Content's Role in the User Experience

For software and web developers, programming is the easy part. The hard part is figuring out how that software, website or application should look, feel and sound to the end-user. 

Determining how technology communicates with people falls into the broad categories of User Experience and User Interaction. (UX and UI, respectively). User Experience requires looking at myriad aspects of both the human and technology factors. See below: 

If you've ever purchased or downloaded some software and not been able to figure out how to use it or been overwhelmed by buttons and options before you even began, then you've experienced bad (or a complete lack of) User Experience design. 

On the flip side, if you've ever downloaded an app or used a piece of a software that made immediate sense to you, was easy and pleasant to use, then you've seen good User Experience in action. 

Because User Experience is made up of so many moving pieces, some parts often get left by the wayside either because of time, budget or lack of knowledge. And all too often that part is good content. 

What role does content play in the User Experience?

Content generally comes into the equation through User Interaction design. User Interaction (UI) design is, logically, the part of the software that the user actually interacts with. Think buttons, error messages, tutorials, pages, agreements. For example: The nice gray background of a website and the clean, black, easy-to-read font that is used for the content are design choices that make the User Experience better, but the user isn't directly interacting with those pieces. On the other hand, a button that pops up asking "are you sure you want to complete this action?" is a part of the user's overall experience, but is also User Interaction because the user has to read, then take action with this part of the design. In this way, content becomes a huge part of UI. 

Why is content important to User Interaction?

A great example of how good content can make a user interaction pleasant or unpleasant is in error messages. Error messages are system responses to a request that cannot be completed. If you've ever used the internet, you've likely experienced the dreaded Error 404 page which means the content you were looking for at that URL is no longer there for whatever reason. You may also have stumbled upon a server error message - meaning there was a problem with the server hosting the information you're trying to access. The thing about error messages, usually, is that they're not the user's fault, but the people (or robots disguised as people) who write them have a tendency to shift blame off the site, server or software and onto the person using it through misleading, vague or way-too-technical jargon. 

Take a look at these two server error messages - which one would you rather see?

Error Message A:

Error Message B: 

Unless you're a programmer, Error Message B is what you'd rather see. The difference between the two messages include better graphics and a cleaner interface, but the primary difference is in the content. "Breathe deeply. Stay calm." Those are words written by a copywriter with their brain wrapped around the User Experience and Interaction. Then the option to follow status updates via their Twitter feed? That's giving you a real, non-technical solution, not a command to insert some custom code into the application or to "contact the server administrator" (which no one on the internet knows how to do). 

The point here is that on every good user-based software development team, there should be at least one member focused on making the software's content play an important role in the overall experience and interaction. After all, most of what we do online and in applications is read. If those words don't make sense or if they cause us to have a negative reaction, we will move on - to another site, another piece of software or a different application. 

Contact us today to find out how we can help your development team consider content in your User Experience and Interaction Design.