To mark the launch of their rather splendid new website, our friends over at GatherContent have published a series of hands–on Content Strategy guides.

Ellen and I were very happy to contribute some thoughts towards Content Strategy: A Guide for UX Designers. Have a quick read of our piece and then head on over and grab yourself a copy of the free 63 page book.

A craftsperson selects their materials. A carpenter carefully chooses their wood, a tailor selects their cloth, and a jeweller chooses their metal. These raw materials have qualities that determine the shape of the outcome; strength, malleability and availability, for example.

If we think of content as a raw material, then the properties of a company’s brand, the malleability of their information and the strength of their message all determine the shape of things to come. Whether you’re a craftsperson, an artist or a designer it’s important to explore the constraints of the materials before starting to work with them; What’s going to be fit for purpose? What’s going to provoke the strongest response? What’s adaptable? What’s most desirable? It’s both about being inquisitive and exploring the limits of what’s possible.

It is strange then, that it has been unusual for UX designers to start with the content in all these years of digital design. Content Strategy was a niche specialism, an added cost, or ultimately the client’s responsibility. After all, the UX designer had ‘design’ to think about, and there was a risk that inserting content might upset the beautifully crafted markup. Or worse still, break the layout. Thankfully, this is no longer the case.

Responsive design exposed the somewhat arbitrary split between the design of content and container. Content can no longer be painted on or poured in. Instead, a piece of content is active and alive. It has a life-cycle that may have begun long before the design process has even started. In the past designers got away with a container–first approach. Responsive design has spurred a content–first mindset.

These days, the team at Clearleft, like many other teams, are thinking about the relationship between content and design from the outset of the project right through to beyond the delivery; from playing with the raw material to fashioning something that has ongoing resilience and sustainability. This means that content strategy weaves throughout the entire process; it’s in the up-front research, it’s in the sketching sessions, and it’s there in the minute branded details like the micro-copy and the way an interaction unfolds, and it affects our clients’ strategies for content production far into the future.