Introduction to Human-Centered Content
What is human-centered content?
Human-centered content (HCC) is content that meets real human needs.
Applying a human-centered approach to content enables teams to make informed decisions so that the right content is delivered, in the right way, in the right format, at the right time.
Human-centered content balances user needs and business goals, then ensures that both needs are met within any technological or organizational constraints.
But wait, what is content?
Content is information, and information can be delivered in many different ways. This includes written text, images, videos, audio, and metadata.
Taking a human-centered approach to content allows teams to choose the best format for the information.
The different types of content within an experience should also relate to each other and be organized in a way that makes sense to the user.
A new(ish) application for Design Thinking
For years now, User Experience (UX) Designers have been practicing a human-centered approach to designing websites and mobile apps. Before UX Designers create visual designs, they first work to understand who the design is for. This approach is called Design Thinking.
Putting users first is nothing new. But applying Design Thinking to content is.
But, content needs Design Thinking too. In order to create great content, we need to understand who it’s for.
Here’s where it gets a bit messy. Content impacts more than just the end customer. To be really human-centered, we also need to understand the needs of the people who publish the content, and all the people involved in the publishing process.
The human-centered approach
Similar to the scientific method, a human-centered content workflow starts with questions and constantly evolves. It can also be iterative, just like a UX design process, where you create something and consistently improve it over time by learning from data.
Start with a hypothesis. Who do we think our users are? What do we think they need? What content do we believe we can accomplish?
Do some research. You talk to users, observe their behavior, learn from business leaders, look at data, and run some tests if you can.
Create a plan. Decide what content people need, how to deliver it, and how it will be organized, created, and updated over time.
Deliver the content. Now, you can make and deliver the content to your users. If you can, wait and see if people like it, then start the process all over again.
Human-centered content vs content marketing
The key difference between a marketing approach and a human-centered approach to content is goals. Marketing goals are business oriented, such as driving more traffic to a website or pushing more leads into a sales funnel. The marketing approach to content often starts with a container, then works to fill it.
For example, a content marketer would start with a goal of driving more website traffic. Then, they decide to test blogging as the strategy to achieve that goal. The “blog” becomes the container where the content will live. Finally, they decide how to fill that container.
The human-centered approach to content starts with user needs. It uses research and data to discover what information people need in order to become and remain customers. Then, it chooses a container for the content by asking what the best way to deliver that information will be.
Why the human-centered approach wins
Your customers and potential customers are being flooded with content all day long. After the boom of content marketing, there is no shortage content on nearly every subject. People are exhausted, and all your customers really are answers to their questions, and help accomplishing their goals.
The only way to rise above digital clutter is by offering useful, usable, and meaningful content your users actually want.
And the way to figure out what they actually want is through user research and a content workflow that prioritizes user needs first. It’s why organizations like Google, Shopify, Dropbox, IBM, Dell, and others are hiring “content strategists” and “content designers” in droves.
How to be more human-centered with your content
As with most business opportunities, you have a few options. Do it yourself, hire an expert to do it for you, or hire an expert to teach you how to do it. Here are some tips on the best ways to do each one.
Do it yourself
Assess the content mess. If you already have content, you will likely want to start with analyzing content performance. You could also diagram your content workflow. Then, take the data and diagram to your decision makers and say, “look at this mess, let’s fix it with content strategy.”
Talk to some actual users. There are a lot of great books and articles about user research and user testing out there. Choose the user research methods that make sense for you and go do it. When in doubt, I suggest user interviews.
Prioritize content people actually need. After research, you should have a list of needs, wants, and tasks that are actually important to your users. Write those down and let your user’s requirements guide your content.
Get rid of content and processes that don’t work. If your research uncovered that you’ve got a ton of useless content, consider getting rid of it (unless it has some other tangible benefit, like SEO).
Create new processes for content. Content messes are often the result of people messes. How many people really need to have a say in your content? Streamline it. Create systems that ensure your human-centered priorities are maintained.
Find a content strategist
If you have the resources, bring in an expert. This could mean hiring a full-time content strategist, bringing in a consultant, or working with a small team.
Hiring an individual: there are some great content strategy communities to source talent from. I suggest connecting with the content strategy community directly instead of posting an ad to a large job board. Try the content strategy Facebook group or the Content + UX Slack group.
Hiring a team: well, obviously we’re going to say hire our team. 😊AVO agency is a specialized, boutique consultancy that helps organizations solve their content challenges and put users first. Contact us to get started. If nothing else, we can recommend the best solution for you.
In between: content strategy training
Find a consultant. The Facebook and Slack groups are also great places to start. We also offer in-person workshops and remote training sessions, too.