The solution you develop needs to address several related disciplines:
- User experience—how the content consumers interact with the information you provide
- Graphic design—the look and feel of the information
- Information architecture—the information structure, hierarchy, and metadata
The main question you must answer is, “How can content best support the business goals?” As part of that, you need to think about reader characteristics, such as their level of literacy, language proficiency, motivation, technological expertise, technology access, culture, location, and other demographics. From there, you can move on to think about effective uses of:
- Media (web, print, audio, video, and so on)
You can create a variety of information products to support the business goals. They include:
- Mobile apps
- Online help
- Web sites
- 3D renderings
- User forums and other user content
The question is, which combination of information products gives you the best results—achieving the business goals and providing value?
The traditional user manual, a printed tome with a huge table of contents, extensive index, and aggressively awful formatting, may convey that your product has a certain gravitas (also called the “thunk” factor for the noise the book makes when dropped), but it does a poor job of actually giving information to readers. Hardly anyone wants to slog through a 600-page reference book. On the other hand, delivering reference information in a searchable, linked, interactive format lets a reader quickly locate the information they need—assuming that the reader has access to a computer or mobile device. Readers aren’t necessarily aware that there are 599 pages of other content—just that they found the information they needed.
But text-heavy web sites are not the only or even the best answer. For some content, a short video might make more sense. For other information, perhaps a quick reference guide on laminated paper is appropriate.
Delivering content online is assumed to be less expensive than creating printed books, but crafting a compelling online experience is difficult. Don’t just throw content at the web team and assume that all will be well. And remember the problem of airplane help (can the reader get information while cut off from the Internet on an airplane?) and readers for whom Internet access may be restricted (retail clerks), unavailable (mining operations), subject to censorship (governments plus many corporations with web filtering), or excruciatingly slow. A strategy of providing help tips and tricks on Facebook works only if your readers can access Facebook while using your product or service, and are actually Facebook users.
- Which content do users need?
- How will users get the needed content?
- What is the best workflow to develop and deliver the content?
Your strategy needs to evolve over time as users add new ways of accessing content, such as mobile devices, tablets, and ereaders. In addition to immediate requirements, then, your ideal workflow needs to be flexible and scalable so that you can change it later to support new requirements. Designing for today’s problems may impair your ability to solve tomorrow’s problems.
You can capture the design decisions in any way that makes sense to you. For instance, a company that makes business software might decide on the following:
- Deliver core user documentation on a dedicated web site (HTML) and provide an option for PDF download of content.
- Ensure that web content is mobile-friendly.
- Begin planning for a tablet app for offline access, to be delivered in 12–18 months.
- Personalize content based on user profile (if the user is logged in).
- For high-end customization, provide a wiki where users can develop and share examples. Build out preliminary structure for wiki.
- Localize the core user documentation, but not the wiki content.
- Figuring out the look and feel for the web site and the PDF files
- Creating a search interface for the content
- Building a mobile experience
When the solution phase is complete, there needs to be solid understanding of the various content deliverable types and their presentation.