Talking Content Strategy with Jonathon Colman of Facebook

Content strategy may be a buzzword to some, but in the world of interactive design it’s crucial. If you’re a successful web designer (or aspire to be one), establishing a direction for your content and communication goals are key to a fruitful design career.

In eager anticipation for the HOW Interactive Design Conference in San Francisco, I connected with Jonathon Colman of Facebook to find out what life is like for a bonafide content strategy expert …

Talking Content Strategy with Jonathon Colman of Facebook

content strategy

Jonathon, we’re all wondering, as a content strategist, how you found yourself involved in the interactive community? 

What do we mean when we say content?

I believe that content is where interaction happens, where experience happens. It’s not like you open an app or a web site and say, “ENOUGH with all this content! Gimme some buttons to tap and some widgets to swipe away mindlessly!”

I started out as a web developer—feel free to Google my old work; it’s dreadful, but I learned a lot from making it that way. Later, I moved into marketing and analytics. From there, I delved into information architecture and content strategy. So I see content as being not just the words, not just the font, not just the layout or design. Content’s not just the structure, the code, the metadata or even the brand.

I work with designers to make sure that content is the entire system, the entire structure, the entire experience—not just lorem ipsum text that gets plugged in later.

What drives you to collaborate with designers in this way?

There’s a conceit that content somehow exists apart from design and interaction, that it’s just the filling within a structure and not part of the structure itself. So allow me to make my bias clear: I think that’s as wrong as two left shoes—with all apologies to you double-lefties out there!

Content, architecture, interaction design and user experience need to work together to solve problems as a team. In the best experiences, including many of the ones we use every day, it’s often hard to tell where design ends and content begins. That’s where the magic happens.

So I think content strategists need to be able to publicly self-identify as design thinkers without shame or hesitation. Likewise, I think that designers and architects should consider and plan for content in their work—not just on the surface, but in the structure and scope of their work as well. That’s how we’ll build better experiences: by helping everyone feel empowered to use content and design to solve hard problems for real people.

HIDC_chicago_speakers_F; content strategy

What do you bring to HOW Interactive event that’s unique?

I’m deeply introverted—I understand that this may be a bit surprising, considering that I work for a company with a mission of connecting the world.

But keep in mind that introversion and shyness aren’t the same thing—I’ve tempered my introversion with a background in improv comedy and theatre, which means that my talk will be engaging, dynamic, and high-energy.

For example, I may (or may not) play air guitar during a dramatic section on the need for empathy in error messages. And during a rather somber moment in which we discuss Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it’s quite possible that I’ll drop a reference to “Doctor Who.” Come to the show and find out!

What’s most rewarding about being part of an interactive event and speaking to designers?

Learning from attendees. I don’t see speaking as one-way communication; it’s a busy two-way street. Or three-ways, even, if you consider the backchannel conversation. There’s a lot of exciting context in all that traffic, a lot of challenges being faced, problems being solved and lessons being learned.

So it’s exciting and energizing to talk with people and learn from them. I know that I lose my introvert street cred by saying that, but it’s true. Speaking well requires a great deal of research and empathy—and attention to other people’s stories and values. That’s rewarding to me, and I’m looking forward to it at HIDC.

Any project you are especially passionate about right now?

Have you ever seen something on Facebook that you wanted to read or watch, but you didn’t have the time? So you felt like you had to bookmark the link or maybe even email it to yourself or else you’d lose it forever?

Earlier this year, we built a great little feature called Saved. It’s simple—all it does is help you save things you see on Facebook for later. It’s fast and simple and minimal, solving a discrete, tightly scoped problem without being distracting or getting in your way. And only you can see the things you save.

I love using Saved and had a blast working on it. There’s just never have enough time to read all the links your friends post, watch all the videos, or check out all the restaurants or other places they recommend. So now you can just save them for later.

I’ll walk you through Saved and other Facebook products in my HIDC talk, “Build Better Content.”

We’re ready, Jonathon! We’re looking forward to soaking up all of your expertise at the best event for interactive design …

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