Adventures in Style: What I’ve Learned Creating Several Content Style Guides
Saskia Videler presented “Adventures in Style: What I’ve Learned Creating Several Content Style Guides” at UX Camp Fall 2020. Enjoy!
Whether you work for a 5 or 50.000 person organisation, you will need to work together with the right people, to know what the user needs, to find the right balance with what the organisation wants, to document well, and to make sure the guidelines are adopted, to be able to call your content style guide a success.
Content style guides inform the voice, tone, grammar, verbosity and vocabulary of the content. Done well, they are a great tool for collaboration that will help you get your product on point, faster (and with fewer discussions).
This talk will cover learned experiences and common pitfalls (real mistakes I’ve personally made and learned from) you might encounter in content style guide creation, management, and implementation. It will help you avoid them, and to create or improve your own style guide.
Content Strategist, The Dutchess
Saskia Videler is a senior content strategist in Belgium. She helps organizations streamline their content and communication efforts. Over the years, she has created style guides for a myriad of organizations; both small and large, many for-profit, some NGO’s, some government institutions.
She also produced and hosted the content and UX podcast Efficiently Effective.
The following transcript very likely contains typographical errors. Please forgive any mistakes!
Hi everyone, I’m like I said, so expected to be here and to talk a little bit about content style guides with you today, so this presentation contains three parts, I’ll talk a little bit about what content sales are and why you need them. Then
I’ll move it a little talk about the creation of content style guide, and lastly, a bit about the implementation of content, so guides, so you know a little bit more to expect, so what our content all guys, just to… Sure, that we’re all on the same page about that one, and also, why do you need content style guides? So my definition of a content style guide is that it tells how to do Content matching, udinese and organizational DNA dip the content person just say To Do content. Yes, she did. And by that, I mean that it’s not about the creation of content alone, it’s also about managing content, revising content, anything that you do with content, it’s good to have the content style for so… Yeah, creating a content is a lot of work, so why do you actually need it? Well, I can tell you that having a content style guide, which tells you how to do your content in what way, how you write stuff, actually helps to create consistency across the board, really from your website, to your app, to your voice UI, but also to your offline touch points, you’ll make sure that the content is created in a consistent way, the way you write your breath names through your product names, and the style of writing, the how upbeat or formal you are, and consistency in your content makes for a coherent experience overall in the creative experience is very important to build trust and also to build your brand…
I just triggered Siri. I don’t know why any… Go away, Siri, it’s my time now. Yes, so that is a main argument to have a content style guide, it… Because you’re probably going to need to sell this to internal stakeholders, and the other one, the other great argument to have a content style guide is that it absolutely simplifies discussions, internal discussions that you might have about content.
Because if you think about it… If you ever looked at content or discussed content, there’s a good brands that people have set things like, Yeah, this doesn’t really feel like us, or stuff like… I don’t think what you do, the ox or there are too many exclamation marks in this text, or this image doesn’t look bright enough, can we make it a more… Stuff like that. And it’s always a very… Those discussions can be very subjective, and what is on stage can help you is, is make those discussions way more objective because you have already had that discussion about how you do content, so you don’t have to have the discussion… Every time you are looking at a piece of content or you’re creating content.
So you’re saving your organization a lot of time when you have a content style guide, also if you have new discussions, like if something is not intact, ENT, Salyut have a place to record the outcome of those discussions. So in the future, that also helps saying more and more time, so that’s a lot of theoretical talk about content style guide, let’s look at a few to give you more of an idea of what they could look like. And you’ll see there’s a lot of different shapes and sizes and forms that they come in, this is probably the most famous come in sale guide, and I would say rightly so, because it’s one of the best ones still around, it’s actually the one that made me fall in love with the concept of common style guides, it’s the one by MailChimp. It’s very text-heavy, but it’s very well written, it’s very clear, and it really gives you a good idea of What can dental go be… What I really like is that, as you can see, it starts with writing goals and principles, so these are really the foundational principles of all the content is built to can, and it really gives you an idea of how the measured value of the content and we…
Or content has a place on their channels or not, does it empower our users, does it respect our users to educate and so forth, all of you also see that in the table of content, there’s a little bit about voice into which I will go into shortly, there’s something about grammar and mechanics, writing different types of content, legal content for social media, how do we handle copyright and trademarks, a word list? Those are things that you’ll often see in content style rides, but as this one is very text-heavy, they don’t have to be… There’s, for instance, is won by go jack the right sharing app, and they implement it or they included some mock-ups of their design, so you can see what content looks like in the context of design, which of course, as you can imagine, can be very helpful for a content person, so you can already tell like, Okay, we’re going to need a header, then there’s going to be a descriptive text and there’s a button, and oh, as we see, the text on the bottom needs to be in all caps while that has implications, of course, for how you’re garden to write stuff.
