February 8, 2016
Some time ago – last July, to be precise – I wrote about the importance of developing a comprehensive and deliberate content model that would accommodate all of the content your heart desires. In that article, we carefully differentiated between different content types and relevant fields, and everything fit into this framework or model so the user could consume it as a sort of “content kabob” or “content sandwich.” It’s easy to create, manage and grow the content, which lends itself to an enjoyable user experience over both the short- and long-term. How foolish! I should have known better than to think a systematic approach would solve all of our content needs without a headache.
Even after you’ve established a core content strategy by identifying your audience, their needs and your primary objectives, content rarely has an obvious framework. If you are designing and building a publication, of course your content model will look something like: Title, Excerpt, Date, Author, Author Image, Featured Image, Content, Categories, Tags. Not all projects are this simple, and typically there is a range of quality, context and mediums of content. This is troubling! After pouring so much time and effort into organizing and defining our content, everything shifts and we have to make room for single-serving pieces of content — and they will be plugged in arbitrarily throughout.
This is a reality of fast-paced content development and collaborative environments. I might grumble when a curveball is thrown, but in the end it’s a challenge that necessitates a thoughtful solution. If the content is high quality, the users deserve to experience it intuitively and enjoyably. If our proper content model is a “kabob,” these situations are more of a “content casserole” or “content soup.”It may not appear appetizing, and we certainly don’t know what’s in it until we start digging, but somehow it’s delicious and nutritious. This represents our temporary solution to our broken content model.
By planning for a variety of unknowns, we can effectively provide options for deviating from the content model. Let’s say, for example, we know that down the road a different layout may be required to accommodate content that is still in development and needs to be presented in a unique way. If we provide an option within the content management system that adheres to our strict framework, and a backup option that allows for more free-form content editing, it allows for our “soup” to be served alongside the “sandwich.”
User expectation should be the first consideration, but is often the last. Plan for the deviation and ensure the interface contains visual indicators.
A logical extension of the alternate template is to create multiple content models and associated layouts that are all derivative of the main, primary design. This can ease the management of future content and provide multiple options for content creation. It may take extra time to design and develop, but there is value in planning for variable layouts from the outset. Whether or not you anticipate the need for it, you can design a more intuitive funnel for the user that will indicate if they are going to get the content they are expecting or something unique. You don’t want the experience to be jarring and unnatural – it should be full of enjoyment and discovery.