No, “content design” doesn’t just describe the visual design of content.
Yes, the look is important, almost decisive for success, because it can get your content’s necessary attention. But especially if the first impression is positive, it must also be the second, third, and following. Because with every positive experience that users have with our content (and brand in general), their expectations of the next one increase.
So it’s not just about looks; it’s about relevance, about trust, about orientation, and also about stimulation.
Through targeted content design, you can influence the behavior and decisions of your users by directing their attention to what you want to achieve through your content marketing: branding, contact initiation, product sales, etc.
Content design is a system for targeted planning, content, audiovisual design, and the use of content.
Content design is my answer to what makes content (not only in marketing) so successful. How much time do we have to convince readers of our content? A tenth of a second? During this time, nobody reads, sees.
Your content presentation is the clinching factor that holds an audience’s attention long enough for you to grab them with your actual content. It doesn’t matter how mind-blowingly original or well-crafted your content is: If your audience doesn’t stick around to consume it, why bother creating it? Why tell a consumer about your brand when you can show them?
Jordan Kasteler, SEO Director, Hennessy Consulting
I don’t just want to emphasize the importance of visual content. Rather, it is the “inner values” that count – just like in real life.
The definition of “design” at Wikipedia is well suited to create a common understanding:
A specification of an object, illustrated by an agent, intended to fulfill goals in a particular environment is called design. At the same time, we are using a set of primitive components, satisfying a set of requirements, subject to constraints.
Let’s translate and break it down into individual aspects:
- Specification of an object – in our case, this is our “content,” which can consist of several textual, visual, auditory, or interactive components (see below).
- Confirmed by an agent – that’s us as “content designers,” respectively marketers and publishers.
- Targeted – As Jordan said, it’s about getting our audience’s attention so that they can consume our content. In addition, other goals such as the interaction with or the transaction triggered by our content are also conceivable.
- In a certain environment – these are our content (marketing) platforms such as blogs or the entire website, social media, emails, chatbots, etc.
- It uses different components, such as the different content formats (text, image, sound, video, etc.) or other forms of “micro-content” that function as the smallest unit of meaning.
- Fulfilling certain requirements – This primarily means usability, but in my opinion also usefulness in the sense of emotional satisfaction, for example, of needs for information or entertainment.
- Subject to restrictions – corporate design, copyrights, or channel-specific restrictions such as on YouTube (video only) or Spotify (audio only).
We can break down the “design” of content into many individual parts: text, image, sound, shape, color, structure, and interactive elements such as links, buttons, or forms. The environment, such as the various publication platforms such as social media, emails, chatbots, or your website, also plays an important role. Content design is effective when these elements, designed in a targeted manner; for the user (for example, receiving information as quickly and easily as possible) but above all for the content producer (for example generating qualified leads).
The question is, what is content design? We can answer quite well as follows:
The content design describes the targeted conceptual and visual design of digital content (content); For example, to optimize the user or customer experience, branding, or (in) direct sales increase.
This definition is the product of the deep connections between content and design in marketing and beyond. One cannot lead to the desired success without the other.
Influence the experience through content design
The US-American UX designer Corey Stern examined hundreds of interactive projects to understand better and document the concepts, interactions, and components of the user experience.
“As a final result of my research, I found that most projects had a good balance between content and interactions.”
While the content should be attractive and easy to consume, additional interactive offers contribute to a positive user experience. This balance between content and interactions forms the success factor for the content experience, says Corey.
He then developed a model that illustrates this interdependence. It relates the two target dimensions mentioned to content and interaction. The intersections of these four dimensions describe how the user navigates through the content. Starting with the attraction, through a reaction, followed by action, and, at best, up to a transaction.
CUBI UX model by Corey Stern
This so-called “Action Cycle” already shows different goals for the (visual) design of content:
- Attraction: Each content serves as a touchpoint for the company to draw attention to itself and contact consumers (i.e., above all, potential customers). Therefore, the visual design goal is above all contrast (attracting attention) and stimulation (motivating action). It works even more if the en contact account because content has to stand out from the, therefore, the entire website.
Through visual design, we can attract attention, especially taking into account the environment.
Attract attention through attention-driven design
An approach developed by Unbounce co-and Gardner is the so-called “attention-driven design.” In its original form, it comprises 23 visual design principles, the more of which are sensibly combined, the stronger the effect. Based on the well-known gestalt laws such as conciseness, spatial proximity, continuity, or cohesion.
Another decisive factor for the level of attention is how much, or little choice consumers generally have – both visual and content. For example, a red element attracts more attention in a simple, monotonous design than if the entire website designs red. The same applies to the text design: a free-standing text with larger and more colored font stands out easily from a long body of text.