Now, while I think it’s brilliant to have mock-ups in your Clinton style guides, do Berrien that you will need to keep this up-to-date, of course, to keep them in sync with what your design is currently, how it is currently out there in the world, because if there is a discrepancy, it might become very confusing for people to work with you from A to guide. Visas are also very important to talk about if you have them, of course, if you’re only a text-based thing than not, but you’re probably going to have visuals in your UI as well. So talk about those as well. For instance, here you see how Atlassian talks about illustrations, and what they say is that the illustration should never be just for decoration, it should really convey a meaning or an idea, so you could say stuff like that about your visuals, you could also talk about… If we are to use a photograph, how do we credit the photographer, how do we write that? Is it like a picture by this person, do we always use a caption for pictures, those kind of things, but also think about stuff like all text, so the old text story, The descript text, that helps people with a visual impairment to also understand what your visual is about how do you phrase those, what are good practices for those, that is also something I could definitely go into your content stupid, by the way, Argo to mind, and I’m going to show you a few examples of content style guides, and I have collected Ds and a lot others.
Into a blog post, which I will share with you at the end of the presentation. Also some more research. So you’ll find that. So now let’s move on and look at the elements of a content guy.
So if I create a common style guide or I look at most content style guys, do are the elements that you almost always find in them, so they’re something about the editorial principles and agreements which basically how you write stuff, so agreements about Reno’s product name, punctuation, if you’re using American English or UK English, things like that can be collected in there, Vicente that ties into the style of content or elements, how do you handle navigation things to buttons or the links in a text, but… Or
Visual areas, like I said, it’s not only about text, it’s also about other kind of other kinds of content, which can definitely be so visual.
So editorial principles, an agreement that is about how you write stuff and for instance, brand, Nagin product names, it can seem like common sense, we always write our brand name like this, but especially if you look around at app names, it happens a lot that there are different variations out there in the world, and even on the organization’s own platforms, so they… They didn’t make agreement about, are we using, for instance, in between the product name and the word, stuff like that. So those are the things that you could easily discuss, of course, but a few people and this girl to how are you going to write our brand name, and you’ll see that there’s often a lot of ways to do it, all of these options are legible, but let’s agree on how we are going to go forward and going to use our brand name in all our communications and write that down.
Look as that punctuation is also a good thing to recording a content style it… Are you going to use a semi in your text that will definitely change something in the level of your tags, like the readability level of your text, what are your rules around bullets, are you going to always use like a capital first letter after a bullet, what kind of other… Punctuation is around them. The Oxford comma, of course. Are you going to use exclamation marks or red or not, are you going to put a limit on those… What about numbers? Are you going to read them in full or just a number themselves, all those things are definitely very important to talk about. Now, I mentioned voice and tone, so that is about the style of your content, you often hear here the term tone of voice, so the two lumps together, I’d prefer to use them separately because they are way more powerful that way. So let me explain to you what both these terms mean and how they help define the style of your content.
Voice is about the traffic characteristics, so it’s a little bit like a person’s Carter, it’s about the organizational DNA, what you define as a person’s character, say they are friendly and they’re very helpful and approachable, that’s probably going to be true today, and there’s a good chance it’s also going to be true in the foreseeable future, the same thing about a company, like a company, it could be very upbeat and outgoing, or the other way around, it could be very serious and very formal, so these things are something that you’ll have to find out like what is the noise, what is the way that our communication should be? So I like to compare it to looking at colors because if you… If I’d say to you, My favorite color is green, then your Y might be drawn to this pencil, but actually, if I say My favorite color is green, I mean more this type of green, more like a forage deep green, and I’m a little bit envious for visual designers, because they have all these ways to talk about things like color, they have all these quotes to use, so just hex codes, there’s RGB code, HTML codes.
Why do we need all those codes… It’s just me being jealous, we work… People have to use our words to define other words. Let me show you what I mean. So a good way to talk about how you define a character and the words to define it, to dispute that, that list… So you could say for instance, and this is a true example of one of my clients, is that we are empowering and inclusive, but we are involved unrealistic or idea is… Take no notes. That’s in blue column. You don’t wanna put like the opposite, you don’t wanna say we are in popping and inclusive, but we’re Patriot, we’re not patronizing and exclusive because… How is that helpful? In the first part of your tenants, Alyssa, that what
You actually want to do is to give it some boundaries, so how far do you want to take the empowerment and the inclusiveness in your communication grip the other words that we’ve collected it in the exercises. So we are inspiring and engaging what… We’re not vague fluff, air pushy, so that already gives it a little more of an idea of what you mean by inspiring and engaging and how far you want to take it, credible professional, but we’re not for technical, approachable and fancy, but… No, chillin or casual witty is one that a lot of organizations always want to have an e-tile guide, but we’re not smarter or guest sarcastic, so it really makes it a little more clear, how are you going to be funny, how are you going to be witty and how far are you going to take that? And they really wanted to take some care of their use, so it was important to like, We’re not going to hurt them, we don’t want to be smarter sarcastic.
So you see, we have to use our words to make sure that everybody is on the same page of what the other words mean, right.
So that’s what the dispute of that has really helped you with. So that’s for a voice, which is really like the static style of communication, which is like the ever-present style, the tone is more contextual and it kind of like clicks on to your voice to your static characteristics. So it’s really about how you respond in specific situations, are specific chills or in different places that you communicate.
