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When Should We Turn to Content Testing?

A primer on a great UX research method to help you design the conversation and evaluate the effectiveness of your words

ONE Design
May 2, 2017 · 7 min read

What is Content Testing?

Content testing asks users to respond to copy only — no visuals, no interactions. Just words. Think of content testing as prototyping the conversation we have with customers. Like other research methods, this is a method you can use if you decide it’s right for the types of questions you have.

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When I first started at Capital One, we held an informal research event to get to know small business owners. I pulled copy from throughout our experience and ran a content testing activity so I could begin to hear customers react to the copy we were using. It was a simple way to get familiar with our copy, consider our language in context of the communications goals I was getting to know, and listen to customers talk about how they want us to speak to them.

Why Use Content Testing?

Content testing methods help us understand the conversation we need to have with our customers both across a journey and within its specific moments. The results help us discover the conversation framework — and that framework drives the design of that customer experience.

  • What touchpoints do we need? What should we say to customers at each moment?
  • Does the framework we think we need match the customer’s mental model? Are we starting our designs at the right place?
  • How do customers think of this or say this?
  • What content principles might we follow when we design this experience? (Or, are the principles we hypothesized correct?)

When Should We Use Content Testing?

Content testing can help at each stage of a project for different reasons. If I could pick only one point in a design process to do content testing, it would be the concept phase. But it can be valuable in the final stages of design too — as long as usability isn’t the goal of the content test.

When Should We NOT Use Content Testing?

Content testing is NOT usability testing—all aspects of a design contribute to how well a space is used and perceived by customers. The UX designer who challenged our thinking is totally right in that everything from hierarchy to visuals contribute to how a customer perceives an experience.

How Does Content Testing Help Design?

Here are three big benefits:

  1. It helps designers understand the words we need to use so customers understand us.
  2. It helps designers understand the information and emotion their designs need to convey in customer moments.

You can do it!

If you think content testing can work for your team, try it out. List the questions you have and determine if they’re about usability or framework. And to see a non-Capital One example of what setting up a content test looks like, check out the UK.gov team’s article that triggered my love for it, “A simple technique for evaluating content.”


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Written by

Stories from the designers at Capital One.

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Stories from Capital One's designers on how using humanity, simplicity, and ingenuity can empower people to have better control over their money.

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