Lisa Welchman, Sophie Dennis & Tyler Tate at the London Content Strategy meet-up

 by Martin Belam, 9 August 2011

Last week I was at the London Content Strategy meet-up, where I was giving half of my forthcoming talk at the London Content Strategy Forum, and asking the audience how they would like the second half to develop. Also talking were Lisa Welchman, Sophie Dennis and Tyler Tate - and they had at least bothered to finish their talks in advance.

Lisa Welchman

Lisa Welchman defied timezones and sore feet to give a rousing talk, which showed a great deal of empathy with the struggles of the people in the room who deal daily with digital content issues.

She spoke of a whole host of problems that people in the room had probably faced before, including IA by org chart, and trying to implement a new CMS to fix people problems.

Lisa, who has been working with the web since 1995, says you can solve a lot of content problems in the short-term, but to do it in a sustained way you need to organise properly. That means making sure you have the right strategy, governance, execution and measurement in place. Governance was, she said, the only way to avoid creating “an unfixable monster”.

And she had a useful reminder to calm down some of the more virulent digital evangelists:

“Digital people like to say digital is an important thing for everything. It isn’t true if you make screws. It might be a bit more important in the future, but that’s all”

She then want on to say “It sure is more important if you are a newspaper”. Don’t I know it...

Sophie Dennis

Sophie Dennis was presenting “How web designers can stop worrying and learn to love content strategy”, which seemed like a cunning disguise of a title for a talk that majored on using that most unsexy of tools: spreadsheets.

The centrepiece of her talk was the master content spreadsheet to rule them all. Sophie says that it doesn’t seem to matter how many times you tell them, clients never ever seem to grasp the enormity of the content task facing them. This usually always generates what Karen McGrane likes to call “the eleventh hour content shit storm” as everybody suddenly realises their beautiful brand new website will be empty.

Sophie argues that this is because site maps are no good at showing people how much content is on a website. They are great for illustrating flows, navigation and template requirements, but useless for content. A 115 line spreadsheet, however, with a line for every required piece of content, including error messages and tooltips, is a great way to focus minds on timely content creation - and track progress.

Tyler Tate

Tyler Tate finished the evening with a look at how the different ways that people learn can influence and improve the content on the products that we produce.

He started his talk with a little exercise designed to divide the audience into serialists, who are detail-orientated craftsmen, and holists, who are big-picture visionaries.

(I managed to come up with an entirely different solution to the two Tyler showed, suggesting I fall into a group who can’t follow basic instructions from a speaker whilst also note-taking and tweeting)

Tyler’s point was that at novice level, “serialists” tended to spend on average 50 per cent more time, visit twice as many pages and click 50 per cent more links on websites. Once they have expertise, they perform tasks just as quickly as “holists”. Tyler suggested that design techniques like micro-copy might help serialists get above novice status more quickly.

He also looked at some broader theories of how people learn, suggesting that tests show that people learn faster when presented with both images and text, rather than with text alone. This was an argument for using iconography to reinforce understanding of the functions of buttons on sites and in apps.

Tyler was very generous with his acknowledgements of the primary research under-pinning his talk, but I rather slackly didn’t get those down in my notes. You’ll find some of the ideas covered in Tyler’s essay “Cognitive styles: Get inside the user’s head”. He has also recently published another article on a similar theme for A List Apart, entitled “The UX of learning”.

Content Strategy Forum 2011

You can still sign up to see all of these speakers, and myself, at the 2011 Content Strategy Forum in London in early September.


Thanks for this write up and the mention. I think that was the first barefoot presentation on web governance I've ever given. Since no one really understands what I do anyway, I think I'll get a tee shirt that says: "Web governance is better with no shoes."

Your presentation was stellar (and funny). I'm always amazed at the depth of transformation that has been required in the newspaper industry over the last 15 years. Some are getting it done (like you) and the others...well, we'll see.

Good write-up Martin. I feel I should add that my full talk at CS Forum will cover all manner of sexy stuff about content-out design, adopting an agile mindset and the cool things we can do with HTML5 and CSS3, as well as the miracles of the boring spreadsheet. All in just 20 minutes.

Lisa, I loved that you did the presentation bare foot. We had several flip-flop wearing presenters at our last #digpen unconference in Cornwall (this is what happens when everyone's off to the beach later), so it made me feel right at home.

Interesting that bit about Lisa giving the presentation barefoot. I can add another type to Tylet tate’s serialists and holists, the barefootists. I find I think clearer when I am barefoot.

I don't understand what is so important if she had bear foot presentation ? ... I think if it was a man that was doing the presentation you will not be so interested.
About the web governance i think that it can help us but only if we know how to use it in our benefit.

Keep up to date on my new blog