Our team is in a design and content rut! Help?

January 8, 2013
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Last month I spoke to designers and developers at the Inspire Conference in Europe about how content strategy can make design shine. As a content strategy speaker, I focused on traditional web and digital design processes, but as the day moved along, new questions started to poke at me:

How can we, as creators, as creative problem-solvers, continue to evolve as we build walls of best practices around us?

And how do we evolve our creations gracefully, effectively, as new technology and usage trends emerge constantly?

Handcuffed by Content Strategy and Design Best Practices?

I do love best practices -- especially when they come from diverse sources. They help teach us what has worked before. They help us make an easy user experience for as many people as possible. But at the same time, they can be restricting, pushing us to create for the lowest common denominator. It's important to keep building on, challenging, and validating what we've learned before.

Worn Out Chasing New Technology?

Remember when it seemed like a great idea to build a whole site in Flash? Or when we needed to transition from hard-coded sites to a content management platform? Erg. We'll always be looking to new technology and user trends to improve our user experiences ... especially as people use multiple devices ... but how do we do that while not recreating the wheel every 3-5 years? Or worse, every 3-5 months?

Let's Get Messy

I'm already seeing web emulate mobile design, rather than the other way around. Soon enough, no longer will designs look like this (organized boxes):

Content architecture

But rather look more like this (a logically meandering and zooming Wonderland):

Open content architecture

Creating children's mobile apps and watching kid's user test has certainly changed the way I think about content design. Kids have no boundaries, no expectations. They explore with all ten fingers, while adults tap with one. What happens to your designs when these kids grow up?

Experiment and Design in Layers

One solution I've been toying with since the conference is the idea of laying the foundation, then experimenting and designing in layers. What I mean is, think of your established and well-loved content strategy and design strategy as the foundation for your project -- web, mobile, whatever. This is the experience that MOST people will see, understand, and respond to. Then, experiment with unrelated projects. MAKE things. Whether it's hand-made bookmaking (thanks to Chris Shiflet for sharing the book-making video), resolving to make something every day (Anne McColl fantastically calls it creative cross-training), or in my case, making interactive kid's apps, do something very different. The Inspire Conference in The Netherlands was about craftsmanship in design. But I'd like to argue one needs to get messy to get crafty.

This Is Your Call to Action: GET MESSY

This year, I encourage you to get messy. Get outside your comfort zone and learn something new, whether it's painting or teaching your kids Spanish or Dutch, or playing the piano. Or start a side project that explores a different non-work side of you. You'll have lots of random "click" moments that, later on you'll find enhance what you're doing with your content or design. If it's a radical idea, apply it in layers. Allow your fans to discover it first, and keep your newbies comfortable with your best practices. Then tell me what you've made! I can't wait to see.

About the Author: Shelly Bowen

Shelly Bowen, content strategist

Shelly Bowen, MFA, is a content writer, content strategist, and founder of Pybop.

For decades, Shelly has written for businesses on complex topics from disease prevention and medical devices to alternative energy and leveraging data. Today, she's hyper-focused on supporting B-B technology businesses. In her spare time, she hikes, kayaks, draws, and works on her T-Bird.

A wide variety of brands rely on Shelly as an essential freelance writer and content strategy resource.

Follow Shelly on Instagram @pybop or connect on LinkedIn. More about Shelly and Pybop.

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