I began my career as an interactive designer. When we started designing websites back in the day, neither terms “user experience” nor “content marketing” had been coined yet. All we were doing back then was designing pretty and hopefully useful experiences, not that far off from print design. UX (what we called IA then) was done by information architects who often came from library science backgrounds. Content was a copywriter’s job, and they came from traditional advertising agencies.
What has gradually dawned on me over a decade and a half is that as a designer and strategist in digital I spend a great deal of my time thinking about how to design the right UX to deliver content marketing in compelling ways for specific users. In fact, today it can be argued that digital media, from the web to apps, text to VR, is ALL about content. So the adage “content is king” turns out to be true, at least to some degree.
But if content is king, then UX is prime minister (or president in a country with a working democracy.) The reason I like this king and prime minister analogy is that content indeed has no significance without the prime minister there to make sense of the chaos of running a modern country. Also, like the king, content has always been around in the form of print, TV and music, but in present-day times the world has changed around content. The digital world that is.
And with the way people consume media on their smartphones, in apps, in social, by location, while shopping, while gaming, etcetera, etcetera it falls upon a special kind of hypermedia conscious designer to make sense of things. Specifically, as the world changes in fast forward, digital designers not only have to wear the slightly uncomfortable fitting hat of a content creator, but they must also often wear the strategist, technologist, and the product manager hats. That’s a lot of hats! Is that why I have such a large and growing hat collection…
“Brands need to be media properties.”
The days when brands could simply advertise by renting media are fading in the rearview mirror. TV ads, Adwords and even billboards may still be used, but buyers of B2C and B2B have turned their eyes to brands that produce and publish the sort of content their target customers want to see. An excellent example of this is Red Bull who for several years have transformed their website into an adventure sports media channel. And what’s exciting about Red Bull is it’s way more than product campaigns, with gigabytes of video around motorsports, online gaming, surfing, snowboarding. Their sponsored event stories and video are central to their owned media. And now Red Bull Music is central to their strategy. As a case study, Redbull.com is as close as it gets to becoming media property and it could be said this drink brand does a better job than many true media sites.
“UX shapes the way content is delivered.”
Going back to UX for a moment, the challenge for a lot of brands like Redbull and others that are smart enough to reposition as media properties is how to design the user experience around this content in a way that is more than a lot of “stuff” on their digital channels. The job for UX designers that I mentioned earlier is to know who the user is (personas), understand how those users want to interact with the content (user scenarios), come up with the best way to organize content to satisfy those users (site/app architecture), and layout the ways and priorities that content will be shown (wireframes). The visual design of the user interfaces is then another area to deliver content through the filter of the brand to make the content truly owned media. This obstacle course of UX-focused fun is at the end of the day primarily driven by what sort of content property each brand would like to become, and is in no way limited to jus a website or mobile app.
“Make content an experience.”
If you happened to watch the recent Netflix historical drama The Crown, my little parallel between governing leaders and digital industry leaders might make some sense. Or it might not. But the idea that two strongly dependent worlds of content and UX should make sense by this point. The interesting thing to me is watching the two disciplines become best friends. For brands, there’s a lot of room to grow into, and at our agency we love helping clients uncover new opportunities for solving content and UX challenges. More importantly, we need to take it to the next level and make content an experience.