Just as our product principles give us focus, purpose, and directions in the product work, many teams document their design and content principles as well. Content principles are more like the content thinking framework for how the teams should plan their content design or the content itself. If the content principles advise them on how, the content guidelines or the content and design system help them plan how exactly within those principles.
The content principles set up the boundaries so that people and even machines (don’t we love to talk about AI generated content or even content maps?) know the broad boundaries to plan the message, the architecture, and the framing. When we follow these principles to design the guidelines whether in a style guide or in design system, we use our own intelligence, judgment, and research skills to be flexible with the content—for using the words. How far we should be flexible in establishing the guidelines, these boundaries and the directions are defined by the content principles.
The content principles give us the foundations for content thinking. If we do not know how we plan content in general and in certain situations, how we can define the content guidelines?
For example assume that the content team agrees on the following set of principles:
- Focus on the message—what needs to be communicated, for what goals, and in the context of customers’ needs and goals. Plan it for the customer moments within their holistic customer journey and be prepared if the customer journey is unclear, unpredictable, unmapped, or is abrupt.
- Bake the message for the experience—for the decision that is in the customers’ best interests, whether to complete a transaction or even to abandon the cart and sign out.
- Design the message that respects the customers’ decisions—they are humans. When you need to advise them, respect their ignorance. When you need to caution them, respect their intent. When you need to restrict them, respect their state of mind.
- Plan the message for the hierarchy of their needs—they might be in the middle of an action, or they might be taking time to make a decision because the interfaced advised them something different earlier. Design the message for the hierarchy which means for the readability structure, clarity, and for the meaning.
Once you have a documented reference to the content principles, you have a few starting points for content guidelines. Of course it depends on the team size, the market, the scale of organization, and many such factors that serve as the base for beginning with content guidelines.
There are different ways to frame the content principles. For example the earlier set in this post talked about content as the message. You can plan the principles for the effectiveness of the message.
- Make it easier for the users—either give them clear actions, or advice, or options to evaluate the impact of their decision, and in all cases, users should feel confident and empowered while using the product.
- Make it transition-free for channels and devices—for the vocabulary, voice, and the structure, for their expectations on an interface, at any stage of their customer journey or moments. (Related: sometimes, customer journey is overrated.)
- Make it part of the UX and CX—content enables actions and interactions, and even the pause and make the customers think; content owns and drives the user experience and customer experience.
- Build brand trust—the audience finds the brand and the product trustworthy in all their interactions, and even in the word-of-mouth conversations—content inspires this confidence and builds the trust. (Margot Bloomstein has published a book recently, Trustworthy.)
Again, the above set of principles define some boundaries within which you can use your judgment to define the content guidelines.
Content principles bring the decisions-making clarity in the team which means that these help in content operations. You can work on methods after you know the intent, and why the product team wants to communicate something in a certain way, and how it helps the customers as well as the organization. Content principles lay the foundations for an effective product content strategy and content design success in a product.
I believe that you cannot frame the content principles without a reference to the product principles or design principles. In part 2 of this post, I will take some examples of how we can map the content principles with the product principles.
This topic is part of my advanced course in product content strategy, content design, and UX Writing. See the course details for how we can find and add more meaning to our work.