Design Thinking vs. Content Strategy

A common topic during the user experience design process is whether content strategy or design thinking should occur first. First, let’s tackle each separately to better answer to this question.

Design thinking begins with learning about the target audience and empathizing with them. This can help the designer learn more about the problem space and be able to put themselves in the shoes of the user. This will push designers to define the problem space based on their user insights. From here, designers can begin the ideate step. This step of the process focuses on brainstorming possible solutions for the problem. That’s when prototyping can come into play. Prototypes are built to describe the solution either in the form of physical models, wireframes, sketches, etc. This leads us to the final step of testing where users can test and provide designers with feedback. This feedback can be utilized by going back to the ideate stage, prototyping, and testing again until a viable, user friendly solution is created. All the steps are outlined in figure 1.

Figure 1: Design Thinking Process

Content strategy, on the other hand, focuses on the who, how, what, why, where, and when of the overall project/design. This is laid out in figure 2.

Figure 2: Content Strategy
Figure 3: Content Strategy Process

Furthermore, content strategy involves the process of analyzing project requirements, target audiences, and other project details. Then collecting objective and subjective data and information in the form of content auditing, content matrix, etc. This leads us to the publishing phase where content strategists will put together information, present, and revise based on feedback. And finally leading us to the final stage of managing. This phase focuses on creating templates based on tone, voice, style, and company standards to assist in current and future projects.

Figure 4

As you can see both disciplines have their own in depth processes. However, neither could function without the other. They do share some similar characteristics. For instance, both rely on iterations, data collection, and prototyping. Neither can move forward or expand design/strategy without these crucial steps. See figure 4 for a comparison of both disciplines.

It has been suggested content strategy should be implemented prior to design thinking and vice versa. However, I believe content should come before design because this helps create the tone, voice and style of the product, which can supplement the design thinking.

Based on the information provided, I have a challenge for all of you. For your current or next project try to focus on the content strategy prior to implementing design thinking and share your experience in the comments below!