Let’s face it: some of us may have underestimated the critical role that content strategy plays (or, ideally, should play) in our every day designs. But as the web continues to expand and thrive—and digital design accounts for greater opportunities in the industry—more teams are recognizing the value of content strategy, getting in the know and partnering with experts who can assist us in that process.
Content Strategist Sara Wachter-Boettcher at HOW Interactive 2014
Speaking of experts and being in the know, here at HOW we believe in partnering with those individuals who can help give us the most well-rounded, complete picture of the design landscape. Through our interactions with leading experts, we’ve become acutely aware that content strategy is a key component to successful design.
Content strategist extraordinaire, Sara Wachter-Boettcher (pronounced Wahk-ter-Bett-cher), recently wow-ed the HOW Design Live audience. Her session focused on “the ways thinking and talking about content can really help the interactive design process.”
With the HOW Interactive Design Conference June 30th early bird registration right around the corner, I recently caught up with Sara to find out what she has in store for our audience at HIDC Chicago October 19-21and San Francisco November 17-19. (Yes, she’s presenting at not one but TWO amazing locations!)
Sara was nothing less than articulate and spirited about the ever-evolving brave world of web design.
You’ve had a robust career path that includes making a name for yourself in the world of web design and content strategy. What’s inspired you to speak to the HOW audience?
Working with dozens of different design teams over the past few years as a consultant, I’ve heard over and over how hard it is to get things launched: clients take forever to figure out their content, there’s endless rework because reality of the CMS doesn’t match the comps, and ultimately no one’s happy. I think that if everyone understood how and when to talk about content, we’d find our web projects a lot less stressful—and a lot more satisfying.
My presentations talk about priorities—and how to establish them. Too often, we go into web projects without a clear idea of what’s important, and it shows in the results: endless rotating carousels, busy margins, conflicting messages. Today, that’s becoming even more of a problem because we’re also trying to design for different device sizes—especially small screens, where things getting even more muddied. When we learn to have productive conversations about communication goals, messages, and user needs, we can stop trying to design all things all the time, and start designing for what matters instead.
Can you speak to something especially surprising or noteworthy that’s has happened to you during your career?
Discovering there was a way to combine creativity and writing with my analytical, structure-loving brain! When I started doing more interactive work, which began with web copywriting, I realized that the web was sorely lacking people who could think simultaneously about messaging—like, which messages needed to be prioritized on the homepage, or what the voice of a brand should sound and feel like—and the way the information needed to actually fit together and work at a structural level. This realization led me into content strategy, and I haven’t looked back.
Clearly you’ve found your calling. Is there a particular way you extend your knowledge to the community or donate your time?
Now that I’ve worked independently for a couple years, established my content strategy practice, and written a book, I feel like it’s time to share what I’ve learned. I’ve done that at a smaller level by mentoring colleagues and connecting new content strategists to jobs and resources, but this year I’m working on ways to get involved in broader community-building work, specifically around finding ways to bring more diversity and inclusiveness to the web industry.
Speaking of meaningful interactions, is there a watershed moment with a client or mentor that’s been especially helpful or poignant in shaping your career?
Yes, I was working with a long-term client who’d hired me to advise them on how to deal with their content across a whole bunch of websites and apps and whatnot. After working with them closely and spending time going through their existing sites, I had such a clear idea of what the problems were, where they were centered, and how we could solve them. And yet, when I tried to bring my solutions to my clients, they weren’t happy. They were overwhelmed. I talked to a mentor about it, and she said to me, “You need to remember that problem-solving and consulting aren’t the same thing.”
See, I thought that because I knew what was going wrong—I knew why their website had become a dumping ground, how their voice and message was inconsistent, how they weren’t speaking to their audience—I’d already done the hard work. I had the answers! But what I realized is that their content wasn’t really mine to fix, because they’d need to own it for the long term.