There is a lot of talk about evidence-based design these days. A quick search for evidence-based design, or EBD, returns results mostly focused on health care and the construction industry. Both of these professions have a vested interest in developing an empirical understanding of how people interact with their environments so that their practices can improve the effectiveness of project outcomes.
In healthcare, this means improving patient and staff well-being, patient healing, stress reduction, and safety.
In construction, the goal of evidence-based design is to improve the performance of buildings, and not only looks at ways that people interact with the built environment, but also how the various components of buildings interact as a complex system.
Evidence-based design in digital services
In the realm of interactive digital services, the term evidence-design has crept in, largely unheralded. The benefits are seen as credibility.
Evidence-based design bases decisions on research, both user and scholarly, and increases the likelihood of effectiveness and ultimately success. Human Factors International, a consultancy known for its scholarly contributions and its accreditation program, describes the process as:
- clarify the question being asked regarding UX methods or design
- identify sources of research or best practice to help answer the question
- find available research or best practice
- review for credibility and applicability
- check to see if other research or practice has come to the same conclusions
- save copies of the materials along with links or citations for future reference
- communicate and apply what you have learned
Evidence-based content strategy and design
The more research we do into evidence-based design, the more that Scroll can attest that all along, it has been using an evidence-based design approach to content strategy and content design.
The methodologies are quite similar.
Evidence-based content strategy
Content strategy recognises that an organisation is a complex system, where various components interact to optimise content performance. A successful project outcome requires foresight and planning.
The discovery phase of a content strategy involves making a diagnosis, and then finding the right prescription.
The steps are:
- Clarify the organisational problem that content is being asked to solve.
- Research the content requirements of the organisation, the content consumers, the content developers, the technologies used to manage content, and the content itself.
- Conduct a gap analysis by looking at the difference between the current state and the ideal state.
- Determine the gaps that have prevented the organisation from reaching their ideal future state.
- Research content lifecycles, and identify best practices for the context.
- Map out a high-level solution and validate for feasibility and applicability.
- Communicate findings and get buy-in to proceed with implementation.
Once there is organisational clarity and agreement around the roadmap to a solution, the evidence-based content design process takes over.
Evidence-based content design
Once the big-picture goals have been established, the implementation phase begins. This is where content design comes in.
The content has to work from an editorial perspective, a user experience perspective, a comprehension perspective, and a technical perspective before it’s fit-for-purpose. That doesn’t happen by accident:
- Use evidence from analytics, user research and elsewhere to clarify the problem the content is being asked to solve (the user need).
- Research the requirements that allow the content to make the user of the content successful at their tasks (the acceptance criteria).
- Find the best practices for developing and delivering content in that context.
- Validate for credibility and applicability.
- Communicate findings and create the content.
Qualifying this approach as evidence-based design
Developing content and content systems is subject to the same rigour that goes into designing a healthcare environment or a building envelope that improves the performance of a complex system.
There is no room for opinions and conjecture.
An organisation must know they have a better system than before, and that their new system delivers better-performing content than before. They must be able to demonstrate this with data.
In content design, this is done through an empirical understanding of how people interact with content, combined with deep domain knowledge of editorial processes, learning theory, comprehension techniques, information architecture, and content development theories and practices. Once the content is live its performance can be measured using various metrics from web analytics, as well as through direct feedback from users.
In content strategy, this is done through a knowledge of content design combined with an understanding of the various ecosystems used for content development, management, and delivery.
In both disciplines, the experts at Scroll have a keen understanding of using content as a business asset to further organisational goals.