“Extending the Storytelling - Blending IA and Content Strategy” - Boon Sheridan at EuroIA 2011

 by Martin Belam, 24 September 2011

I’m trying to blog my notes from the EuroIA 2011 Summit in Prague as quickly as I can, so you’ll have to be a little bit more forgiving than normal about typos, spelling, and thorough linking. Saturday morning’s sessions have started, and the first one I attended was by Boon Sheridan.

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Boon Sheridan - “Extending the Storytelling - Blending IA and Content Strategy”

“I’ve spent the last 12 years doing things that I didn’t know what they were until someone told me afterwards - IA, content strategist, user experience designer.”

Boon says that like most UXers, he is naturally lazy, and seems to spend his life doing duplicated work which he wishes he could reduce. He also repeatedly encounters a big problem with content strategy deliverables. Typically these are a spreadsheet. They can be very rich in data, and incredibly useful, but they struggle to tell a stroy, and have no “Wow!” factor. Except when clients sometimes go “Wow! I paid how much for this?”.

Boon argues that all of the different disciplines that make up the family of UX should borrow types of deliverables from each other. Nobody “just does site maps” or “just does wireframes”. He also isn’t a fan of the agile-driven mantra that deliverables are not worthwhile. He said:

“People say ‘don't do the deliverables, do the work’. I’m not sure when deliverables became evil”

Boon suggested two types of lo-fidelity “blended deliverable” that could be used early on in projects, which bring together aspects of content strategy, IA and product strategy.

1. Audience personas

Boon identified a problem where often a content strategist will be gathering lots of data about the existing content in a business, and a user researcher will be gathering lots of information about the audience, but they work in parallel and don’t confer. He proposed, before detailed research delivers “personas” that both can work to, they collaborate on broader “audience personas”.

Audience personas are the broadest range of folks that you'd want to talk to e.g. students, housewives, or they could be “prospects global” or “salesmen with version 2 of the product”. These are not a detailed persona, but a deliverable that gathers together for an archetype the key messages they need to hear, how a business speaks to them, and what they need from the business.

A key part was also identifying the existing content that is already aimed at them. Starting to match up your existing content types to your audience persona saves time later in the project, as you can quickly establish that, for example that “our prospects love success storiss in blog posts, but hate white papers because they are too long”. You can use this to focus where you research efforts should be - both qualitative and quantitative.

2. Content flows

This is the idea of showing flows from content type to content type. If they read a white paper, do they get to a demo next? If they come from Twitter, do you interrupt them with a sign in form when following a link? These help set expectations on who has to do what next in a project by helping to establish answers to questions like “How much content do we have?”, “Do we know where it is supposed to go?” and “Who is responsible for it?”

They take the format of a very high level diagram, e.g. Twitter logo leads people to a podcast series, which encourages joining a LinkedIn group, which leads to a question/answer in a discussion and so forth.

It means you can interrogate the rest of the business about problem areas, for example, saying: “You seem to be expecting a lot of podcasts here, but we haven't haven’t updated one for two years. Maybe we need to fix that?” or “We’ve got lots of white papers, but they are not incorporated in this flow. They don’t live in a vacuum though, so let’s investigate where the traffic to them comes from.”

Design for disagreement

In the course of his talk, Boon mentioned a throwaway anecdote he had seen presented by Kevin Chang about “designing for disagreement”. He was describing how a product idea had been knocking around inside Twitter for a while, but nobody could really pin down what it was. It took a few people getting into a room to thrash out a straw-man design for the functionality for everybody to start saying “Oh no, that wasn’t what I meant at all”. The design itself wasn’t important, it was the fact that it teased out what people were really imagining.

This is definitely a useful technique. A similar one that I use is to “draw a meeting”. After sitting through a big group of stakeholders discussing some product ideas, I’ll often rush off and really quickly sketch up some rough ideas - then circulate them and say “Is this what you were talking about?”. It works in a way to almost capture “the minutes” of what was being discussed, and to quickly start working out what kinds of further research we might need to commission.


There are plenty more sessions to come at EuroIA, and so plenty more blog posts I’m sure. I’m trying to publish them as and when I can, and the next one will be “Pervasive IA for the Sentient City” by Andrea Resmini and Luca Rosati.

This is one of a series of blog posts about EuroIA 2011 in Prague. You can download all of the blog posts as one printable PDF or for iBooks.

All your EuroIA 2011 slides are belong to us
“Designing today’s web” - Luke Wroblewski
“The IA of /Culture” - Martin Belam
“Navigating the Digital Spice Route” - Terry Ma
“Extending the Storytelling - Blending IA and Content Strategy” - Boon Sheridan
“Pervasive IA for the Sentient City” - Andrea Resmini and Luca Rosati
iPads, kids and design lessons for adults - Wouter Sluis-Thiescheffer & Brian Pagán
“Understanding the Nature of Resistance” - Alla Zollers
“Does a Rich GUI Make the Bank Richer?” - Haakon Halvorsen & Kjetil Hansen
“Designing for Everyone, Anywhere, at Any Time” - Anna Dahlström
“Truth and Dare – Out of the Echo-Chamber, into the Fire” - My critique of Jason Mesut at EuroIA 2011
“The Rise and Fall...and Rise Again of Information Architecture” - Bob Royce
“Fill in the IA gap” - Mags Hanley

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