THE ERA of “desktop publishing” is over. Same goes for the era where we privilege the desktop web interface above all others. The tools we create to manage our content are vestiges of the desktop publishing revolution, where we tried to enable as much direct manipulation of content as possible. In a world where we have infinite possible outputs for our content, it’s time to move beyond tools that rely on visual styling to convey semantic meaning. If we want true separation of content from form, it has to start in the CMS.–Karen McGrane, WYSIWTF ∙ An A List Apart Column.
It’s great that some of the brightest minds in our industry continue making the point that copy matters, and that “one of the most overlooked designers in any field is the copywriter.” But it’s sad that, whenever we make that point, the only examples we seem to come up with are 37signals and Apple. (Flickr used to be in there, too, but these days, sadly, nobody wants to talk about Flickr—even when they’re a canonical example of doing x right.)
IN EPISODE No. 78 of The Big Web Show (“everything web that matters”), I interview Margot Bloomstein, author of Content Strategy at Work: Real-World Stories to Strengthen Every Interactive Engagement (Morgan Kaufmann, 2012), about her professional transition from design to content strategy; the vagaries of the consulting life; how mentoring and non-traditional academic backgrounds can fit into a web career; how to write a content strategy book for people who are not content strategists; and the beauties of Pittsburgh.
IT’S A Karen McGrane world! Today, as A Book Apart unveils Karen McGrane’s amazing new Content Strategy for Mobile, the entirety of A List Apart Issue No. 364 is dedicated to Karen and her vision for future-friendly web content:
Thirty-one percent of Americans who access the internet from a mobile device say that’s the way they always or mostly go online. For this group, if your content doesn’t exist on mobile, it doesn’t exist at all. The U.S. government has responded with a broad initiative to make federal website content mobile-friendly. Karen McGrane explains why this matters—and what you can learn from it.
Making your content mobile-ready isn’t easy, but if you take the time now to examine your content and structure it for maximum flexibility and reuse, you’ll have stripped away all the bad, irrelevant bits, and be better prepared the next time a new gadget rolls around. This excerpt from Karen McGrane’s new book, Content Strategy for Mobile, will help you get started.
Help Hurricane Sandy relief efforts
Fifteen percent of sales of Karen McGrane’s Content Strategy for Mobile and other A Book Apart books sold today will go to the Red Cross in its effort to aid victims of Hurricane Sandy.
IN ISSUE NO. 349 of A List Apart for people who make websites, savor the content strategy sweetness as you dip into a double dose of Rachel Lovinger, a prime motivator behind the content strategy movement.
by RACHEL LOVINGER
What does content strategy mastery look like? As in any field, it comes down to having master skills and knowing when to apply them. While there are different styles of content strategy (from an editorial and messaging focus to a technical and structural focus), the master content strategist must work with content from all angles: messaging architecture and messaging platforms; content missions and content management. Above all, she must advocate for multiple constituents, including end users, business users, stakeholders, and the content vision itself. Rachel Lovinger shares the skills that go into achieving CS mastery.
by RACHEL LOVINGER
The content model is one of the most important content strategy tools at your disposal. It allows you to represent content in a way that translates the intention, stakeholder needs, and functional requirements from the user experience design into something that can be built by developers implementing a CMS. A good content model helps ensure that your content vision will become a reality. Lovinger explains how to craft a strong content model and use it to foster communication and align efforts between the UX design, editorial, and technical team members on your project.
Illustration by Kevin Cornell for A List Apart.
The Web OS is Already Here… Luke Wroblewski, November 8, 2011
Mobile First Responsive Web Design, Brad Frost, June, 2011
320 and up – prevents mobile devices from downloading desktop assets by using a tiny screen’s stylesheet as its starting point. Andy Clarke and Keith Clark.