General restraint in design can also be an effective means. The central question for content producers is always: What should the consumer’s attention be drawn to and to what goal?
For example, in what order do you read the text elements in the Zendesk library?
The font size creates a hierarchy that draws the user’s attention (screenshot: zendesk.de/blog)
Probably the term “library” first, because it’s at the top left. Right? But your eyes may also fall directly on the large headline. Or the button in the top right? It’s not that clear, so we should always test the design and arrangement of elements.
- Reaction: The contact (here: being seen) automatically follows a reaction. Consumers usually assess spontaneously, unconsciously and situationally, whether the content is relevant to them or not. It happens with the cognitive processing of what we see and the associated perception of tonality. For example, “simple and calm” or “colorful and urgent”).
To score points with content design, a good understanding of the values of your target group is essential, for example, with the help of Limbic® ( see my article on this at konversionsKRAFT). Consumers who long for security, for example, react positively to a design that seems familiar to them; that you already know from other websites (familiar arrangement of elements, similar color worlds). Consumers with a hedonistic disposition: inside, on the other hand, are more likely to jump to unknown, innovative design and an individual language, while dominance-oriented people react to all that content that visually seems like luxury, performance, and success (e.g., golden color and superlatives in texts).
A vivid example is the various press reviews and testimonials that Blinkist sprinkles in their magazine. They let other people and brands recognized as authorities in their target group advertise their app in an extremely discreet way. If Apple says it’s one of the best apps, it will be true, won’t it?
- Action: This first, mostly exclusively emotional reaction always leads to an action – consciously or unconsciously. It can be a simple “passive activity” in the form of consumers lingering on a website or reacting to a rather negative experience that they leave the page immediately. Both can be intrinsically motivated to satisfy one’s own needs or extrinsically motivated, for example, through an incentive from the content producer.
The design component can be something as basic as a conspicuous and clickable-looking text link or button. Unfortunately, we cannot take this for granted, and there are always design trends that make interactive elements not recognizable.
Blue, underlined words are clickable; we have internalized that. But do three stripes have a special meaning? (Source: Content Design)
- Transaction: From the company’s point of view, the action ideally represents a business transaction. Depending on the company’s objective, it can be a purchase, a subscription to the newsletter, the download of a whitepaper, or the like. Content producers can motivate the conversion by triggering psychological behavior patterns with the help of visual elements, such as the preview of content (for example, a free look at an e-book on offer, see picture). It reduces concerns and arouses the consumer’s curiosity.
HubSpot gives interested parties a digital insight into the file they are offering for download and thus possibly increases the conversion rate (screenshot: hubspot.de)
The conversion-centered design increases target conversions.
In the so-called “conversion-centered design,” the alignment of all design and content elements is based on the users’ conversion. To achieve this in the best possible way, all interaction options except for removing the desired “transaction” to minimize the risk of distraction for users. That is why, for example, it is missing on many landing pages the usual navigation bar (see the monday.com example below). Classic design principles such as clarity and visual contrast also play a role here, but the “representation” of psychological principles such as credibility, scarcity, social proof or scarcity, and urgency is even more important. It is all the more fact for content on landing pages or product pages. Blinkist Magazine is an excellent example of observing authority and social proof (see above).
The originator of this design approach is also Oli Gardner, and he describes it as a general framework for designing effective (that is, above all, “good converting”) marketing campaigns.
It encompasses all the persuasive design techniques and psychological triggers you can use to get visitors to take action on your landing pages.
Oli Gardner, Co-Founder, Unbounce
The structure is based on the following seven principles, which are explained in detail here :
- Focus – Draw your audience’s attention to one goal at a time and minimize distractions. Behind this are psychological phenomena such as the paradox of choice and the principle of analysis-paralysis.
- Structure – The better you manage your target group both visually and content-wise, the more effective your content design will be. Above all, the information hierarchy and the “flow” (think of the well-known F-pattern from Nielsen studies) play an important role.
The Adobe newsletter (see picture below) is a good example because while it contains three different calls to action, the hierarchy is clearly defined by design: The blue button below the headline is the primary call-to-action, the blue text link in the secondary – mind you with the same goal (!) – and the inconspicuous hyperlink in the text is definitely not a desirable option from the sender’s point of view according to the design, but rather a “better than nothing” alternative.
- Stay consistent – Always consider the environment and the user journey when designing. Landing pages, in particular, are an important link between advertisements and your own website or online shop. Therefore, they should appear together (for example, concerning colors, fonts, visual elements, layout, etc., as demonstrated in the following example of a Facebook ad and the associated landing page).
