I’m currently in the “app zone”, with several streams of web app thoughts racing through my mind. I’m finishing up my web app book, we’ve just launched our iPhone/iPad app Mingle (above), and we’re at the planning stage of our next project, a content audit tool.
|Read once / infrequently||Read frequently|
|Headings, paragraphs and sentences||Words and labels|
|Flexible space||Restricted space|
|Typically not translated||Often translated|
Readability vs Legibility
Website content should be easy to read. Your eyes should easily scan through the text and end the article with little effort or eyestrain.
Our eye movement during reading is complicated, skipping through fixation points in sentences and occasionally jumping backwards. Our eyes recognize the shapes of words either side of each point, rather than linearly reading individual letters.
It is therefore often the role of the designer to use typography that maximizes word recognition, by using typefaces that have distinct letterforms (usually serif fonts) and by setting the letter and line spacing to best suit our physiological reading process. The content strategist doesn’t worry about the shapes of word they are using, only their accuracy and ease of comprehension, though they do shape the overall readability through choices in sentence length and paragraph structure.
For app interfaces, where individual words rather than sentences are common in labels and menus, legibility is key. It is again the role of the designer to choose a clear typeface, which is legible at small sizes (usually sans-serif fonts). But it is also the role of the content strategist to ensure that the words exhibit maximum legibility, by choosing words that have distinct shapes and are easy to distinguish from one another. Consider the poorer legibility of a shapeless word such as till, or the difficulty in distinguishing between two menu items of print and paint.
Paragraphs vs Words
Long-form website content has to take account of the reader and the business. It should reflect the brand and style of the organization, often through use of a consistent house style.
Interface text shouldn’t be cute or mangled into on-brand messaging. As action or help text, it has to clearly state purpose as simply as possible.
Flexible space vs Restricted space
With most websites, long-form content can continue down a page as far as it needs to. Content length judgments can be made on readability and purpose.
Interface content is nearly always restricted to small area of the screen. One or two words, limited by length, need to be carefully chosen to convey a specific action.
Read infrequently vs Read frequently
Most website content is designed to be read once or infrequently by each visitor. Articles can be fixed or updated without changes causing confusion to users.
App interface content, on the other hand, is there each time you access the software. With repeated use, research shows that the position of the interface labels (their context to the app) becomes more important than the labels themselves. Whenever Google, Facebook or Microsoft re-design their product layouts, they may be more usable for new people, but existing users need to re-read and re-learn the context of each interface element, hence the inevitable social whining.
Content strategists should work with interface and UX designers to minimize these changes, by considering what future features and updates are likely to appear in the app. With this knowledge, the interface and labels can be designed to minimize changes in position or text.
Not translated vs Translated
Although some websites are translated, the quantity of content prevents many larger sites from translating more than a few key pages.
Apps with limited content are easier to translate, and often have a clear commercial benefit to do so. Even if there are no plans to translate an app in the short term, every content strategist should consider it as a future course of action. Considerations include:
- How can you simplify the content so that it is easier to translate? Can you make it shorter, use less ambiguous terms/metaphors or remove unnecessary punctuation?
- Are you using metaphors or terms that only make sense in a particular country or culture?
- How can you re-use terms and phrases consistently to reduce translation effort?
- Where can you replace words with icons, that don’t need to be translated?
Primary vs Auxiliary
Website content is the main attraction. In apps, content is there to support features and actions, and should never distract the user from their task at hand. A content strategist should aim to remove content from an app wherever possible, though some would argue that the same should be said for website content. Prune aggressively.
This is just a first draft, my first thoughts on how we can start to develop specific strategies for app content. We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
And if you live in San Francisco or New York and haven’t downloaded Mingle for your iPhone yet, get to it!