Charity Digital – Topics – Putting the user first with content design


For the uninitiated, “content design” probably sounds like something you’ll learn in a graphic design course. It could conjure up thoughts of font selection or the rule of thirds.

These considerations have their place, but the real “content design” begins long before your words reach a graphic designer’s desk.

Why Content Design Matters

Content design means putting the user first.

Many charities provide vital services and share information in the public interest. Access to them must be accompanied by a minimum of obstacles for the user. This is especially true when working with people who may be vulnerable or marginalized.

Faced with this exact challenge, the Government Digital Service (GDS) has completely redesigned the UK government website. They have brought together nearly 2,000 separate websites to create a world-leading digital resource.

In the process, they pioneered an entirely new design discipline.

Get to know your users

Most charities have an idea of ​​their user segments, with different messages for each. In content design, it goes much further.

It starts with a discovery phase, where your goal is to fully understand your audience and the problem they need to solve. Don’t assume you know what people need – they may not even know themselves.

Listen to people with lived experience, or the front-line experts who understand them best, to uncover the issues they face most. You can search for the most popular Google searches on your topic. Read the forums where your users hang out and pay attention to what they have to say. Researching other organizations can help here too.

By identifying questions and topics that come up repeatedly, you can create your prioritized list of content needs.

Create user stories

Once you understand the questions and motivations of your users, you can define your user stories. User stories help you focus on what the audience needs to accomplish. Here is an example of a Content Design user story by Sarah Richards, work pioneer at GDS.

As someone who writes for the web,

I want to learn what content design is and how to start doing it,

So that I can communicate in the most user-centric and effective way for my audience

Once you have your user history, it’s your bible. You will keep this in mind when creating the content. Above all, it tells you what to do, but not how to do. With that in place, you can figure out what content you need to solve the problem at hand.

Content creation

Your content may be well-chosen words on a page, but the content design process may reveal that another type of content is more useful to the user.

  • Ask yourself if a picture, diagram, graph or map can do the job better. (Taking care to make the necessary provisions for accessibility)
  • Is your message communicated more easily with video, audio, or even something the user can print?
  • Can you create a calendar, calculator or other interactive tool? Something that reduces complexity and takes the user directly to the information they need

Here are some examples of great charity content designs that meet user needs brilliantly, but very simply.

RNID: A simple visual tool facilitates communication

The RNID is regularly called upon for advice on communicating with people who are deaf, hard of hearing or have tinnitus. The pandemic has added more barriers to communication thanks to masks, plexiglass screens and social distancing. The RNID could simply have published verbose and “boilerplate” advice on communication. Instead, they recognized the many and varied needs of their users, whether deaf, hard of hearing or tinnitus.

They imagined a simple and effective tool: the RNID digital communication card. People can complete the card with specific information about their personal communication needs. It’s completely bespoke, but official enough to use anywhere. You can see an example below.

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Jenny T. Curlee