Content Design London

Academy 2020. Content clarity based on user research

24 November 2020

By Anna Tyler, Maxine Sheppard, Barney Joyce

Content Design Content process Academy

The Content Design Academy is a 14-week course where students work on a real-life project. This year we ran it remotely. Doing discovery when you’re not in a room together has its challenges and some advantages.

Our first step - recording users’ words

Anna Tyler

One important thing I have learned so far at the Academy is the value of recording the words of users.

We created a user journey wall, recording the main steps the user needs to take to achieve their goal. We listened to user research interviews and wrote down direct quotes of what the users said. We then added these quotes to our user journey wall as virtual post-it notes.

When I’ve done user research in the past I’ve recorded the meaning of what users said, but not their words. It takes longer to transcribe direct quotes, but they are a richer form of data.

If we take the time to record user quotes, we can be more certain we’ve understood our user’s journey and needs. We can also use direct quotes:

  • as evidence when explaining user needs to stakeholders
  • as evidence of user vocabulary when drafting content

Learning differently

Maxine Sheppard

In the early weeks of the Academy, we learned about the two main kinds of user research: behavioural (what people do) and attitudinal (what people say or think).

One of the most useful attitudinal research methods is the face-to-face interview. Hearing what users say about their experience is invaluable, and watching the videos of interviews made me think differently about how I listen.

All the interviewing I’ve done in the past has been in a journalistic context. When I play back my transcripts, I’m waiting for the quirky turn of phrase, the revealing slip-up or the anecdote that will add colour to my story. But as a content designer I need to remove myself from the process entirely, and instead listen for the meaningful insights that will help me create better services for the user.

When these insights are added to other types of qualitative and quantitative research, we’re better equipped to make data driven design decisions that will help us solve the user’s problems.

From chaos to clarity - user needs on our discovery wall

Barney Joyce

Transferring user research and background data to sticky notes on an online post-its board (our discovery wall) was fun. But, the wall quickly became chaotic with hundreds of sticky notes.

Remarkably, upon review, themes and insights became clearer. It actually became possible to see patterns and connections, to group, separate and filter. We grouped them together. Then we drafted user needs and their acceptance criteria from these groupings.

As we drafted user needs, it became clear not to worry about making mistakes. Of course, it was important to do this as effectively as possible. But mistakes can be fixed. User needs can be improved, combined or deleted. What’s important is to draft and not dwell. Taking this approach makes this process easier.

The process of content design reveals its logic. Each stage builds upon the previous. Things do become clearer. Each element can be refined and improved. From the initial chaos comes clarity.


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