A Tale of Twin Cities

A fireside chat presented by Karl Fast and Kristina Halvorson

Karl Fast and Kristina Halvorson in conversation. As the Information Architecture Summit visits content strategy’s spiritual home of Minneapolis, let’s look at how these disciplines compare, why they’re important and what they can teach each other.

Architecting the news – The Guardian’s Container Model

How shipping containers and a blender has changed how the Guardian thinks about its digital products.

The information architecture of almost all news sites has remained the same for a long time, the formulaic approach often reflecting the internal structure of an organisation rather than how people actually think about content. In addition typically a homepage or section page will present content in a way which mirrors the navigation.

When the time came to redesign The Guardian’s core website and apps we challenged ourselves to think of new ways to improve the discovery and promotion of our content, not just on the homepage, but all our section pages, articles, live blogs, galleries and video pages.

Through a process of rapid iteration we came up with our innovative new container model and what we call “blended content” a radical approach to IA for the Guardian. Our blended approach has freed our content to appear anywhere in any combination.

In this talk I will cover the process we went through on our journey, what we learnt, what worked and what didn’t. In particular:

  1. The challenge of redesigning the second biggest news site in the world
  2. How we approached the problem
  3. How we validated our ideas
  4. How separating in page presentation from your navigation can allow you to be incredibly imaginative with how you curate content
  5. How to convince senior stakeholders to come with you on the journey
  6. How we use data to inform and validate our IA decisions
  7. The future for our brave new IA
Session Takeaways
  • News is messy. But by pushing the business to take a different approach to IA you can liberate your content from the shackles of where people think it should live
  • Don’t give up – new ideas will always be initially rejected, but if you believe in what you’re doing is better for your audience you will get there in the end
  • How using prototypes and user research will help you iterate and build confidence in your ideas and reduce risk in the project
  • How data should inform what you do from the start

Managing the Politics of Content

Politics affect what content strategists do, in a big way — and they also play a big role in the success or failure of UX contributions. If a site is built based on aspirations rather than reality, then while user needs might be satisfied, the organization’s internal roilings may prevent the site from making a positive difference for the business. If the cloaks of accountabiliity remain unspoken, then it’s incredibly challenging to tie digital efforts to metrics that are meaningful to the organization (and that ensure ongoing staffing and budget). And if the internal clients don’t have organizational buy-in, they may go down with that ship too.

Politics often dictate what goes on the home page, what can or can be cross-linked, and even what content is exempt from usability guidelines. We – content strategists, UX practitioners, and designers alike – need to have a shared understanding and speak with a common voice about the need to get past politics in order for the work we do to achieve its intended goals. This session will serve as a call to action and will forge a common path for our profession.

Session Takeaways
  • How organizational politics sabotage success
  • Roadmap for how to overcome politics
  • Real-life stories illustrating every step of the way, and how practitioners have learned from successes and failures

The New Black: Running the Small Agency

As the demand for user experience and IA grows, more and more practitioners are forming new agencies and consultancies. But once they are formed, how do you run them?

You are design practitioners of different stripes, utilizing your mastery and creativity to do your work. But, as Peter Drucker said, “entrepreneurship is not ‘natural’; it is not ‘creative.’ It is work.” Personal mastery in your practice does not necessarily translate into a successful agency or consultancy.

For many, this is the first time that you have done more than freelance. Transitioning to functioning as a business adds additional layers of complexity from both an operational and a management perspective.

In this interactive panel, three experienced agency or consultancy executives will share their experiences, highlight their hard-earned lessons, and answer your questions.

Data Sets You Free: Analytics for Content Strategy

The value of content strategy can be hard to measure and even harder to forecast. For most of us, the hardest part of the job isn’t even the work itself — it’s getting your hands untied so that you can help your organization or client take action. To do that, we need to prove the value of our work and hold ourselves accountable for its impact.

Data sets you free. When you tell the story of your users’ or customers’ behavior and needs using data, you’ll be able to move onward from just TALKING about content strategy to actually DOING the work.

Data literacy should be a core skill for content strategists … and it’s easier to learn than you might think. This presentation gives us the tools we need to take the path ahead: what you should measure (and what you shouldn’t), how to simplify and automate analytics for content audits to yield better insights, and how to report out your findings for maximum clarity and action.

Becoming a Change Agent

Businesses want return on their web investment. To do that, IAs need to step out from behind the screen, take a seat at the table, balance user and business needs, and create a positive environment for change. Armed with an approach I sometimes call “strategic nagging,” this is the story of how I became a change agent using IA and content strategy to transform the 160-year-old American Society of Civil Engineers for a digital-first world.

Let’s talk about honing the empathic, organisational, and analytical skills we already have to diffuse disruption and work with people and processes, as well as information. Patience and persistence makes our message pervasive so we can motivate decision-makers, find allies, persuade detractors, and provide direction to practitioners.

When I became ASCE’s Web Director in January 2013, I thought I’d tinker with some content management issues, help rewrite some content, and provide governance guidance. Little did I know that I would use change management tactics disguised as web strategy, design, and development to get them to adopt an overarching digital strategy to better reach its members, grow revenue, and start to make stuff that really matters. We’re reaching a pivotal moment, and this is the story so far.

Things you’ll learn from this session:

  • How to introduce digital content culture into a traditional business
  • How to manage change up, down, and sideways
  • Why you’ll need forgiveness, not permission, to be a catalyst for change

Future-Proofing Content

Content doesn’t last forever, but there are ways to manage content so that archiving, re-use, and even platform changes won’t affect your original purpose in creating the content. This session will show you how organizations like the Department of Defense and Sprint use classification systems to manage massive amounts of content and keep it ready for future use.

Driving a Multichannel Experience from a Single Message

E pluribus unum? Better yet, out of one, create many—many channels within a multifaceted but unified experience. That’s the challenge of experience design among constrained budgets, tight timelines, and unlimited interaction expectations. Content strategy’s communication foundation, the message architecture, can help you answer that challenge. First, we’ll discuss how to prioritize communication goals and develop a message architecture with a hands-on exercise—ideal whether you’re designing for the web, a mobile app, social media, or an offline experience. Then learn how to create consistency between long-form web copy, action-oriented forms, and pointed Tweets. Discover how to prioritize features and content types across platforms by looking at examples that do this well, and those that don’t. Finally, respond to responsive design with a strategy to adapt content across platforms but still stay true to the brand.

Adapting Ourselves to Adaptive Content

For years, we’ve been telling designers: the web is not print. You can’t have pixel-perfect layouts. You can’t determine how your site will look in every browser, on every platform, on every device. We taught designers to cede control, think in systems, embrace web standards. So why are we still letting content authors plan for where their content will “live” on a web page? Why do we give in when they demand a WYSIWYG text editor that works “just like Microsoft Word”? Worst of all, why do we waste time and money creating and recreating content instead of planning for content reuse? What worked for the desktop web simply won’t work for mobile. As our design and development processes evolve, our content workflow has to keep up. Karen will talk about how we have to adapt to creating more flexible content.

Content Strategy On a Shoestring Budget

You’ve heard about content strategy. But what is it really? Why is it important? What can it do for your projects or your organization? And how can you do it with a small budget?

Join a content strategist who has incorporated content strategy into projects without blowing the budget or timeline to:

  • Get ideas on how to sell content strategy to your boss or clients
  • Learn how to integrate content strategy into your process without throwing off the schedule
  • Learn how to develop a content strategy document and a content worksheet that maps out the entire site and tracks progress
  • See how to involve developers early in a project to increase ownership across all functions

Because in the end, good content is what brings customers in and keeps them loyal.