Why we should align the content principles with product principles for more relevant content systems

Vinish Garg
5 min readFeb 1, 2023

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Our product principles give us focus, purpose, and directions in our work towards the product vision and the strategy itself. Many teams document their design and content principles for the similar reasons. Content principles are more like the content thinking framework for how the teams should get started with the content design or content strategy.

If the content principles advise them on how, the content guidelines or the content and design system help them plan how exactly within those principles.

The content principles set up the boundaries so that people and even machines (don’t we love to talk about AI generated content) know the broad boundaries to plan the message, the architecture, the models, and the framing.

When we follow these principles to design the guidelines whether in a style guide or in a content system or design system, we use our own intelligence, judgment, and research skills to be flexible with the content but within those boundaries of content principles.

For example assume that the content team agrees on the following set of principles:

  • Focus on the message — what needs to be communicated, for what goals, and in the context of customers’ needs and goals. Plan it for the customer moments within their holistic customer journey and be prepared if the customer journey is unclear, unpredictable, unmapped, or is abrupt.
  • Bake the message for the experience — for the decision that is in the customers’ best interests, whether to complete a transaction or even to abandon the cart and sign out.
  • Design the message that respects the customers’ decisions — they are humans. When you need to advise them, respect their ignorance. When you need to caution them, respect their intent. When you need to restrict them, respect their state of mind.
  • Plan the message for the hierarchy of their needs — they might be in the middle of an action, or they might be taking time to make a decision because the interfaced advised them something different earlier. Design the message for the hierarchy which means for the readability structure, for the information that they might already have, for the clarity, and the meaning.

Once you have a documented reference to the content principles, you have a few starting points for content guidelines.

There are different ways to frame the content principles. For example the earlier set in this post talked about content as the message. You can plan the principles for the effectiveness of the message.

  • Make it easier for the users — either give them clear actions, or advice, or options to evaluate the impact of their decision, and in all cases, users should feel confident and empowered while using the product.
  • Make it transition-free for channels and devices — for the vocabulary, voice, and the structure, for their expectations on an interface, at any stage of their customer journey or moments. (Related: sometimes, customer journey is overrated.)
  • Make it part of the UX and CX — content enables actions and interactions, and even the pause and make the customers think; content owns and drives the user experience and customer experience.
  • Build brand trust — the audience finds the brand and the product trustworthy in all their interactions, and even in the word-of-mouth conversations — content inspires this confidence and builds the trust. (Margot Bloomstein has published a book recently, Trustworthy.)

Content principles bring the decisions-making clarity in the team which means that these help in content operations. These lay the foundations for an effective product content strategy and content design success in a product.

Getting started with content principles

Let’s take an example of a fictitious set of product principles of any organization.

  • Start small with an eye on big picture
  • Align every work with product vision
  • Curiosity over boundaries
  • Plan modular work that scales
  • Our work is an extension of us and the other way around

When the process gives us a chance to refine how we work and how we can make things more useful to all the internal and external audiences, it shows that principles are here for the basic directions rather than limiting us to explore our strengths.

Let’s see how we can build the content principles that support these product principles.

Foundation — voice and goal

Content needs to be planned right — there is a method for why we plan the entire content in a certain way. To stay focused, we need to keep the product principles in our mind. Even if there is no reason to plan in a definite way, the certain way has to be documented.

  • Does the content express the brand voice or the team’s own opinion or understanding of the brand?
  • Is the content’s intent clear?
  • Does it position the organization for what it stands for? Does it solidify the positioning?
  • Will it scale for the voice and architecture?

Message — words and how

  • Clarity is most important. If a message is not clear for example when we are trying to be compliant, we lose the purpose.
  • Do not communicate because we want to say something. Design the message because they need it.
  • Do not assume anything while writing. Either speak to someone and if you need to use your judgment, always remember that the goal of content is to build the confidence among the users.
  • Think for a wider perspective of the audience for their segment, needs, constraints, expectations, and goals. Write to be relevant to all of them but focus on their common goals.
  • Follow the authoring guidelines for the voice, terminology, localization, the practices in specific cases such as while writing a physical address, currency, or date. Be open to contribute to those guidelines when you get a chance — you could be the best person to propose something.

Design

  • Every message is designed — follow the content design practices.
  • Content is part of the experience; it might stay with the people for a long time even after they stop using our product or service.
  • Content well designed makes the brand memorable.

Alignment

You can see the mapping between product principles and content principles. For example:

  • Curiosity over boundaries [product] — do not assume anything [content]
  • Align every work with product vision [product] — Does it position the organization for what it stands for? Does it solidify the positioning? [Content]

Imagine that if we use these content principles as the foundation in our content systems, it set sup a clear mapping and the relevance with the product thinking or the product principles which makes the use of content system more in synch with the product vision.

The goal of a content system is to showcase and maintain this alignment between product principles and the content principles.

This brings the right assurance in the product teams, thus increasing the chances that the teams take the right decisions.

How content principles when aligned with the product principles work as the foundation of a more relevant content or design systems in the product teams.
Content and product principles act as a guide and the foundation for a content system, says Vinish Garg. Photo credits Unsplash

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Vinish Garg

A guardian of an intent. Products. UX, Content Design. Product Marketing. Founder UX conference. https://www.vinishgarg.com/