Future-Friendly Content Roundup

Since October 2015, Mike Atherton and I have been sharing an idea we call "designing future-friendly content." Through workshops, talks, webinars, and articles, we've introduced a process for planning content that starts outside of any interface. All of that is scattered around the web. It's time to collect it all in one place. So here are all the bits and pieces of future-friendly content we've created so far. This page will be updated as we both continue to talk about this topic and expand our thinking and add examples of its use.

Why we need a new approach to digital content

Having future-friendly content solves many of the problems we face in the third decade of the world wide web.

  • There is so much content. There are over 1 billion websites. Over 2 million blog posts are published every day. But then again, content is the point. How do we make sure we’re creating something of value?
  • There are so many devices - and screen sizes. When we create a website or product, we have no idea where a visitor will be, what they’ll use to view it, what browser they’ll use, or what their connection speed will be. How do we design for this infinite combination of sizes and uses?
  • As we try to figure this out, design trends constantly change. What if we could do real renovations to the design without having to change all the underlying content?
  • Despite lip service, organizations are still designing and creating content for themselves, not their users. How can we change that?
  • Within organizations the silos are strong! People are doing different things with different priorities. That includes the stakeholders and design teams too. What if there were a way to get everyone to focus on the same things and have the same priorities?

Recreating websites every 3-5 years is unsustainable as a business practice. It's too expensive and disruptive. Recreating content for each channel is too time consuming and costly. This is our way of solving these problems.

What is future-friendly content?

We define future-friendly content as

content that has been stored, structured, and connected outside of any user interface, in a way that’s readable and understandable by people and computers.

Our process for creating content that is future-friendly isn't just about structure, it's about determining what content to have in the first place. Essentially there are 5 steps in this process, which are enhanced by many other tactics and activities already common to user experience and content strategy.

  1. Research the subject - conducting and applying to content
  2. Build a domain model - provide context by mapping the concepts and relationships of the subject domain
  3. Translate to a content model - map content types for a specific interface and assign properties
  4. Design the content - use the models to determine what content to create and the best format and structure for it
  5. Plan the implementation - turn the model into a system specification, working collaboratively with the design and development teams

All the future-friendly content things

Article January 2016
Designing Future-Friendly Content: Modeling Structure for Every User Interface
Designing future-friendly content upfront provides a solid foundation for useful content on all devices, publishing platforms, and content outlets yet to come. (Originally published in UXPA Magazine)

NOVA UX Talk (video) February 2016
Designing Future-Friendly Content
Prepare now for the next disruption! Explore how to create content-first designs that can restructure, reuse, and remix content, making it easier to find, explore, and share.

Webinar July 2016
How to design future-friendly content
Design a meaningful content structure that works across every device, informs design and development, and explains to users how your world joins up.

Refresh DC Talk (slides) October 2016
Designing Future-Friendly Content
Designing Future-Friendly Content explores the benefits of planning content outside of an interface and leads you and your team through a process to make sure you are ready for what’s next.

Webinar January 2017
How the Right CMS Makes Content Future-Friendly
Learn how subject domain modeling combined with content modeling sets the stage for a cross-discipline, content-centric implementation process.

World IA Day Talk (transcript + video) February 2017
Setting Interface Foundations with IA
The amount of content that exists today is staggering, and growing exponentially. The need to organize and structure it has never been greater. But with silos strong within organizations and stronger across them, how do we align people to set priorities? A website is too downstream and political to solve IA and content problems. But a subject domain model is one way to gain a clearer picture of the universe outside of any interface.

We're not the only ones who are using domain modeling as the basis for creating content. We've been inspired by people we've worked with and others who are sharing their ideas about a similar process.

Blog post January 2017
Positing 3 axes of web design (possibly 4) (working title)
Michael Smethurt talks about a resource-driven design process.

Blog post July 2016
What We Did on Our RES Summer Holidays
The Research and Education Space (RES) Project seeks to connect the UK’s publicly held archives to inspire new ways of learning. Paul Rissen talks about how they worked to establish the Shakespeare Archive as a model for others.

GOTO Conference Talk (video) Fall 2013
Beyond the Polar Bear
Way back in 2011, Mike presented this talk at the IA Summit. I missed it but caught the replay on an ASIS&T webinar and it changed my way of thinking about content, as it did for many others. It explores how the BBC radically restructured their website using content-centered domain modeling to better map to user's mental models, create a user experience based around meaningful connections between topics, and unlock a wealth of archive content to be more findable, pointable, searchable, and sharable.

Want more?

As alluded to in the intro, this idea started as a workshop that we created for UX and content strategy conferences. In 2015 and 2016, we taught designers, developers, and content strategists how to design future-friendly content at Midwest UX, IA Summit, Confab Intensive, and edUi.

If you'd like to bring the workshop to your conference or to your organization, get in touch. We combine lots of exercises that progressively build on each other, just as would happen in real life. Conference sessions can be half-or whole-day workshops. In-house, corporate workshops are customized to your team and desired outcome.