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Content Strategy

A framework for better web project agreement

Robert Mills • 5 minutes

This video is the fifth in our Content Strategy Advent Calendar series.

Here, Steve Fisher shared his framework for facilitating better discussion on web projects to achieve a shared agreement of audiences and goals.

Watch the video

Day 5 #ContentStrategyAdvent: – A framework for better web project agreement, by @hellofisher.

Video transcript

Oh, isn’t this a little awkward. Sorry puppy.

Hi. Aww, you guys are so scary. Neville, up. Ah, well I … (barking).

Ok, got the puppies settled. Hey guys. Well I’m here to talk to you today.

Ok, I think we got the puppies settled now. Well I’m really excited to start my day by talking to you, at the GatherContent advent calendar, about one of the things I think is very very helpful within content strategy and the content world, and design. It’s related to content design, which I’ve been doing for the past three years in a workshop. We’ve been titling it responsive content modelling, or creating responsive content experiences, but really it’s about setting priorities in the content and trying to figure out how it all relates together and designing out that system.

But before we get into that, as a team we have to learn to work together. And so there’s a framework that I use on every single project that I work on, that I’d like to talk to you about.

There’s four really simple things. There are audiences, the project vision or the user experience vision, design principles or project principles, and then goals. I like to take people through this framework in a workshop setting or face-to-face, but it doesn’t have to be like that, you could do it virtually.

But let me talk to you about those four things.

So the first thing is audiences. We need to setup the people in front of us who we’re building, creating all of this for. And so we talk about who those people are. We don’t just look at analytics or information that we’ve gathered from some other source like that. We take time to talk to people, even if it’s just a quick conversation with a handful of people, or you maybe have time and budget to talk to far more than that. We need to understand who they really are and then just set some priorities in that to say primary content situation, or business goal, who are we trying to reach out to? And to prioritise that and as a team, a broader team of content strategists, designers, business analysts, stakeholders, designers, how we can really come together and understand who the priorities are and who we’re building this for.

And so we agree to that priority first. It gets relatively easy and it’s a lot of work, but we can have agreement there and say yep, this is who we’re building, creating this content for.

Then we move into the project vision. So in a quick workshop setting or within a one hour setting virtually, we start to brainstorm all these different ideas. These things that we know our projects are about. You know, we know what our audiences need based on what we’ve been talking about about the audiences. And so we quickly put together, not a wordsmith, not a carefully crafted statement, but something that allows us to have a common understanding moving forward. So you’v got that tension between our current reality and our future vision, and the bit of overlap that is always pulling us forward. So we understand where we’re trying to head together as a broader team. And we agree to that based on what our audiences need.

The third thing, the design principles. And these are kind of the why statements, the values of our project. They’re not really measurable, but they do guide us to make the right decisions. So it might be something like putting internal logic to the side, and putting external logic, or users, or customers’ logic first. So when we are making an information architecture decision, or a content creation decision, or a feature decision, we can say ‘hmm, well nobody’s going to know that that’s in the engineering department, but they will know if we put it under this naming convention within this section of our website.’ And so our design principles guide our decisions and we agree to those based on our vision and our audiences. So we’re kind of getting this cascade, this funnel.

And the final thing we look at, the fourth thing, are goals. Now these are high-level goals in this workshop setting. They’re not really super detailed, but they do have to be measurable. We have to look at them and say, if we accomplish this, how far have we moved forward and what have we done, what is the measure of this?

And we usually look for four to six of those in a workshop setting, to help us as a team understand what we’re going to try to measure. And that can be something like, we’re going to reduce call volumes to the customer service line by 30% over the next two years. And I’ve worked on projects where things like that do come out, right from this very first workshop. But we agree to that, those goals, based on our design principles, our vision and our audiences that we’ve all agreed to as a broader team.

The interesting this is as this cascade happens from audiences, which is relatively easy to agree to, then vision based on the audiences, and then design principles based on the vision and audiences, and then the goals which sometimes we jump to first but are often, often we need to sit and think through the why, first, before we take on the what and the how.

It can be easy to jump to the goals, so things we can get our hands on, but sit with that uncomfortable ‘why’ and really try to define it first. And what you’ll find is this cascade of agreement helps us as teams to move outside of opinions, which really only move us laterally and often backwards. To being able to move towards agreement, decisions outside of ourselves. We’re not trying to agree on what we like, we’re trying to agree on what will best serve our audiences.

And so we have this cascade of agreement where we learn to agree and setup this framework for making good decisions for priorities for our content and design systems moving forward.

Really happy to have been on the GatherContent advent calendar this year. And maybe next time I won’t record right when I first wake up in my room. Thanks.

About Steve


Steve is the Founder at The Design & Content Conference and The Republic of Quality. He leads the charge on coordinating research, strategy, visual and interaction design, and content strategy.

Steve has over 20 years experience in research, business strategy, experience strategy, visual and interaction design, and content strategy for the web. He’s worked as a freelance designer and served as Director of User Experience in agency and studio settings.

Steve is a professional member of the Graphic Designer’s Society of Canada and served as the national VP of web for 3 years. Beyond his extensive client-based work, he’s taught numerous college courses on CSS, Web standards, UX, and creativity.

Steve was a judge for the international Adobe Design Achievement Awards, the HOW Design Awards, the .NET Awards, and the Vancouver UX Awards. He spends much of his time representing RoQ on the global stage as a sought-after speaker on topics like responsive web design, UX, open source, design thinking, and web process. He’s a contributor to .NET Magazine and has presented around the world at conferences like TEDx, SXSW, Future of Web, HOW Interactive Design conference, Web Visions and DrupalCon.

Day 5 #ContentStrategyAdvent: – A framework for better web project agreement, by @hellofisher.

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Robert Mills

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