https://blog-digitalparliament.scot/content-design-for-websites

Content design for websites

Like many other organisations (including the NHS and Gov.uk), the Scottish Parliament wants to take a new approach with its new website (https://beta.parliament.scot/).

This new, user-centred approach means we will create information for the site in a new way. For the first time, we’ve introduced the role of content designer into how we work. But what is content design, and how is it different from posting things online that may not have been written with a website in mind?

The current website – posting information or content design

The current Scottish Parliament website has a lot of information on it and for good reason. The Parliament has a founding principle of openness and accessibility, which means we make a lot of what we do available online. We want to make sure that all the information that passes through the political processes is available on our website. This demonstrates transparency and ensures everyone can access this information.

The challenge is that a lot of this information was designed to support the internal processes of Parliament. We therefore have a lot of content on our website, like reports and other forms of documents, that were never designed to be read online. Also, the amount of content and how it’s structured can make it difficult to find the most relevant information.

A content design approach means that the information on the website should be designed for online use. There’s a big different between posting a report or a document online and designing content for online.

The new website - creating content for a purpose

We expect different things from different formats. We have different expectations of a magazine article and a novel, a podcast and a live lecture. And in the Parliament, we’ve started to think about what people expect from our website and the content we write in the Parliament. In Committees, for example, we might write a paper or a report that is several pages long. We then post it online to make it available for everyone.

Our intentions are good – we want to share our thinking and decision-making. But when we put something that we wrote as a piece of text and transfer it to a website, it doesn’t always work for those who need to consume the information.

There are several reasons why. People use websites differently than they would something in print. Our reading habits when we look at a screen are not the same as when we read a book or a magazine. So, creating content that gets our information across online takes work and new skills.

What is content design?

A well-designed website uses good content design so people can find what they need simply and quickly. Design and content is based on research, user behaviour, analytics and feedback.

To have a website that really works for the people using it, we have to:

  • create the information with them in mind
  • think about what information goes where
  • think about how we present information

For example, a Committee report might make a recommendation which, with the help of our Media Relations team, is transformed into a press release. Then, the data visualisation team or the Web and Social Media team might collaborate and produce an engaging tweet about the recommendation. The same information has been presented in three different ways, for three different formats.

Content designers

Content designers specialise in taking information and presenting it online. We know people expect information online to be in a format that works on a website. So, content designers:

  • explain complicated information as clearly as possible
  • present information in a way that works online
  • use data (like analytics) and testing to understand what people need from the website and make sure we develop content to reflect this
  • target, filter, and explain information to meet peoples’ needs
  • make information easy to find and understand, and accessible to everyone
  • review and maintain online content, to make sure it stays relevant or is removed if it’s not needed anymore

The Scottish Parliament content strategy

In the Scottish Parliament, content designers also make sure that what we create and put online meets our content strategy. The content strategy sets out the expectations and requirements for our website. It says what we create must be:

  • user centred – our users include the public, journalists, third sector, MSPs, researchers and Parliament staff and our content meets their needs
  • findable –people who want our information should be able to find it as quickly and easily as possible
  • consistent – our website has a consistent quality, style and tone
  • accessible –our information is open and understandable for anyone who wants to look at it

The role of a content designer might be new for the Parliament. But, if we do it well, we should have a website that makes a positive difference to the lives of the people of Scotland – in line with our strategic vision and values.