We're about to make a huge improvement to the way you can organise content in GatherContent - I sat down with our VP of Product and our Product Designer to give you a sneak peek into what's coming.
Angus: Right now the only way to organise content in a project is by creating a sitemap-like hierarchy. But very soon, we will be releasing an update that will open up the way content can be organised in your account to include folders, sorting and filtering. We're calling it your new 'content hub'.
Angus: Our product originated as a solution to help people get content ready for websites and it made sense to organise content into a hierarchy that follows a sitemap. But, over time we've found that more and more people use GatherContent for varying types of content such as email nurturing sequences, university brochures, government policy documents and different types of large volume content initiatives. For these applications, the rigid structure of a sitemap was restrictive.
Customers were creating workarounds like adding empty items to act as "folders" to categorise or collect sub-items within a project. Then on top of this, customer accounts were growing but the customer experience wasn't scaling and performance really took a knock once a project hit over 500 items of content.
Combining both the function our customers clearly wanted our app to support, and a company vision to support a wider range of ongoing content operations, we needed to rethink the functionality we provided for customers to organise content in GatherContent.
Angus: The need came straight from the behaviour of our existing customers. We debated about how to solve this challenge and make organising content work for website and other types of projects.
James: We sketched out some concepts to solve the usability issues quite a long time before the project actually kicked off. We started playing around with keeping parent and child item relationships while introducing sectioning and grouping but something just wasn't sitting right.
Then we explored a 'finder view'. There were rough sketches and wireframes of this concept which morphed into what it is today. Rather than going straight into design software and designing it, we wireframed it getting us all on the same page for how it needed to work. Wireframes also provide a great foundation for getting early feedback.
Angus: So at this stage we sought some outside guidance from industry experts. We spoke with Noz Urbina who's really clued up on structured content modelling. We also spoke with Rahel Bailie who wrote Content Strategy: Connecting the Dots Between Business, Brand, and Benefits with Noz. Eric Ries who founded the European Information Architecture Summit consulted for us and Deane Barker who wrote Web Content Management sparked really interesting discussions too. We also spoke with customers from different industries that were using us for different applications.
What was affirming about these discussions is that it's really healthy to chat to people that disagree with you, because it forces you to have a strong argument. Now, we've got clear opinions we really believe in and that customers agree with. So we felt confident that folders were the logical and right route to go.
James: Folders are a convention that everybody knows. Using a computer, everyone uses folders to manage any types of file structure. It's familiar, which helps to make it intuitive.
From there we split off - the design team went away and started designing the visual aspect of it. The development team went away and worked out how they could deliver this and in what stages, making sure the back-end would be all set up ready for it.
Following on from our content editor revamp last year, we have a design system in place for the app, so, because we had a detailed wireframe, it was just a case of applying our system to the wireframe. All of the behaviours and practices that we'd implanted into the content editor could be applied to the new content hub. We worked as a single multi-disciplinary team to make sure that what we designed was possible.
Angus: We've worked in month long sprints - planning out what's possible, setting a goal and working on it for a month. At the end of each sprint we demo it to check in and set the next sprint's goal. Right now we're running usability tests. When we are confident it's totally stable and reliable, we'll go through our normal release roll-out. All existing customers will be able to get their hands on the new content hub within the next two months.
Angus: Originally we were still calling this the 'content tab' but we realised that terminology was inherited from what the UI looked like about four years ago. The content organisation area in our app hasn't been in a tab for a long time! So we just started asking people when we were doing usability tests, both customers and people that hadn't used GatherContent before. People had different ideas, some called it an 'inventory' but then it was a customer that referred to it as the 'content hub' which we thought aligned really nicely with what it is and our vision for GatherContent. So, shout out to Alexandra Borzo 👏 - you nailed it, thank you!
James: The speed and intuitiveness of it. Even in the testing sessions, we would ask people to do simple tasks like create folders and new content items. Then before we even asked them to take the next step, they'd automatically be dragging and dropping the content items without any guidance. They were using it like they would use their operating system, which is a place where we wanted it to get to. I know this is going to save our customers time when performing essential tasks like re-ordering items, which is great. We've really tried to break the tasks down so we aren't front-loading customers with loads of decisions before they complete an action. We're doing things one step at a time, and it's clear from the testing that that's really the right approach.
James: There will be no such thing as a parent content item in the new content hub, parent content items will become folders. So we need to be really aware when we transform existing accounts to the new content hub. Managing this change with customers is something we're working really hard to get right. We learned a lot of lessons from the content editor update. The positive here is that we aren't taking functionality away. Despite this, we aren't underestimating that this change still needs to be carefully managed so that customers understand how to get the most out of the new functionality.
James: I've only been at GatherContent for 18 months but I can tell already that this has been the most efficient project we've worked on as a team. It's created a lot of excitement across the company. Every time we release a new update to the product, it just pushes the quality so much.
Angus: I'm just so glad that we formed a strong opinion to reach this decision. We want to be an opinionated product, which it's easy not to be. It's easy to try and please everyone but end up pleasing no one as a result. We've formed a really strong and well articulated opinion around folders and hierarchy now, and I think that's a big achievement.
James: Yeah, so we've updated the fonts to use IBM Plex, which is designed by, you guessed it, IBM. It's released for free, for the good of the world and it's totally designed for screen, hence why we've used it. For the UI we use IBM Plex Sans. The old font, Whitney, is a nice font for marketing and general sort of reading, but we needed a font that could work for interfaces, because we have a lot of smaller text with complex information being portrayed, so it has to work correctly for little parts of the UI, like comments, template labels and so forth. Whitney was failing pretty badly at that.
Alongside the new UI font, we also updated the content editor field font to IBM Plex Serif.
10 years ago there was no such thing as a Retina or high pixel density display. All screens were standard pixel density and you could see the pixels, which is why Sans Serif fonts were designed to be better for the screens of their day. But now we have incredible screens, serif fonts are coming back into the fray and we're taking advantage of that. You only need to look at sites like Medium.com, WordPress or iA Writer - it's the direction the market is going.
The font change is proving to be a little bit controversial. We've literally just released that, so we are keeping a close eye on feedback. There are plans to allow customers to select the font they use but that's not up next.
Angus: Next up on the roadmap is better support for media and assets. The first thing we're doing there is allowing people to put images inside text fields - but that's for another blog post...
Editor's Note: The content hub will be available on all new trial accounts from May 2019. Existing customers will be contacted before the update is rolled out, so if you're an account owner look out for a message from us coming soon!
Becky is a Product Marketing Manager at GatherContent. She has 10+ years working in marketing executing affiliate, content, display, mobile, search and social campaigns for high profile clients across various sectors including Travel, Entertainment and Oil & Energy.