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The Design of Content: Prioritization

June 11, 2010

I’ve taken the first three points from “Letter to a Content Strategist” and elaborated them. The intent here is to make the concepts more abstract by elaborating contributions from content strategy, describing the value to information architecture, and providing an example.

I’m not interested in drawing a solid line between IA and content strategy: you do this and I’ll do this. As we’ve seen with most multi-disciplinary approaches to design, different people bring different perspectives. In the elaborations below, that’s exactly my intent: to show how the perspective of a content strategist is useful in design challenges I face day-to-day as an information architect.

Range of priorities

What I said: The range of priorities within a given content type. For example, is every press release going to be equally important (or unimportant), or is there a big spread between the most important and the least important press release?

Why this takes a content strategist: Intimate knowledge of the content and how users relate to it helps answer the question whether the content type is inherently important in their work, or whether importance is driven by external circumstances and other criteria.

Why this matters to IA: As I’m designing an interface to highlight content, I need reliable ways to prioritize new compositions. If there’s a big spread, I’ll need to develop a metadata framework that provides other means for prioritizing content.

For example: A high-tech marketing site offers various “solutions” that correspond to particular business problems. Imagine a “green technology” section within the government industry pages. The green technology pages provide various types of content–white papers, case studies, executive briefs, brochures, etc. Users can click a content type to see a full list. Some compositions are more important than others because they have a longer shelf-life. Some brochures, for example, provide an overview of green technology while others describe specific applications. Some brochures reflect the latest thinking while others provide more of a foundation.

Algorithmic prioritization

What I said: Whether the relative priority among its peers can be determined by a rule, or if a human needs to decide. That is, given a set of five press releases, is there a rule I can reliably apply that will prioritize them? (For example: release date.)

Why this takes a content strategist: Intimate knowledge of how the organization creates content can identify whether they’re capable of supplying sufficient metadata to support elaborate prioritization criteria or whether they have people dedicated to providing editorial support.

Why this matters to IA: My specifications need to distinguish between content areas that are populated automatically and those that require human intervention. I need to be able to spell out the rules for prioritizing content, but I want to make sure I do it in a way that’s sensitive to both user needs and the organization’s ability to support it.

For example: Suppose we decide that the green technology page should incorporate a taste of each of these content types. To create a focal point for the page, we need to pick one main composition from among all the content. We then need a couple examples of each type–exemplars that illustrate the kinds of information you’ll find. We decide that for the page’s centerpiece, there’s no convenient criteria for selecting that content automatically. Instead, the design specification calls for human intervention to determine the most appropriate composition for the center piece.

Inherent prioritization

What I said: Whether there is an inherent prioritization between content types. That is, is every press release going to be more important than every white paper?

Why this takes a content strategist: Understanding the range of content to appear in each type, an how users relate to that variety. Also, content types represent genres, so content strategists will understand how people integrate those genres into their work.

Why this matters to IA: Yet another rule to facilitate prioritization. If I understand that one type of content will always be more important than another, I can use content type as a prioritization criteria.

For example: One more look at our “green technology” page on this high-tech client. User research shows that purchasers of the client’s products are most interested in how their own peers have been successful with green technology. The design team decides that case studies should therefore be the most important content type. At the same time, the business doesn’t want a case study to overwhelm the other content types: there’s plenty of valuable information in there that also helps people decide to buy. To balance these needs, the design team decides to build more solid relationships between the other content types and case studies, such that every white paper, brochure, and executive brief points back to a case study, and vice versa. Through designing page components, the information architect makes this relationship explicit.


So, some questions for you:

  • Do these design challenges ring true? How would you have handled them differently?
  • Do the perspectives implied in these vignettes align with your experience?
  • Are the distinctions drawn sufficiently clear/vague to suit your team?

What do you think, should I elaborate the other points, too?

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