During the analytical and strategic phase, we focus on “why” users do or should do something. The following design stage is commonly approached by studying “how” creating the solution but we could– or should– start from “what” users are looking for.
What is relevant to the user?
People don’t use digital services or products to interact with their interfaces; they want to fill a need. A large part of these needs concerns accesses to content: the balance of a current account, info about a product feature, a route itinerary.
It makes no sense to design the world’s best interface to simplify access to low-value or ineffective content. If you observe the users’ behavior, you will find that they make a decision if they access and fully understand the information they are looking for. Sometimes even a single word can make a difference.
Content design is critical. As designers, we have to keep in mind that the choice of tool influences our working method and has an impact on direction, speed, and effectiveness.
Which is the right tool?
- Good for the initial design phases, as an internal communication tool for the working group.
- Not good to define the right level of detail that allows us to evaluate a design solution compared to another one.
Paper and pen
- Good for sketching layouts.
- Not good for defining the details of the information you want to transfer to users.
- Good for defining both Low and Hi-Fi details of an interface.
- Not good for working on the contents.
Text editor as a design tool
It’s perfect for focusing on content. Since there is no formatting, it’s impossible to be distracted by layout choices, grids, buttons, colors, fonts. We are free to focus on answering these questions:
- What information do we need to transfer to the user?
- What is more important and what is secondary?
- How much detail we have to dedicate to one topic compared to other topics?
Consider this process:
- Write down a bullet list of the information you need to transfer to the user.
- Sort the list according to priorities: the more important goes up.
- Expand points without worrying about style or length.
- Group the contents for an effective narration, write a title for each group.
- Shrink it. Eliminate superfluous words, eliminate again, and again, until it stops working. Then you’ll know you have reached the limit of synthesis.
- Choose words carefully. Those that are more understandable, more effective, more persuasive.
Numbers 2, 3 and 4 can be iterated. For example, you might realize after grouping the contents (4) that a different sorting (2) it’s more functional.
It’s a fast and powerful design process
Let me explain with a practical example. Let’s assume you have to design the YouTube app.
Create an unordered list
Order according to a criterion
In this case, the representation on the screen
Expand the topics
Group the topics
Summarize and take care of the details
In the text editor, it’s easy and quick to try variations. For example, in the initial phase, when the list is drawn up, or in the final step when you choose the right words.
You can even design interaction flows
You can quickly delineate the key points of a complex flow like the checkout of e-commerce, in this example that of Nike.
In which phase you could use content-first design
- After the strategic phase, where you explored the users and business needs, defined the value proposition, assigned the priorities…
- Before the wireframe/prototype detail design
- During the detail design stage, to integrate and modify contents or try variants
What’s the best text editor?
Any text editor is fine. I found Dropbox Paper as a good compromise between the complexity of a word processor (too many functionalities) and the minimalism of a pure text editor (void of slightest formatting).
Regardless of the tool, I believe that this technique has three advantages:
- It helps you to focus on what is relevant to the user.
- It speeds up the design process.
- It’s collaborative: everyone can contribute, even those who do not master design apps.