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Confab 2011: What Are Words For?

I’ve just returned from a terrific time at Confab 2011: The Content Strategy Conference, where I was very pleased to have the opportunity to speak—and to meet many great, fun, intellectually curious people.

It was the maiden voyage of Confab, as it were, and a testament to the organizing powers of content strategists. Everything ran smoothly. There was a lot of enthusiasm in the crowd. Food and drink were plentiful and delicious. Also, Minneapolis is delightful, although the weather does threaten a bit. (I did discover a new (to me) kind of cloud.)

Soon, I’ll write a substantive post about the topic of my talk, which I feel is an important one. For the time being—as a prophylactic against procrastination—here are the slides followed by a summary. Krista Stevens took some very comprehensive notes. Thanks, Krista.

I’ve been in what is roughly known as the “web business” since 1995. I joined Studio Archetype in 1998. They already had a well-formed and well-integrated content strategy practice that relied on most of the methodologies people are talking about today. Content strategy was just one part of a multi-disciplinary approach that embraced user-centered design as a core element of business strategy.

For reasons that are still mysterious to me, after the tech bubble burst all these design sub-disciplines took a blow, but all re-emerged, except for content strategy.

In the last couple of years, interest in content strategy has grown—due in part to Kristina Halvorson’s indefatigable evangelism. It’s now time to regain a sense of history, examine the culture and practice, and make sure that we are moving forward effectively.

Content strategy is a slippery concept that can mean everything or nothing. At Mule, we consider language choices, workflow specification, and resource planning all fundamental aspects of user experience design. You can neither have a successful content strategy without a strong overall design and business strategy, nor create a design system without taking content into consideration.

All design strategy decisions flow from the business strategy. You need to start by asking “Why are we doing this at all?” before you can answer “What is the best content strategy?”

In other words, there is no such thing as “good” content in and of itself. (Of course, there might be very effective content that serves questionable goals.) All value flows from the value the entire organization seeks to provide.

And to do the best possible work, a multi-disciplinary team must work together united by a very clear shared understanding of that “why”.

That is a very sketchy take on the essential theme. More to follow, and I look forward to hearing from anyone who is thinking about this sort of stuff.

About Mule Design Studio

Mule creates delightful interfaces, strong identities, and clear voices for useful systems and nice people.
Also, We are funnier than all other designers.

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