Content Design London

Readability guidelines alpha: the end

Published 16 October 2018, by Sarah Winters in Content Process Research.

The end is not the end. You know that. 😉

Last week, we had a meeting to talk about the Readability guidelines alpha. Thank you to all those who came. And a massive thank you to Deliveroo for hosting us with space, drinks, and nibbles. Thanks so much.

We talked about what worked, what didn’t work and what we would like to do next.


We are continuing with another 10-week project to refine our approach and see if it works.

What went well.

The things that we felt that worked were:

  • the intention – we can see the value,
  • the links and discussion were posted were useful,
  • a forum where people could share,
  • people were passionate,
  • good to tap into experience,
  • deadlines,
  • examples from people in the chat about where certain things worked and when it didn’t.

What didn’t go well.

Couple of things we could improve:

  • limited number of people were contributing,
  • daunting to contribute – one comment was ”I was worried it might come across as too much of my style guide. I was worried that it was irrelevant and boring.”,
  • wiki and discussion space were fragmented,
  • lost track of discussion thread,
  • editorial versus usable – people were confused about what the comments should be,
  • ran out of time and we “missed the chance for people to pile in“.


I said that our discussions regularly came back to research so I wanted to understand why we needed it and what research we needed. Comments were:

  • only way to get decisions across [managers don’t trust their content teams’ expertise],
  • research that’s available is usually selling something,
  • current research is not about usability,
  • research is all over the place,
  • can’t find any relevant research,
  • different industries tested will come up with different guidance,
  • “We find stuff on the Internet, but there’s no quality-control”.

We talked about how people didn’t trust existing research because it wasn’t seen as ‘relevant’. For example, some universities don’t trust anything but their own research. Some don’t trust GOV.UK research because it’s government etc. We felt that if we found different examples from different industries, we might be able to get over some of these trust issues.

(Note: if all industries say the same thing, which is quite likely on many topics, ultimately, over time, our organisations might start trusting the guidance for other industries. We’ll have to see.)

Other comments

  • What does readability cost us and what is it worth?
  • Small groups coming together might be able to get us further.
  • Super contributors might be a good idea.
  • Inclusivity – we agreed making content accessible is an aim but we’d call it inclusive so that people didn’t just think of code.
  • Some people felt they were ‘lurking’ – they read it all but don’t contribute. It’s very useful to consume but hard to contribute.

Time is a challenge

Might as well stare this one full in the face. We all struggle with time. When we talked at the meet-up and on various channels, we can all see the value of this if we contribute but not many do.

We also talked about the challenge of being available at 7pm on a Tuesday.

So my challenge to you for 10 weeks: 30 mins a week.

For most, that’s one commute. For one journey to work you’ll commit to add something to the discussion on the current topic.

As Gerry McGovern says: “It seems we have time to do it wrong, but we never have time to do it right.”

This could help us get a lot of things right.

This is an opportunity.

Next steps

We have decided to:

  • take the next 10 weeks as a beta (project ends on December 18th, 2018)
  • ask for volunteers to lead on topics
  • make it inclusive – we’ll spend time looking at the accessibility/inclusivity of all elements

We are also committing time from the fabulous Lizzie Bruce, one of our trainers. Lizzie has a bunch of ideas in mind so we’ll keep you posted.

Super contributors.

Will you lead on a topic?

Each week we will set up a topic. You will lead. You’ll have your own slack channel (lucky you!) and everyone interested can dive in. When you have collected up guidance and research, from the people participating and from your own search for evidence, (like usability studies and academic research), you put it on the wiki. You can also do a short summary of what was discussed if you like, but don’t worry if you haven’t got time – Lizzie can jump in and help.

Rest of us

We all dive in and support the topics when we can.

Remember: Slack is available all the time. If everyone supporting a particular topic can chat at one time, fab. If you can’t, leave your comments so others can pick up later.

To clarify the point of this project

We are looking at content elements, traditionally in style guides, to look at their usability. We will focus on:

  • usability – have we seen content elements confuse users
  • inclusivity – accessibility is usability
  • research – what can we find and what do we need?
  • all industries – we’ll try and get information from as many industries as possible so our organisations are more likely to trust us

We are not looking at brand or tone.

If we can’t find evidence, we will state that the decision is editorial and therefore, go with whatever we want! We should keep an eye on these topics to see if anything changes over time.

I’d like us to keep a list of the research we might find useful if it doesn’t exist. We can look at funding that later.

Have confidence

The last thing I would like to mention is: have confidence. If you are thinking it, so are at least 5 other people. There are no stupid questions or comments. It might seem daft to you but it might be the first time someone else has heard of it. It might be the one thing that sparks an idea in someone else’s head that leads us all to a solution. Don’t keep it to yourself.

Be advised: it’s your perception that others may be bored by you. You have no evidence. That’s not very content design, is it? You need to test that and you need evidence.

So dive in.


You can sign up to our email newsletter to get regular updates from Content Design London.

Upcoming courses

2 day Content Strategy course 28 and 29 September 2022 (online. EDT timings)

2 day Foundation content design course. 18 and 19 October 2022 (online, AEDT timings)

2 day Advanced content design course. 19 and 20 October 2022 (online)

2 day Working in the open 20 and 21 October 2022

2 day Content Strategy course 26 and 27 October 2022 (online)

2 day Foundation content design course. 26 and 27 October 2022 (online)

2 day Foundation content design course. 16 and 17 November 2022 (in person)

2 day Advanced content design course 17 and 18 November 2022 (online, AEDT timings)

2 day Advanced content design course. 30 November and 1 Dec 2022 (online)