When coronavirus impacts your users and customers, you need to produce content in a hurry, so you can keep everyone informed about changes that are happening daily, if not hourly.
When we try to get content out quickly, it’s tempting to cut corners, especially if we’re feeling as stressed as our users. But it’s more important than ever to follow content design best practices. Why? Because in times of stress, everyone’s cognitive capacity drops. People don’t have the time or mental resources to wade through irrelevant, unclear or badly organised content to get to what they need.
Don’t despair – we’re not trying to triple your workload. You can get very close to best practice by following a few guiding principles. We’ve narrowed it down to 7 basic guidelines, and we’ve also created a downloadable checklist you can use to make sure you’re following them.
1. Identify the user need
You might not have time for a full discovery process, but you still need to think about what your user is trying to do or find out when they look at your content. Define the user need and write it down.
One way to do this is the job story format, which looks like this:
When [I’m enrolling in Medicare]
I want to [know if I can do it from home]
so [I can follow the guidelines on social distancing].
2. Put the most important information first
Unless people are coming to your site to find information about coronavirus itself, you don’t need to explain the facts about the virus in your first paragraph, and probably not at all. Instead, start with what your users most want to know:
- If you’re changing from face-to-face events to online events, tell people that first, and explain how they can access them.
- If you can no longer offer a service because it’s been restricted, be upfront about it. Literally, upfront.
- Everyone knows that these are unprecedented times and that we’re in uncharted waters. You don’t need to repeat that.
3. Be accessible and inclusive
It’s never been more important to make sure your content isn’t unintentionally leaving people out. So ask yourself what assumptions your content makes about your users. A lot of the content we’ve seen since the start of the crisis tacitly assumes one or more of these:
- My user can see.
- My user can hear.
- My user lives with others.
- My user has a car.
- My user has reliable internet.
- My user has access to a printer.
- My user speaks English.
In normal times, we can test our content with a diverse range of real people. Now, it’s time to stretch your empathy muscles.
4. Make your language clear and understandable, and ditch the jargon
When you’re writing quickly, it can be easy to slip into bad overwriting habits, like using too many words and terms that make sense to you and your organisation but not to your users. This makes it harder for them to understand what you’re trying to say.
Sure, just get it written, but make sure you go back and give your work a serious pruning. Better still, hand the shears to someone else, or use an online tool like Hemingway to help you make your content clearer.
If your content is specifically about coronavirus, our friend Lizzie Bruce has created a helpful list of jargon replacements.
5. Provide an alternative format for PDFs
PDFs can be hard to read on screen, especially on mobile. While they can be made accessible and some users like to download something to save or print, they should never be the only option you offer.
If your PDF is information-based, also create a regular web page (HTML).
If your PDF is designed specifically to be saved or printed, also provide a Microsoft Word version.
6. Make sure users know they’re reading the latest content
Information can change quickly. Users want to know they’re reading the most up-to-date information you have to tell them. Always include an easy-to-find updated date for your content. If your content changes multiple times in a day, include a time as well!
Once your content is out of date, either archive it or clearly mark it as superseded.
7. Check your user journey
Before you press publish, go back one more time and make sure you’ve met your user need. Put yourself into the user’s shoes and follow their journey to, through and from your content. Make sure links to and from your content are all working, and are clearly labelled so users know what to expect when they click.
Remember also that the user might be on a journey different from the one you’ve planned. In particular, they might have arrived at your content directly from a Google search. Make sure you’re not assuming they’ve read anything else first.
Now you’ve got our 7 basic guidelines under your belt, download our checklist that you can print out and apply to your own content: