From Editors to Audience, UX is Important
In the attention economy, success means having the most eye-catching, quality content that keeps the audience on your site — and coming back for more.
In the early days of digital publishing, content creators rushed to get articles on the web page without much consideration to the reader experience — or putting the web’s capabilities to the test. Now, with new competition coming on line every day, that means staying ahead of the curve with innovative user experience (UX) and user interface (UI).
Many leaders in the publishing business have already figured that out. Take, for instance, The New York Times. It has fully embraced the idea of interactive storytelling, and come up with a variety of ways to use new and surprising elements to enhance UX. The travel section is an especially wise place to focus on interactive elements. Reif Larsen took readers along on his journey through Norway, using video, maps, sketches, and more.
The Guardian turned to video, audio, and a scrolling parallax page that helps readers navigate through chapters to tell the story of a family that hid from Tasmanian wildfires in the water. Readers can even buy “Firestorm” as an ebook.
Meanwhile, Gardiner Harris used animation to drive home the potential impact of climate change on the coastline of Bangladesh. And music played a big part of John Jeremiah Sullivan’s “The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie” — the story of legendary blues musicians who vanished from the music scene, and left behind a cadre of enthusiastic fans. There are many more examples of interesting and elevating ways to use fantastic UX to enhance storytelling, but one stands out among them all.
The New York Times crystallised the concept of innovative storytelling creating what may be the gold standard with “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek” — an iconic multi-part, multimedia look at the harrowing story of a devastating avalanche. In the age of 140-character tweets and short attention spans, this piece of long-form journalism captured the imaginations of readers and took full advantage of what the web has to offer when it comes to interactive storytelling.
According to a review of interactive storytelling at The Times, “The multimedia piece received 3.5 million views and 10,000 Twitter shares in the first week. Later, it won the Webby, Peabody, and Pulitzer awards.” Every publisher wishes they had that kind of attention, but they don’t all have the tools and strategy needed to create content at that level.
As audiences become more savvy, and come to expect these kinds of experiences, publishers need to put more emphasis on UX and UI with enriched content, more visuals, embedded social media, and dynamic items (such as maps and charts). In other words, your content needs to be fun!
Keeping Up with the Future of Rich Content
Rich media might sound intimidating, but really it’s just content that deviates from the standard text and images we have grown used to. Today that might mean something as simple as video, but it might also mean interactive maps or a scrolling parallax page.
Whatever the case may be, putting UX and UI at the forefront of content strategy has enabled publishers to embrace popular formats like data journalism, explanatory journalism, and long form journalism.
Data journalism is especially hot right now. You can hardly open a web page without seeing an infographic these days, but even in-depth reporting now leans on charts and graphs to help tell stories. This accessible, and often interactive form has quickly become one of the most popular ways to convey information. The Data Journalism Handbook explains, “Gathering, filtering and visualizing what is happening beyond what the eye can see has a growing value. The orange juice you drink in the morning, the coffee you brew — in today’s global economy there are invisible connections between these products, other people and you. The language of this network is data: little points of information that are often not relevant in a single instance, but massively important when viewed from the right angle.”
Journalism schools have been slow to accept data journalism as a lasting part of the industry. J-schools are finally relenting and beginning to teach data skills, but the industry is changing fast. Who knows what rich content will mean tomorrow? As virtual reality gains traction it will become a more important part of a publisher’s repertoire, but what comes even further down the road?
Facing these unknown challenges means a few things for newsrooms and their content management systems. First, it’s important for publishers to future-proof their content by decoupling their CMS from the presentation of their content. Second, in the age of shrinking newsrooms and restricted budgets, it’s important to make sure you have an authoring tool that merges usability and efficiency in accessing resources required to enrich content.
The Importance of UX for Editors
A pleasing user experience isn’t just for your readers — it’s also important for your employees. If you want your writers and editors to feel empowered to create rich content for your readers, they need at their disposal the easy to use tools that make it possible. You don’t want them to have to get the IT department involved for every interactive chart and slow down the publishing process.
Some developers are taking note of these needs. For example, EidosMedia’s pairing of its Cobalt content management framework (CMF), currently in private beta, with its Swing authoring web app.
Swing is available on any browser, where users can create and file articles enriched with multimedia from agency feeds or local sources. Users who have the appropriate permission can even paginate and publish materials directly to online channels or post content to social networks. Cobalt works in the background, ingesting content from traditional CMSs and making it accessible in a variety of modern formats.
The two tools effectively address the immediate problem — creating compelling, rich content in a simple authoring environment — and the challenge of future-proofing your content.
With the new demands of feature-rich content, it’s easy to imagine bloated CMSs with tons of tools and WYSIWIG buttons. Instead, the UX of content management is trending toward simplicity.
The Zen of Content Creation
Have you ever heard of a “distraction-free writing environment”? No, it doesn’t mean turning off your television or making sure the kids are out of the house. They are authoring tools designed to keep you focused on the task at hand, and (sometimes) prevent you from getting distracted by the internet. You don’t need to go quite this far when it comes to content creation in the newsroom, but you also don’t want to complicate your authoring environment unnecessarily. It’s important to give your editors and writers tools to create rich, interactive, immersive content without cluttering the authoring environment with tools that might be useful to other members of your team — like marketing or sales — but will just slow down your editorial staff.
That’s why simplicity is winning out when it comes to content creation environments.
Minimalism is great when you’re talking about architecture, but your CMS still needs to be able to meet your rich content demands. For instance, as a web app, Swing is available on any platform and any browser. Writing text requires a non-intrusive tool, and comes with a clean, distraction-free UI. Still, productivity tools are just one-click away. You can upload your photos, then drag them into your story, embed YouTube videos, search social media and embed posts, or add maps, charts. You can also edit metadata, geo tag your content, add SEO keywords, and track analytics.
It all comes back to that old adage, “You get out what you put in.” If you give your team the right tools, they will create great content! Ultimately, user experience and user interface are at the heart of every content experience, from the first word a writer puts on the page, to the last reader to scroll through your beautiful, immersive, interactive page.