As content strategy continues to emerge as an important UX discipline, alongside usability, interaction design, visual design and information architecture, content strategists will work with other UX professionals, closely and under scrutiny. What makes this challenging is that for many UX professionals, content strategy is still murky. While working with a content strategist for the first time, many UXers may not truly understand your role.
Here are five tips for maximizing your professional working relationship with an information architect (IA).
Tip 1: Spend Time Defining Your Roles
Sometimes I think we are so pressured to dive into the work that we don’t spend the time talking about the details of how we each will approach the project from our own unique focus. While we may talk about the project -- goals, background, clients, set of particulars -- we don’t necessarily spend the time – upfront -- to explain what content strategy is and how it can inform both the practice of IA and UX in general.
Spend 30 minutes (yes, even if it’s billable), talking to your partner about your view of content strategy and how it might relate to this project. You may think that your main role as a content strategist is to help the IA understand how many different types of content there are and what their priority should be in the visual hierarchy. But, the IA may think that your role is to help him with linguistic cues for links and writing supportive content for modules. Be clear so both of you know exactly what success will look like -- and not in the grand scheme -- but in the details.
Tip 2: Talk about Your Backgrounds
After you understand the real goals of the project -- and I know very often these are sliding targets -- you may want to spend some more time talking about how your experience as a content strategist will help this project be successful. If your job is to help design a digital publishing strategy, then perhaps you should discuss a past project with those goals. If your job is to write supportive content, give the IA a rundown of best practices for digital writing so she knows exactly where you stand and what your background is. By understanding the types of projects you have each worked on in the past, you will have a better idea of your approaches to this particular project.
Tip 3: Explain the Inputs You Need
Remember, if you’re new on the project, you may not understand all the things you need to know to ensure success. I tend to make this mistake sometimes -- I assume that my journalistic training and general curiosity about things will fill in the blanks. People are just too busy to explain though, and if they’ve been with a client a long time, or they’ve been working on a project for years, they just may not realize the critical pieces of information you need to know. Remember, they have never worked with a content strategist before, so they don’t necessarily know you NEED TO KNOW THAT.
A good way to manage this is to say, “In the past, the inputs that have guaranteed success for me on these types of projects are X, Y and Z.” Being clear and straightforward typically is the best way to go. I mean, you can look under rocks if you’d like, but I’ve never had much success with that method.
Tip 4: Respect What the IA Needs to Do
At the end of the day, an IA has a very clear set of deliverables. A content strategist does not (usually). It is important to understand how the IA will define success at the end of the project. The biggest challenge with the content strategist/IA relationship is that they can end up in a power struggle -- try to avoid that.
Projects are not about ego -- they are about serving the client and doing great work. Collaboration is always key to a better product -- state your opinion respectfully. If he doesn’t like it, or can explain why it may not be best for the project, move along. I’m not saying he knows better, but sometimes the best you can do is give him something to think about for next time.
Tip 5: Have a Beer and a Laugh
When I look back at the projects that have gone awry, it is ALWAYS because I did not take the extra 15 minutes to get to know the person as a person, instead of just another professional I was working with. So try if you can (and no, not on billable hours) to go for coffee or a drink, or grab lunch and DON’T TALK ABOUT WORK. Find out who this person is -- does she like tennis or golf? Is she interested in politics or entertainment? Cats or dogs? When you build relationships with people, the work goes more smoothly and you can actually laugh about conflict if you feel a tussle coming on.
Your Tips and Comments
So, all you IA’s and content strategists -- any war stories from the field? We’d love to hear them in the comments -- or if you’re so inclined, other tips you have for working together.
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