Workshop: Designing Content Models
Welcome! This page includes instructions, discussion questions, and links for all the activities we’ll do in today’s half-day workshop.
You can also download the presentation slides (PDF) to follow along or refer back to later.
Your situation: Serious Eats needs Serious Content
Psst! This is not a real scenario (as far as we know!)—it’s a realistic fabrication for workshop purposes only. But it is similar to plenty of real challenges we’ve seen!
The team at seriouseats.com has no problem creating content. The staff is as sharp with a pen as it is with its knives. But with all that emphasis on publishing, keeping up with how the site is organized—and how users can find content relevant to their interests—has become a challenge. You’ve realized that lots of content that should be linked together isn’t, and user research has shown that many readers struggle to find information specific to their needs, such as recipes that feature a certain ingredient, or suggestions for a certain type of cuisine, such as Italian or Thai.
You’re in charge of redesigning the experience, and you’re taking a content-first approach to understanding what kinds of content you’re publishing, how they work together to tell stories and help home cooks, and what kinds of patterns your new design needs to support.
Activity 1: Highlight the nouns!
Go through the stakeholder interview material provided (print-out), and underline or highlight all the nouns you see. For example, in the first sentence, you’d highlight recipes, education, techniques, and food science. This is the first draft of your content types.
Once you’re done, discuss what you found with your team:
- Which of these items seem core to the Serious Eats brand and mission? Discard any your group decides aren’t core to the site’s goals.
- Try to visualize the content for the nouns you have left, and describe them to your tablemates. For example, you might say that a recipe would include a description, ingredients, and instructions. Are any of the nouns harder to define than others?
- Do all the content types you have identified answer specific user questions? Discuss what those are.
Once you’ve decided which nouns should become the content types that are core to the Serious Eats experience, write each one on an individual sticky note.
Activity 2: Define the content system
Now that you have a list of content types, it’s time to define how they’re related to one another. With your table, talk through each content type, one by one, and ask:
- Which other connect types does this item connect to, conceptually? For example, you might note that recipes are written by editors. That’s a relationship.
- Which connections between content might be most helpful for users (it’s okay to make some assumptions here, since we can’t do real user research)? For example, when a user looks at a recipe, how important is it to have quick access to any techniques used in the recipe?
As you model out this system of content, start moving your sticky notes around and drawing lines between connected items. Discuss:
- Which content type or types are most central to Serious Eats’ content universe?
- How might thinking about these as primary or core types of content impact how you prioritize information or design the navigation?
When you’re done, you should have one interconnected system of content, showing which items are related to one another.
Activity 3: Prioritizing and chunking content
Now that we’ve defined the big picture, let’s look at an individual content type and define what makes it whole. For this activity, you’ll look at one content type:
- A Groups: Your content type is Techniques, such as How to Fill a Piping Bag, or Chinese Aromatics 101: The Spicy Garlic-and-Chili Flavor Base.
- B groups: Your content type is Recipes, such as The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Recipe, or One-Pan Chicken, Sausage, and Brussels Sprouts.
Once you’ve looked at your content type, write down each content chunk or facet it needs to have on a separate sticky. Keep in mind: you don’t have to recreate what you see on the example content—you can add, change, or remove things! In fact, you’ll want to consider:
- How could this content better be designed to display on mobile? Does that require new chunking?
- Are there areas where existing content is too long and wordy, and a shorter chunk would be useful?
- Are there key user questions you’ve identified that this content doesn’t answer? What would answer them?
- Are there multiple topics in the content that aren’t broken down, but could be—such as steps or tips?
Once you have all those content chunks and facets mapped out, prioritize them with your team, from most to least important.
Finally, take your content model and transfer it to scratch paper, adding requirements and guideline to help editors. See the Grant model for an example, and include things like:
- Approximate length
- Any data requirements (e.g., “enter a date MM/DD/YYYY”)
- Important editorial notes, such as key messaging, voice, or call to action
Activity 4: Writing structured content
For our final activity, we’re going to put our models to the test by trading with other groups! If you were a Group A, trade your content model with a Group B so that you’re writing about a content type that you did not model.
Once you’ve traded, work with a partner from your team to write copy to match the content model provided (use one of the links in Activity 3 to pick a piece of sample content to rewrite).
When you’re finished, we’ll share and get feedback: Where did writers do things differently than intended? Why? What was hard about writing this way?
- Content Everywhere: My book about building structured, mobile-ready content
- “Content Modelling: A Master Skill,” by Rachel Lovinger
- “Object-Oriented UX,” a more product-centric take on structuring content, from Sophia Voychehovski
- Modeling Structured Content, workshop slides from Mike Atherton
- Content Modeling Series, a set of articles from Cleve Gibbon
- “Responsive Design Won’t Fix Your Content Problem,” by Karen McGrane
- “The Core Model: Designing Inside Out for Better Results,” by Ida Aalen
- “Training the CMS,” by Eileen Webb