I’ve seen different types of job postings looking for a variety of marketing and tech unicorns, from full-stack developers to writers and storytellers that are also experts in SEO. But there’s an equally powerful unicorn that hasn’t gotten as much attention, but really should: the digital and print design unicorn—a designer skilled at creating both traditional and print materials but also skilled at digital layout and design. If content is still king, then its chariot is pulled by one of these unicorns.
Design expertise isn’t just for the platforms that deliver content and messaging to our customers—it can (and should) be applied to the content itself. Just like print vs. digital, design expertise doesn’t necessarily transfer; the same can be said for digital user experience design and content experience design as well.
I asked my designer friend, Brian, his opinion on the “mobile first” movement and I loved what he had to say:
“Mobile first is a wonderful strategy, in theory, but many organizations consider only surface presentation but fail to provide adequate thought about how the content that populates that experience will appear.”
Brian’s comment made me curious about what other designers thought were their biggest mobile challenges, so I did a quick Twitter survey:
I think we all understand how important mobile is, but in my experience working with dozens of content designers, I’ve found many are prone to the same set of mistakes. Below are those eight common design errors and how to correct or avoid them.
I know what you’re thinking—mobile responsive content is a given. Yes, absolutely, your content delivery method should respond well to a mobile device.
Right now, you may be thinking about your website or your app when you first consider this point. However, I’m talking about the content itself being mobile responsive. Take the example of the wildly popular content phenomenon: the infographic.
Infographics are creative, visual designs that often are built to convey large quantities of complex information and concepts in a very visual way. Many brands have made good use of infographics since they first hit the scene a few years ago. However, my biggest beef with this content type continues to be its lack of mobile-friendliness.
Think about it for a second. You’re on your mobile phone, sitting on the couch, browsing the latest articles on content marketing, and you come across a beautiful infographic. You tap to open the graphic, but you can’t read it because it was designed for a desktop computer. So you pinch zoom, then scroll back up, then scroll down, then zoom back out a bit.
You get the point. Infographics are largely a content type that works only on desktop computers or larger displays.
If you’re thinking about designing one as part of your mobile content strategy, but you know a good portion of your audience is on mobile devices, why not consider an HTML5 landing page that shares the same information instead? It may seem restrictive–trying to design an experience that’s ultimately slave to the whims of a browser—but giving up just a bit of your control over the design can often lead to a great overall experience for the consumer. Most of the design elements you want to incorporate in your static experience can also be accomplished in an HTML5 experience, but in a responsive way as well.
Typography is the art and technique of composing all the visual components that make up the look and feel of your copy. It may seem like a relatively insignificant detail, but the most innovative company leaders think critically about typography and what it conveys about their brand. To them, a font isn’t just a font.
There are many details that go into optimizing a font’s look and feel. Here are the components that make up your content’s typography:
What all these elements combine to make is either a typography that’s easy to read on mobile or one that’s difficult. Typography is even more important on mobile than on desktop because of the compact spaces involved. When letters run together, lines are crowded, and it’s impossible to tell if that’s an “I” or an “L,” your audience is going to ditch you for content that’s easier on the eyes.
Dozens (maybe hundreds) of studies have been conducted over the decades attempting to decode user behavior on the web. We’ve known for almost twenty years that most people don’t actually read web pages top to bottom.
People are more apt to scan a page, especially on mobile, to determine if the content is worth their time to actually dig into the details. If your content isn’t skimmable—meaning, your visitors can’t get the “gist” of what you’re saying in a few seconds, you’re going to lose them. According to the experts, you’ve got about twenty seconds (at most) to get your point across. Here’s a great summary of the importance of skimmable content and why you should build yours with mobile users’ consumption patterns in mind.
Building on the point above, you may have found yourself saying, “what’s a consumption pattern?” Skilled content marketers know exactly how, when, why, where, and to what extent their content is being consumed. Consumption patterns include device preferences, but it’s really more than that.
It’s important to know more about the consumption preferences of your audience before you create content so that their preferences can be accommodated, maximizing their engagement and experience.
What’s good for Facebook is not necessarily good for Snapchat. Okay, so that’s not an age-old saying, but it illustrates the point.
Content shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all across the channels that deliver it. Repurposing content isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you have to make sure it’s not just a carbon copy.
When I say customization of content, I mean potentially multiple elements involved—from the message itself that’s customized for the channel, to the visual elements being tailored: the duration (for video), size, shape, colors, and (of course) typography. Why not vary your message enough that your audience will choose to consume similar (but not the same) content on every one of your channels?
What does performance have to do with design? Performance considerations are incredibly important when it comes to overall content strategy. Your awesome visual masterpiece may perform brilliantly on a high-speed connection, but what happens if users load the content on a wireless 3G connection?
Performance test your content to make sure that the load times are tolerable across different connection speeds. For content on the Web, one of the easiest ways of doing this is actually built right into the Chrome browser Developer Tools. You can simulate the throttling of your connection speed to see how the content loads on slower (or faster) connections. It’s important to find the happy medium between stunning visual content and acceptable load times and the best way to do that is to test!
Part of being a good marketer is knowing what works and what doesn’t. Once upon a time, gut feelings were all we had. But now, with all the reporting and metrics and heat mapping and other analytics tools, there’s just no excuse to not know what’s performing well and what’s lagging behind.
If you’ve never tested how your content is performing (on any device), you’re making a fundamental marketing mistake that needs to be corrected. A/B testing is a good start. Produce that piece of content first, then change an aspect that came up during the discussions about the mobile content strategy sessions to create it. Make a simple change and serve those two versions up to people and see which one performs better. There are a lot of great pieces out there on proper A/B split testing, but if you’re just getting started, I recommend you check out these seven tips from Moz first.
This last design mistake builds on content performance but really encompasses all content user experience testing. It may sound odd at first, but have you actually consumed your own content the way your users would? Have you opened your site, graphic, guide, video, or other masterpiece on a four-inch mobile screen? Have you filled out your opt-in form and downloaded that pretty PDF guide with two bars of signal?
If you’re not testing your content in your users’ shoes, then you won’t have empathy for them. If you don’t have empathy for your users, then you won’t create content experiences that resonate with them. If their experiences around your content don’t resonate with them, they will seek answers from someone else—likely your competitor.
And that is one mistake we all can’t afford to make.