January 21, 2022

Content design in theory and practice – who’s doing it well?


man and woman posting notes on the wall

For any organisation or business, content design can help you reach your audience. Beyond ‘what’ you say, content design looks at ‘how’ you say it. 

For any agency working with content design, there’s always a panoply of voices and demands pulling our resources in multiple directions throughout the day. To consistently match messaging with those we’re trying to reach, it’s vital to always keep one foot firmly grounded on something solid. For us, this foundation is the pyramid of content design.

Like any checklist or framework, the content design pyramid is a reference point for any moment in a project. It can guide the questions we ask of a client, keep our efforts through a project on track, and be a checklist for reviewing work.

Discoverable content gives you a roadmap to follow

The foundation of the content design pyramid, ‘Discoverability’ doesn’t just relate to search engine traffic, but also to how people interact with your content.

‘Discoverability’ speaks to user journeys, sentence structures, navigation, information architecture, tone of voice and more. It sets expectations for your audience and lays the foundations for iterative improvements to your content design.

The retail industry is a great example of one that’s embracing discoverability.

Example: Nike

Nike are doing content design well. Customers can discover new products, events, and campaigns through a variety of channels. Social media feeds, ‘shop the look’, browsing by sport (e.g. basketball, football, tennis etc.), the height of a model and what size they’re wearing, interactive imagery and videos…the list goes on. Retail brands like Nike are constantly exploring different ways to help their customers discover value in their brand and design their content in line with this goal.

Even if you’re not in the retail industry, keeping an eye out on what they’re doing can give you ideas for playing with the discoverability of your content.

Clear content engages and informs

A simple message that’s well communicated evokes emotion and understanding from the user.

This is why the second most important aspect of well-structured content is to ensure its clarity.

We’re talking about:

  • tone of voice
  • sentence structure
  • grammar
  • length
  • visual design
  • interactivity
  • a continuation of that discoverability we just touched on.

Example: Donate Responsibly

We love the work of Donate Responsibly for their emphasis on clarity in the immediate interaction with their website.

In their content design ideation with agency 360South, the memorability of the message was key. Fashioning a memorable message drove the direction of every other part of the organisation’s content design, from tone of voice to navigation.

There’s little doubt what sort of work Donate Responsibly does – its content quickly and clearly states a problem and invites interest to find out what solutions are possible. It also leverages visual elements to create a uniquely interactive experience that takes people on a journey of what happens to donated goods after a natural disaster. This relationship of the written word with an exciting, smooth and interactive User Interface (UI) is what sets Donate Responsibly apart as a storyteller.

Connected content turns ideas into actions

Connected content sits smack-bang in the middle of the content design pyramid.

This makes sense because it’s not only discoverable and clear, but also focuses on the user’s emotional needs in the top of the pyramid.

You can view ‘Connected’ content design in terms of values and drives:

  • Values: it can be seen on a higher level, connecting ideas and values with the experience with your content.
  • Drives: it answers the needs of a user, providing them with pathways to their goals.

Services, such as government websites, retail, or non-profit organisations all require both connection types.

Example: Carbon8

Carbon8, an organisation helping educate farmers around regenerative agricultural practices, uses its content design to reflect the connection it makes between the health of our food supply and planet with the health of our soils.

Placing content further down on their page might be seen as a risky user experience (UX) decision, but it reflects the idea behind Carbon8 – below our feet, in the soil, is shouting out for our attention. The continued scrolling downward echoes this concept of digging deeper into the topic, while introducing pathways for the user.

Human content reflects our good intentions

Want to find the humanity in content design? Head to a bakery’s website. The guys at Wildwood Bakery aren’t the only ones who seem to have grasped how to connect with audiences, but their content design is one-of-a-kind.

Example: Wildwood Bakery

Wildwood Bakery’s content ticks those foundational boxes of discoverability, but adds a touch of magic to its message. Firstly, the mobile experience doesn’t instantly present a typical e-commerce experience, despite the bakery being a delivery-only business.

Instead, the tone of the content, pairing enticing language with nostalgic and childlike imagery, begs you to explore an almost invisible yellow brick road within the site and taps into psychological biases. Language evokes emotion and that emotion pushes the discoverability of the site’s content.

This shows how human experiences of content design can drive and support even larger parts of the content pyramid. Tap into that inner child!

Helpful content…well, that’s obvious!

So, what does ‘helpful’ mean within the context of content design?  It means using the rest of the pyramid to anticipate and solve problems before they rear their ugly heads.

Example: Kidney Health Australia

As part of a website overhaul for Kidney Health Australia, we helped anticipate the needs of readers through the use of FAQs drop-down accordions.

FAQs aren’t always the answer but can be useful when you want to bring a lot of information together and make it accessible, present it cleanly and provide a smooth user experience.

When it comes to leaving a bequest to an organisation, such as in the above image, we understood that we weren’t attempting to ‘convince’ anyone of leaving a bequest. Visitors were an older demographic already interested in the proposition of leaving a gift in their will. FAQs provide answers to technical questions and ‘support’ consideration, aiding someone’s journey to leaving a bequest.

Helpful content relies on an understanding of your audience. Asking questions and spending time discovering what people want and what emotional drives lie behind their actions help create helpful content.

When shaping strategies or approaches to a new content project, considering the content design pyramid can help you anticipate and solve your audience’s challenges while exceeding their expectations.

Want to learn more content learnings, tips and tricks? Explore our industry insights.

Industry Insights

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