You are designing a dress for the Oscars (I know, we don’t watch the Oscars either, just stick with us on this rabbit trail). You have 6 weeks to do it, all the materials and resources at your fingertips and a staff of the best modistes around. There is just one catch, you don’t know who you are making it for. Would you still do it? Knowing your will be fashionista streetcred will be judged by how good the dress looks? Knowing your client will hold you responsible for how they look in front of the world at the premier of Mission Impossible 12?
This is the conflict facing most of us in the design and interactive world. No, not making a dress, but designing something when you have no idea what the content looks like. Process wise, doing a proper Discovery phase (exhaustive pre-project research and asking lots of questions) should always be your first step, but just as important (though often overlooked) is the process of gathering the content. Why? Because you don’t know how to craft the structure, engineer the functionality, or where to guide the users without it.
This is all fine and good, and in an ideal world, we would all have articulate copy written, marvelous candid photography of businessmen shaking hands and captivating videos with catchy startup jingles to work with. Unfortunately, in the real world those types of clients are few and far between. So what are some of the real-world scenarios that exist?
Scenario 1: The client is working on the content internally, but the process is dragging and they aren’t really committed or motivated to getting it together. This is understandable — they have to focus on the things that make money, and by the time the evening comes, the time and motivation originally slated to work on the content, has dropped dramatically. Often times it’s easy to identify the businesses that aren’t going to have time to help gather or create this content. They are the ones who are already wearing 27 hats or what they are doing is currently working and making money. It is harder for these types get motivated to create content.
Scenario 2: The client was under the assumption that you were going to pull everything together from their previous marketing content. The thing that is taken for granted here is that context matters. For example: what works in a email newsletter, doesn’t necessarily work as the masthead of your website. Content that is meant for something else is harder to reappropriate than expected.
There are of course additional reasons that content gaps exist, but let’s just focus on what to do about them. These solutions can alleviate content gaps when building or designing an interactive experience for a client, but nothing is foolproof. You simply need to work hard at communicating (and in some instances badgeringly) to get what you need.
Step 1: Be brutally honest about how much of a commitment it is going to take on their part. Do this before they have even accepted your proposal. Let them know that they have to commit to helping craft a cohesive content narrative. This will at times require them to spend time away from something that is affecting their short-term bottom line but will contribute to their overall brand message. In turn building a stronger, more sustainable narrative with which their targeted audience can connect. Anything short of getting them to commit to scheduled content strategy by their staff will inevitably be put off until never.
Step 2: Have regular check-in meetings to review progress. They don’t have to be in person, or formal meetings. Ours typically occur over the phone or on Google Hangouts. Doing so will reveal 2 main things: 1. The progress that you and your team have made. This should be encouraging to the client and help them temper any unreasonable expectations throughout the project. 2. The reason the project is going slower than expected is on their shoulders. Through a discussion about all project nuances, it will become apparent that any lack of progress on a widget or feature element is because content is a variable element they haven’t provided. Your prototypes, wireframes or comps presented fixed elements to the client but the actual product will feature dynamic elements that when built for the wild look different that what was presented. Check-in meetings will help reveal this fact.
Step 3: Hold the client accountable for their part. Whether this is through email, a Google doc, Basecamp, or even contractually — list out all elements the client is responsible for. You know what happens when we make assumptions. So don’t make any. You don’t have to content-shame your clients, but you do need to make them aware of the expectations.
Those are just a few examples of how to help clients ensure they understand the importance of content, and a good content strategy. Here are a few other ways you can help the content process:
We hope this is helpful. We’ve found that no matter the client size, budget or experience level, content is always something that can hold up a great project. A good content strategy can help save a lot of headaches.