- Show advantages – A picture (often) says more than a thousand words, but the key visual in particular should be one thing above all: clear and unmistakable. For example, try to show Photo instead of CGI. It is important to try out a lot and measure the effect. We rarely find the best solution straight away; the possibilities are too diverse: Photo or video? Products or people? Illustration or real image?
- Draw attention – use whitespace, form and color contrasts, so-called “directional cues” as a guide (the line of sight of people in the picture works particularly well, see below) or even animations to guide users on the important elements, such as your call-to -Action to draw attention.
- Build trust – Generate “social proof” through testimonials, cuttings, or the integration of customer logos that are known to your visitors to increase your credibility.
- Reduce Friction – Make it as easy and convenient for users to actually convert inside as possible. Companies pay too little attention to forms in particular and lead to high abandonment rates as a result. The mobile experience (accessibility, responsible web design, page loading speed) is also a factor with great potential because more and more people are using smartphones and “converting on the go.”
Content Design (2nd edition)
Robert Weller, Ben Harmanus
With this book, you will learn to consider the conception and audiovisual design of content holistically and implement it in a targeted manner.
Content Experience Factors: Important characteristics for successful content
According to Corey Stern, for this cycle to work and lead to the desired positive experience, the content must be comprehensive, useful, usable, and branded. These “experience factors” are mapped in the intersection between three of the main components of his UX model:
These properties sound pretty simple at first, but there is more to them than it seems.
Experience Factor 1: Completeness-
“Comprehensive” translates, as written above, as comprehensive (alternatively “holistic”) and refers to the completeness AND comprehensibility of our content. So we’re talking about language, structure, and optics, among other things. If we do not succeed in fully delivering qualitatively and quantitatively, consumers will not close the action cycle – because they do not get what they want, or they do not get it presented according to their needs.
This observation is probably one of the reasons why long-form content is increasingly proving its worth – not only from an SEO point of view (according to the backlinko analysis, extensive content receives 77% more backlinks) but also about transactional pages that were previously rather short, such as landing pages or product pages.
Experience factor 2: Benefit or usefulness
When it comes to usefulness, Stern is primarily concerned with satisfying the needs of consumers and offering opportunities for interaction. For it to work, we have to know our target group (s) very well (keyword: personas ). In addition, a high degree of empathy and sensitivity is required; after all, consumers should get the feeling that they are really getting closer to their goal. That is also the reason why these properties are among the elementary components of user-centered design approaches.
Experience factor 3: Usability
In addition to technical functionality, the usability of content is about the intuitive operation. Content that consumers cannot use; and in this case, I would even add the aspect of motivation, i.e., not motivated to use it – is also unusable from a business perspective. We should therefore take generally applicable usability guidelines into account and always verify the user perspective, for example, through regular surveys or user tests.
Experience Factor 4: Branding
As you probably already guessed, everything here revolves around the brand experience, from corporate design to language. And tonality to the values conveyed through content. Every experience that users have with a company (through content) is automatically also a brand experience! For this reason, the “branded experience” should above all be authentic and consistent.
These four factors guarantee (well, almost …) that our content will serve its purpose. If one of these aspects is missing, we leave potential behind. If one of these factors dominates, content may above all fulfill a specific function – through completeness. E.g., rankings in search engines, or usefulness, e.g., virality. All four factors are, therefore, important levers for optimizing content.
Content and design are a dream team. But they have to search for each other first.
The design doesn’t work without content, but content doesn’t work either. Unfortunately, there are no blueprints for content design. Rather, the design is an iterative process s based on experiments, for example.
- Everything starts with a potential analysis ( how could I generate growth? ), For example, by looking at your own analytics tools or observing worrying symptoms (e.g., falling conversion rates).
- It is followed by user research in user interviews, surveys, or market research to identify possible test fields ( how can I fix the problems? How can I exploit the growth potential? ).
- All of this ultimately leads to hypotheses ( what do I have to change, therefore redesign, to achieve the desired effect? ) And test concepts ( how do I have to change it? ).
- These can then be validated through experiments using Google Optimize, Adobe Target. Or similar, and the content design can be optimized bit by bit.
The user’s experience is decided by the user
There is nothing wrong with orienting yourself towards design standards, tried and tested frameworks, and following conventions. But, as the name suggests, the user decides the user’s experience. And these differ from case to case, so the real content design is above all one thing: individual.
The entire design, including the technical implementation, is an iterative process. So if something does not inspire you or your customers directly. Start this process from the beginning, not the entire development. The value of this is shown repeatedly with the website redesign. As André Morys recently illustrated with impressive examples – in both a positive and a negative sense.
How do you go about designing websites, landing pages, and content in any format?