In Contentland less is always more: Part 1

Headshot of Lisa Matthews

Senior Content Designer

2 minute read

In the first in a series of blog posts focused on content design, Lisa introduces and explores the importance of auditing to tackle the proliferation of digital waste and ensure content is needed, meaningful and user-centred.

Humans love content. We’ve been making content forever. From ancient cave paintings to Open AI’s Dall-E2 art generator and ChatGPT, we create and crave content. Content is how we find our voice and share our ideas and experiences with the world. 

The bedtime tales we read our children are sophisticated sequential combinations of AV content: your voice is the audio, the story is in the words on the page. Bedtime stories provide far more than the comforting lights-out routine. When you read a story to a child you are teaching them an important life skill: the ability to engage their fellow humans through the creation, and sharing, of narrative.  

Narrative is one of the ways we effectively communicate our experiences and ideas. And so it follows that narrative content can help turbo charge design and communications. This is no longer a secret. You can tell by the amount of digital content out there. 

If you want to know more about just how fast we’re flooding our world with data then check out Gerry McGovern’s talk from last year’s Camp Digital. It makes for a sobering watch. But to tackle a problem first we must face it. 

In the land of content design, and digital design more generally, we’re in a bind of needing to make useful content for people, while knowing the planet is overflowing with digital and tactile waste. Because whether your shiny new text is out of your brain, or the latest AI text-generation tool, there is no doubt we are submerged in content; most of which no one experiences or needs.  

The American architect and graphic designer Richard Saul Wurman opened the world’s eyes to the rapid rise in the amount of information spilling out into the ether. This sea of words and data may feel unmanageable, but there are practical ways to tackle the proliferation of content. 

As designers one major approach is to systematically look at the content within existing ecosystems. The aim is looking is to see what’s there and speaks to the adage of choosing to renovate an existing structure, over building an entirely new one. We can audit content. We can review ecosystems. Whatever we call the activity, the aim of looking at content should be to get rid of as much of it as possible and make way for lean, useful content. To tackle the exponential rise in content, more robust governance is central to being more user-focused. At Nexer we look at content with a method we’re currently calling the Audit-Review: a process of saying goodbye to redundant content, while striving to serve content to users in the formats they want it  

Inspired by Wurman who said: “while information may be infinite…the ways of structuring it are not” our content audit-review methods mean we strive for content that is: 

  • needed by users; 
  • useful and meaningful to users; 
  • contextual and well-researched; 
  • designed, not written; 
  • strategic and structured; 
  • componentised and user-informed, 
  • optimised and measurable; 
  • re-usable, maintainable, disposable. 

Evolving a more systematic approach to content design is where the profession is at right now. At the base of the content stack are a variety of foundational design values. At Nexer these include: 

  • content that addresses user need 
  • less is more  
  • plain language 
  • accessible, usable, meaningful 
  • Lorem Ipsum be gone 
  • lift and shift be gone 
  • context for the design is vital 
  • Collaborative design environments so everyone has eyes on what content is doing (and can do). 

It has always been true that in communication, less is more.  

If you want your customers and audiences to consume and/or buy your content, you must stop throwing so much of it at them. 

Content auditing and reviewing are big topics. Over the course of 2023 I will share insights into our latest in-house audit and review methodologies and how they’ve helped to evolve the way we do content here at Nexer Digital. We’ll start with a look at the hot mess of content spreading through businesses and organisations and look at the difference and overlaps between audits, reviews and inventories. We’ll dig into some of Wurman’s work; and I will introduce some terms and tools that we’re developing.  

 Let’s focus on making great content and saying goodbye to anything our users don’t need. They’ll love you for it. And just as importantly so will our planet. 

This is a series-in-progress and I hope you’ll stick with me for the duration.