Gridless, HTML5/CSS3 boilerplate for mobile-first, responsive designs “with beautiful typography”
HTML5 Boilerplate – 3.02, Feb. 19, 2012, Paul Irish ,Divya Manian, Shichuan, Matthias Bynens, Nicholas Gallagher
HTML5 Reset v 2, Tim Murtaugh, Mike Pick, 2011
CSS Reset, Eric Meyer, v 2.0b1, January 2011
Less Framework 4 – an adaptive CSS grid system, Joni Korpi (@lessframework)
Responsive Web Design by Ethan Marcotte, 2011
Adaptive Web Design by Aaron Gustafson, 2011
Getting Started With Sass by David Demaree, 2011, A List Apart
Dive into Responsive Prototyping with Foundation by Jonathan Smiley, A List Apart, 2012
Future-Ready Content Sara Wachter-Boettcher, February 28, 2012, A List Apart
For a Future Friendly Web Brad Frost, March 13, 2012, A List Apart
Orbital Content Cameron Koczon, April 19, 2011, A List Apart
Web standards win, Windows whimpers in 2012, Neil McAllister, InfoWorld, December 29, 2011
Thoughts on Flash – Steve Jobs, April, 2010
Did We Just Win the Web Standards Battle? ppk, July 2006
The Web Standards Project: FAQ (updated), February 27, 2002
To Hell With Bad Browsers, A List Apart, 2001
IN ISSUE NO. 345 of A List Apart, for people who make websites:
by SARA WACHTER-BOETTCHER
The future is flexible, and we’re bending with it. From responsive web design to futurefriend.ly thinking, we’re moving quickly toward a web that’s more fluid, less fixed, and more easily accessed on a multitude of devices. As we embrace this shift, we need to relinquish control of our content as well, setting it free from the boundaries of a traditional web page to flow as needed through varied displays and contexts. Most conversations about structured content dive headfirst into the technical bits: XML, DITA, microdata, RDF. But structure isn’t just about metadata and markup; it’s what that metadata and markup mean. Sara Wachter-Boettcher shares a framework for making smart decisions about our content’s structure.
by COREY VILHAUER
Every website needs an audience. And every audience needs a goal. Advocating for end-user needs is the very foundation of the user experience disciplines. We make websites for real people. Those real people are able to do real things. But how do we get to really know our audience and find out what these mystery users really want from our sites and applications? Learn to ensure that every piece of content on your site relates back to a specific, desired outcome — one that achieves business goals by serving the end user. Corey Vilhauer explains the threads that bind UX research to content strategy and project deliverables that deliver.
Illustration by Kevin Cornell for A List Apart
SHIPPING IS EASY, making real change is hard. To do meaningful web work, we need to educate clients on how their websites influence their business and the legal, regulatory, brand, and financial risks they face without strong web governance. Learn why web governance is important to us as web professionals and how to influence your clients to think carefully about how to align their websites to their business strategy. A List Apart: Articles: Web Governance: Becoming an Agent of Change.
“REDESIGNS REQUIRE STRATEGY, otherwise they are merely reskinning. We don’t do reskinning. We do strategic redesigns that help the people who use your website achieve their goals. Strategic redesign starts with research. The notion that a design is ‘dull’ and needs to be ‘freshened up’ by a ‘burst of creative inspiration’ reveals a lack of understanding of, and disrespect for, design.
“UPDATED SERVICE ADVISORY – EAST RIVER FERRY CAPACITY LIMITS – PLEASE CLICK HERE TO READ,” the top banner on the East River Ferry’s website nervously advises. Immediately below this warning comes the gentle and slightly vacuous headline, “Relax. We’ll Get You There.” The two headlines tell contrasting stories that completely contradict each other. No print art director would place these two messages on the same page, let alone in such close proximity or with treatments that compete for the reader’s attention. Yet this is how we treat content on the web.
Elsewhere on the page, care has been taken. An interactive map! With rollovers! Be still, my heart.
But when it came time to determine a content strategy, no one was in charge (or the wrong people were). Instead of the kind of headline that actually works on the web, a committee approved a soft print advertising headline—the kind that might appear in a quarter-page ad in the back of the playbill for a regional theater company’s production of Guys and Dolls. No thought was given to how that headline would play if the ferry developed service problems. Apparently no substitute, contingency headline was created. And not much thought (if any) was given to how the design might change if a problem arose.
Thus at the last minute a slightly hysterical “over capacity” headline that makes the “Relax” headline look ridiculous was jammed on top of the primary headline, using design techniques that give the warning primacy of place, and add shrillness by using all caps, only to defeat their own urgency with a low-contrast teal-on-blue color scheme that is difficult for people with normal vision to read and may be invisible to people with certain kinds of color-blindness.
This is what we do. We have meetings, we reach consensus, we make templates, we approve inoffensive headlines and copy, and we fumble contingencies. Avoiding these problems is what content strategy and user experience design are all about.