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I work as a web developer in an educational institution where bureaucracy is thick. One of our current projects involves redesigning a content-heavy section of the site. It is basically an electronic version of a paper handbook that has been around for years, along with a few registration forms.

The department I'm working with (the clients) refuse to cut any of the content. They argue that the content must be included because it includes policies that everyone needs to be aware of. I'm arguing that content could still exist, but that we must make the essential content more visible, and hence more usable. I'm presenting my reasons with measurable evidence for this, including analytics, usability testing, and a content inventory showing redundant/irrelevant content. Still getting resistance.

What advice do you have for helping clients understand that a content strategy is needed?

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Get different clients? –  Rahul Feb 14 '12 at 23:50
    
Don't cut content, cut junk! I don't consider "policies" or redundant/irrelevant info "content". Content is what people come to your site for (generally). –  Ben Brocka Feb 15 '12 at 2:10
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7 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Get the clients themselves into a usability testing session. Either as onlookers as a subject is going through their book, tasked with finding something, or as participants - but in this case you'll need to provide content they're unfamiliar with, but of the same magnitude and complexity.

Another option is to just go over their heads and try convince their managers, but that's going into organizational politics which is rarely a good idea.

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Thanks for this suggestion. So far our usability tests have been informal (following Krug's Rocket Surgery Made Easy model). However, we do have access to a formal usability lab where they could observe participants run through scenarios. –  kml Feb 15 '12 at 15:37
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Well, it sounds like one of those cases where the client may be right.

You are dealing with a handbook (a set of rules & regulations) not marketing or educational materials.

Imagine, a UXD for your local legislature saying, "The text of this new law is too long, too complicated, and too cluttered. It will look bad online. Let's trim it down and bury the rest deeper in the site or something." How will it impact the ordinary citizens who need to know the regulation to do their business?

Now, imagine your colleagues navigating the internal red tape you've mentioned and finding only partial information because you persuaded your boss that there's too much content. Do you think they would enjoy such an experience?

In this situation, your job as an information architect is to make sure that information is easy to navigate and easy to discover by taking advantage of the new medium, which includes visual styles, hyperlinking, and contextual adjustments. Clutter isn't just too much content, it's also poorly organized content.

You can get some inspiration from some existing huge documentation sites, such as MSDN Library, iOS HIG, Android Design guide, Rails API, and jQuery Docs, on how to structure your navigation and search. Then talk to the future users and find out what happens before and after they need to reference the handbook in their workflows.

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You've hit an important point. The client is responsible for managing and updating these policies. The coworkers on my team are marketing folks who want to make the policies easier to navigate. That probably helps explain the situation. We have used some similar links to help demonstrate how it could be better organized. –  kml Feb 15 '12 at 15:41
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How about giving a brief snippet about the content in your introductory pages and then progressively addressing the larger content if people would be interested to view it.

Let them understand that the term "Cognitive load" or explain them how people think through behavioral studies, some of them could be -

  1. Progressive disclosure - Coined by JM Keller, Keller is a professor of instructional design, and in early 1980s he came with the instructional design model called Attention, Relevance, Confidence and Satisfaction (ARCS), PD is a part of ARCS Model; present the information only the learner needs at the moment.

  2. People will filter information, so it means that show the right content always.

Describe in visuals and tell them how content really needs to be understood -

3.enter image description here

4.enter image description here

Let me know if the images are not viewable.

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This is really helpful and fits closely with what I had in mind at this point. Do you have links to additional sources (images, sites) where I could learn more? –  kml Feb 15 '12 at 15:53
    
Yeah kml, you can read books like "100 things every designer should know about people" - Susan as well as "letting go of the words". These will drive you to collect information related to content. –  inkmarble Feb 16 '12 at 7:15
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Do you have a bounce rate report? If it is high, that is indicative of poor stickiness... may be add a link to see more of legal disclaimers instead of having them visible? Is this web site visible on Mobile environment? If so, you have to make it lean.

Hope this helps.

Good luck!

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Huh? What does bounce rate have to do with a handbook? –  dnbrv Feb 15 '12 at 1:02
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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

A big part of the usability of a site is the quality of the content, I agree that bounce rate is a great metric to judge by, but just read the content out loud. Does it make sense? If not, or you get bored after a few sentences, I'd see if they'd be willing to either re-write some of it, or create jump links from a block of engaging copy to the less great stuff.

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Some times the client have more goals than the one is share with you, or he just like to do his own with out listen any one. Some other times just don't care about, or he like to play the boss.

Your job is to make your truly and honest suggestions, but at the end let him decide and don't be the one that won to play the boss and do your side what ever.

So, make your suggestions, do your best to hear you, make some reports but if they don't, the best advice from me to you is to do what they final ask.

My advice (because you ask for advice) is to stop try to convince them. You just make your proposal, give your report and what ever you like about, and at the end tell them that you do what they ask you to do, they are the responsible for the final product, you are only make it and make proposals.

If you listen them and do what they tell you, you teach them how to listen other proposals.

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Client is client, it is very subtle issue whether you should or shouldn't try to make them change their mind.

There is one possible compromise here I could think of. Try to make some relatively small snippets of text more attractive to read. Develop some visually different kind of leads, paragraph breaks and so on.

And try to "sell" it to the client. May be, after some thinking, client will say you something like: "You know what, it looks like this text is redundant".

To my experience, this is not alway best strategy - trying to convince client that he is wrong. You see, people are people, and not people are very self critical, for example. Not always we are able to accept directly we were wrong.

The cleverest of us make client think that actually they by themselves came up to the idea they initially found inappropriate ;)

Besides - besides - sometimes it just that client actually is right, since he/she knows the domain he/she talking about. So, give some time to you as well. Stay a while the axiom the there is indeed strong need in plenty of lengthy, irrelevant and obsolete texts )

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