on content design, Sarah Richards, was interviewed by Digital Drum, and she had this to say,

Organisations need to see that without content, they don’t have a service.

Sarah Richards, head of Content Design London

I’m relieved this topic is finally getting the attention it deserves. When I first moved to Scotland and put myself out there as a content-focused UX designer, it was disheartening to read job specs that asked for almost every other skill in UX bar content. I eventually abandoned the quest to get back into a UX team, and instead stayed in a content-related role that I gradually shaped to improve UX. With UX maturing, it seemed easier to convince organisations to consider UX in content, rather than content in UX.

Good content is driven by audience need, not by the behaviours that the business wants to drive

Back in my UX team, Marketing had the final say on content. Somewhere around 2013, I started to realise this was a tricky position. Marketing was concerned with driving our customers along a certain journey (buy more, do more). That’s great. It’s their purpose. Businesses need marketing to get more sales.

But marketing doesn’t exist to be ignored.

‘Play with your rewards’ calculator proposal

Great user experiences do.

No one, except other UX people, goes onto a website and thinks “my, what a splendid user journey”. They only want to do what they went there to do. If they did it well, they’ll be delighted and come back (without fanfare or kudos). If they struggled, well, someone will probably hear about it.

So, what happens when you try to drive behaviour within an experience that’s simply meant to work?

My team was asked to pitch a design for a ‘calculator’ that was supposed to help customers understand how they could get more rewards from their bank account. I was looking forward to it. I’d already been investigating how to help our customers understand the complicated banking reward rules. I felt an interactive calculator would be the perfect piece of content to let customers harmlessly play with their accounts and see how their actions affected their rewards.

My content-first calculator design wasn’t chosen. Marketing wanted to use the calculator to cross-sell other banking products. They hired expensive copywriters and told them to give us persuasive copy. And it was. But when the user tests failed, I was asked to rewrite it all to remove the ‘salesy stuff’ and make it helpful. This was an expensive lesson to remind the business to get out of the customer’s way.

Content isn’t copy

Copy leads. Content serves. Copywriting persuades, enchants, and delights. Content writing helps, guides and nurtures.

That’s what I believe. What about you?

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