Through user-centric design, empathic information architecture and enabling technology (among other things), UX creates the map which informs both the pace and direction of user purpose.
CS populates this topography with opportunities for user engagement – a form, a story, an image, a sound or video bite, a social media campaign… you get the picture, or, at least – your users do.
These two disciplines have always inter-connected; less chicken and egg, more chicken wire and chickens. It’s not a question of which came first but how one cannot fulfil its purpose effectively without the other.
If anything, this interconnectedness is increasing, as a by-product of the ever-more responsive, multi-platform, multi-device world users now inhabit.
The eyes have it
Content strategists have long understood that it’s not just about what you say but where you say it. While we may engage with content using our brains, we search for it using our eyes.
Users visually consume content, at speed, from left to right and from the top, down. They create visual F-patterns as their eyes sweep across and then down an online area. (For the purposes of this article I’m sticking with English language sites.)
The Nielsen study that first spotted this may be ancient history in web terms but its basic principles still hold true.
That’s not to say that things are not changing (forgive the double negative). Both the online typography and its content has become more modular and this is impacting on what users consume and how they consume it.
In part this is due to the proliferation of hand held devices and responsive design that reorders and reprioritises content chunks, or what I tend to term “eye-modules”. Content that might populate a standard web page horizontally (as viewed on a big screen), is reordered to enable vertical viewing on smaller screens.
Users are increasing scanning less distance left to right, while being prepared to drop further from the top of a screen to the bottom, in search of what they need.
Google has also encouraged this by favouring mobile friendly sites and by configuring its search results layout for mobile.
Research indicates that we are prepared to vertically scan more search results making the top slot less critical than it once was.
But we still seem to use a mini F-pattern when something is deemed relevant enough to engage our brains. When an eye-module is viewed by a user it’s often possible to discern mini F-shapes in each gaze interaction.
I’m noticing that some of the best design quite often houses these content chunks inside defined areas or guidelines, which further enable mini F scans. You can find more ponderings and visuals about this on the In The Content Lab blog.
The implications for content strategy
So what does this all mean for content strategists? From the CS perspective we need to think increasingly in terms of these eye-modules, how they may be grouped together but also how they can operate in independently. Take a look at this web page for apps from Sumo Me.
Each app’s content module engages the user independently, but the overlaid heat map also shows a discernible F pattern, with apps top left holding the users gaze slightly longer. That said, the neat app boxes with their centred icons and text, and use of LEARN MORE buttons, help draw and hold the attention visually.
We’ve grown use to chunking content according to type and purpose – headings, descriptions, key features; and using increasing sophisticated content management systems to define information, structure and architecture.
But we should also be thinking in terms of eye-modules and content elements may be reordered and prioritised for multi-platform and device delivery and be made to serve users independent of what else may (or may not) be served up on the served up on the same page. It’s early days but… watch this rather attractive space.