5 principles for effective experience content

5 min read Brittney Urich

When we think of a product redesign, our minds tend to focus on aspects of visual design. New colors, bold typography, a more minimalist design. While starting with design can feel exciting, we also have to ask ourselves what content lives in that design. What story are we telling? What information do our users need? How are we helping them to complete the task at hand?

Content is a critical, though often overlooked, part of the user experience. Too often, problems in the user journey are caused by missing or inappropriate content. It won’t matter how many redesigns your product undergoes if the content on the screen isn’t effective.

Here are five content principles you can abide by to make sure you’re better serving your users.

Content should be clear and concise.

Content should speak the user’s language in familiar words, phrases, and concepts. According to a study published by Nielsen Norman Group, even if your users are experts in your field, they still want you to speak to them in plain language. Using clear, straightforward language allows users to understand the message quickly, without having to filter through complex terms and jargon. After all, no one has ever complained that content was too simple to understand.

Example:

Shopify’s content guidelines specifically instruct their writers to write for a grade 7 reading level and to avoid technical jargon. They provide examples of what to write (and what not to) so their writers understand how to communicate concepts as efficiently as possible.

An example of Shopify’s content guidelines.

Content should be easy to find and interact with.

There should be clear information architecture, a logical organization to the content on the page, and clear and descriptive headers throughout the site or digital product. By thinking about the organization of the page content and the story you want to tell, you’ll help both novice users and experts.

Example:

Airbnb’s homepage nails findability. The navigation is clear, and the search bar provides an example of what a user should enter. By asking what they can help the user find, they’re able to showcase the capabilities of their site to users that might not know about their experiences or restaurant suggestions. Lastly, they offer the user an option to continue a search from the get-go, so they don’t have to remember all of their previous search parameters.

A section from Airbnb’s homepage.

Content should be meaningful.

Good content says the right things at the right time. It should be relevant, concise, and explanatory in order to help users achieve the task at hand.

Example:

When it comes to error messages, content should direct users to a resolution. When a Mailchimp user enters their username incorrectly, the error message identifies that they have not entered a valid username and provides a link to recover it. It also lets users know how many attempts they have left until they are locked out, as well as how long they’ll be locked out for. By providing an explanation as well as a path to resolution, Mailchimp eliminates some of the stress that comes with a typical error message.

Mailchimp’s incorrect username prompt.

Content should be useful.

Good experience content addresses user pain points. Great content predicts a pain point and solves for it before the user has time to struggle. As you write content for a feature, ask yourself what prior knowledge a user has, what questions they may have at this point in their journey, and what content will get them where they need to go. By asking what a user needs, rather than what we want them to know, you’ll be able to eliminate unnecessary information and provide the most relevant content for the user.

Example:

When booking a rental on Airbnb, you’re asked to send a message to your potential host to tell them about yourself and why you’re coming. There are few things more awkward in this world than asking a stranger to stay at their home overnight, but you’re unable to continue the booking process until you’ve written the message. To solve this potential hold up, Airbnb includes a sample message so that users can see what hosts are expecting.

The ‘Say hello to your host’ field in Airbnb.

Content should be trustworthy and communicative.

Your product’s content should reassure users that you have their best interest in mind, and that you’re being honest with them, even if you’re telling them what they might not want to hear.

Example:

United Airlines has started providing an explanation to travelers for when their flight is delayed via their preferred communication method. Rather than relying on the gate agents, United sends a text message, email, or push notification to travelers as soon as they know a flight will be delayed. The message begins with “we want you to know,” which assures travelers that United is being upfront with them. While no one enjoys a delayed flight, it’s much easier to be understanding when you have an explanation.

A United Airlines delay message example.

While visual design is an important aspect of user experience, we also need to think about designing the content that lives within our products. By spending time determining what your content users need, rather than what you want them to know, you can elevate your product from a good experience to a great one.

Brittney Urich

Brittney Urich

Brittney Urich is a senior experience designer who specializes in content strategy. She's passionate about crafting digital experiences that solve problems in a human-centered, empathetic way. As a content strategist turned experience designer, she regularly speaks and host workshops about integrating the two disciplines.

When she's not working, you can find her hiking, exploring national parks, or cheering on Michigan State University’s football team.