Content with personalityLeave a Comment
We spend a lot of time talking about “content first”, but we talk a lot about the why of content first. It helps how figure our hierarchy, flow and other structural information. This has been analyzed over and over again so today I won’t be going into that. I want to talk about the how of having content first. To put it more bluntly, the “how are you going to bring out the personality of the given content?” I can hear you saying the personality? Yes that’s right. Many people don’t even realize it but the content of any given project has a personality in the same way that colours or fonts have personality by evoking different emotions or feelings of friendliness.
Writers spend days trying to find the right words to use when filling a page. They write and iterate on these words constantly. Why do they do this? They are trying to create the voice of the content. They can usually hear this voice in their head in the same way a musician hears a guitar riff before ever playing a note. Writers can visualize the speaker of their content better than anyone whether it’s a character in the next epic novel or a 140-character tweet. No matter what the context of the content is the content always has a voice and a personality that wants to be expressed.
Why should we care about this personality as designers? As designers, it is our job to bring that personality to life. This is how we focus on having content first. We need to see that content and understand the underlying personality of it. We can’t properly design for a brand without first knowing what that brand wants to say and how it is going to express its message. Without having that content, we find ourselves in a situation of forcing content into a predetermined design container. This can get very frustrating for clients, designers and everyone else involved in the project.
Writers are brilliant at crafting flow and rhythm together through the use of words but that’s not enough to let the content’s personality truly shine. We need to approach our designs with the mindset of helping enhance the personality. I’ll throw a strange idea out to you. It’s like when you are naked. I know weird but stay with me on this. Let’s say you’ve stepped out of the shower. Just because you don’t have clothes on doesn’t mean you still aren’t you. Your clothes, makeup and accessories help bring your personality outward so you can share it with the world without having to necessarily speak a word. Content is the same way. When a designer first gets it from a writer, it’s naked. The personality is still there but it’s just hidden “in-between the lines” rather than on the surface for all to see.
Without style or design, content needs to work harder to show its personality. By giving it “clothing”, we give the content personality an opportunity to shine on the surface. By bringing the personality to the forefront, we are giving our readers the ability to easily scan and understand the voice and message that our writers were hoping to get across.
What type of design techniques should you use to enhance the personality? Well, that depends on the personality of the content. You should never design in one technique over another just because you want to experiment with that particular technique. The technique should match the personality. In fact, design should never be a debate about skeuomorphism or flat design or anything else. It should be about what is right for your content. Ask yourself “Does the design enhance and match the personality of the content?” If the answer is no, then maybe you need to start again or rework the solution. The answer should always be yes. If that means you’ve left your site as white, clean and minimalist as you can but it fits the content then fine. If you’ve added multiple backgrounds, curves and drop shadows on everything and it still fits the content then fine. Design should be about what is right for your content and nothing more.
Let’s stop worrying about whether we should be using skeuomorphism or flat design theories. Instead, let’s work as a community to build to enhance the personality of content. One thing that has helped me personally work with content personality has been the required use of GatherContent for clients and writers. This app allows me to separate the content from the design process. It helps show both the writer and the designer how the flow of information will go throughout the project. You can then easily edit, copy or even paste it into designs to see if it’s a match.
Matching design can be as difficult as finding the right font pairings or setting up a complimentary colour palette. Take your time with this. Separate content and designs for as long as possible. Build a style guide and compare it with your content personality. Does it work? Playing the matching game with these two easily editable methods. By having separate content documents and editable style guides can save you hours of work and iterations later on in your workflow.