Content is the end point and a natural place to finish because without it the experience has no reason to exist. Here are six principles that are critically important in the design of user experiences with regard to content.
The 80/20 rule is a principle we need to always have in mind . For instance on my blog 20% of the content is accessed by 80% of the traffic. Using software, I have also categorized 100,000 articles, where 80% of the content sat within only 20% of the categories (people wrote for popularity in that case). But be aware of the remaining 20% that could be the key decision maker in a deal for your business. Create optimised pages with content that ensures visibility between content types and categories. As the principle holds true, cater for it in your content strategy.
Content needs to be broken down into digestible elements. The brain cannot take in too much information at once. Headers and formatting can help here and conveying the meaning through a logical progression or flow down a page is essential to achieve a good information design. Peopledigest content differently on screen. Font size needs to be large enough to be read and clear enough to communicate to those with visual impairments. Effective chunking allows quicker task completion times. The step-by-step system in a sign-up is a great example of this.
Depth of processing
This leads nicely on to the depth of processing rule. Cascade the most important elements down the page as people are more receptive at the top. Get the core message over quickly and develop this down the page. Use diagrams to highlight and reinforce points and keep user focus by drawing attention to these areas using visual design techniques. Use of contrast, colour and textual emphasis will help. Context is the prime focus here and avoid generic elements in the sections relating to why the user came to this area in the first place.
This page from the Guardian newspaper website shows good use of chunking and depth of processing. The image and font size breaks up the weight of text in the article and the use of white space allows the eye to scan quickly down the page.
The most important elements are brought out – the headline, author, date and use of bullets to describe the key takeaways from the story. The body of the story appears further down the page below the image. The column also allows segregation from the story content and related content and tools or features.
Five hat racks
The five hat racks is a technique used to help order information quickly. This is an effective principle when deciding how to order elements. It refers to the ability to order all information according to alphabetical standing, time, location, continuum (lowest to highest for example) and categories (how one object relates to another). Of course many jobs require a more involved organisation type but it always helps to have a start point when faced with a large challenge.
The organisation of information which is immediately understandable from a user’s perspective uses hierarchy - placing elements that have a direct correlation to each other conveyed in a visually related way. Consider how complex systems like software rely on menus that cascade out, allowing a user to see relationships between controls and how they interact with each other. Hierarchy is a major factor of how people understand systems, controls and relationships.
There is something about the cascading menu that is imprinted into every user of a pc, be it Mac or Windows. The design pattern is so established that for certain sites with vast taxonomies it is the only option to convey the breadth of content and allow a user to explore the inventory in an intuitive way.
Amazon is a great example of this and if you remember the tabs debacle you can see why they chose a safe option that works in a way that stays true to the trinity of tried, tested and trusted. However this approach has changed with the advent of improved user interfaces and touch technology.
Complex information requires the simplest form of presentation possible. This is transferred down to the language used and is often overlooked when designs of systems are built. Sentence length, word commonality, word length and syllable amount all contribute to whether the information is easy to absorb or encounters unnecessary hurdles. Although there is a readability graph that allows a reading age to be calculated from any text, you should aim to use language that is concise and has clarity when conveying complex instructions, product descriptions or theories.