So you could say for instance, if someone is always very patient, very calm.
It’d be different if they are someone in a stressful situation, because then it might not be a good time to crack a joke or come with this funny story about something that happened with your kids is morning at breakfast.
Maybe at that time they need something more like helpful, empathetic, more reassuring in communication, and the same goes with your users, of course, when you have to run this message to a customer that they have on an iPhone… Well, you can be a little more like celebratory in your communication, you can maybe pop in some festive visuals and say like, Hey, what are… Happy for you. We’re glad to tell you that you form a new iPhone, you get the idea, but of course, if you have to tell them that their bill is overdue, done, that’s another way of communication that you need there, so you go into a purely… Have this friendly approach in your static cell, you’re still gonna be friendly, but you’ll probably go to be a bit more to the point, a little more straightforward and still helpful, but you never want to make any assumptions to what happens or anything like that. So you see how your tone shift, your voice will always… More or less stay the same. Having some examples in your content style is super helpful, and what a lot of organizations also in their content solid for instance, is to be concise, but what does that mean? To be concise, it’s a little bit of discussion about how long is a piece of string.
So having examples in your content style, it definitely helps to make that more clear, so He homes in soundbite rial design and you can easily see, Okay, this is how we do. Come size content, and this is too wordy or this is maybe not enough content because you don’t have to bring, of course, the information and also the content for UI elements go for instance, the navigational elements, if your belait confirmation, This is from Shopify. How do you write that text, so are you going to use a full sentence or are you going to choose just one word, if you have a link in a sentence, what does that look like? Are you going to include the P at the end or not? Are you going to include the question mark, are you… How many words are you going to underline? So those are things that you can definitely also take on board in your content salian now for the visual elements, to give you a few examples of that. This is from a content saluda I’ve worked on a while back, so one of the style pointers of the fort pointers was to be optimistic, but not at strong, and our visual, that dinar did a really good job of selecting a couple of pictures that really convey the message that we want to convey with that, so to have pictures that were more colorful and warm and not black and white or compositions, or dark or overly post that did not feel right in the context of being optimistic, that not headstrong.
So working together is really the best way to make sure that you get content on all fronts on the same page, so it’s really like a team effort.
And it goes… Also, if you look at animation and up, I just realize that this is not going to work. So if you look at… But you’re smart, you know what little motion graphics look like in UI elements, so here I paths little options from the blue, the big blue ball on the bottom…
So the way that those things move or the way that a mode comes into vision, does it come in fast or would have balanced all those things, they create a little bit of emotion and they could add some light-heartedness to an experience, or they could create some urgency. So that’s why it’s important to also talk with your admission designers about what those things could look like, so hopefully by now, you’ll understand that it’s really not only content people who benefit from having a content style guide, but it’s also UX folks, it’s designers, it’s market managers, and so many more roles in the organization were more or less benefit from having a console grid and also the more of these people are engaged in creating the content, so God, the better.
Because that will make for a way richer product at the end and also will ensure that if they are a part of the project, they will also be more engaged in using the end product, so if we’re going into the creation of content style guide, and we’re going to talk about that for me, or create content or gut, that process looks like grits, usually sites going to be stakeholder workshops, some benchmarking exercises, user research, of course, this thing needs to be written and also test it and probably re-written partly, hopefully not the whole thing. When that’s done, it’s time to implement it and of course, to keep it alive, so manage it after it’s all life never launched him leave because that’s bad. So before you go into the stakeholder stuff, make sure you know who needs to be involved in what ways… I like to create a stakeholder map, so I just quickly draw Toronto, this one, it’s spital, but you to get the idea. So you have these quadrants, which go from interest, the higher up, the more interest people have having a content data and on the bottom, influenced more to the right, it goes to more influences people have in having a content style guide.
So this will really help you to understand who needs to be in one meeting, so did people in the top right quadrant will probably have to be in almost every meeting into workshops, and the people in the lower left quadrant, you still want to have them and involved and be aware of the fact that there is going to be a content guy project, but they might not have to be in every meeting or every workshop, they will definitely be helpful in thinking about Princess, which other players should we look at and analyze their communication. See what they are doing really well and what we can maybe borrow or how we can carve out our space in the sphere that we’re all operating in.
Now you’re going to do workshops, you’re going to have conversations, and the thing that I would really advise you to do is to use tools because just just going into the stuff without any tools and just having conversations that will not end well because words are so super fault, like I said before, if you talk about color, you can be specific, but if you talk about words, you need to define them, so if you just go into the conversation and the more really the more bikes words are, the harder they are to define. You really have to find a way to manage the conversation a little bit.
And a good way to do that is to use parts… I like to use these cards, which I’ll have an adjective on them, and the team goes through the deck of cards and they say like, Yes, this card really matches our way of communication, this really matches what we are like and what we want to be… And this card really doesn’t suit us, this isn’t relevant for us, I’ve made those parts of myself, I developed my own deck cards also because I needed them, it hatches, well, if you want to take a short cut here and I would advice you to do so, you could definitely go to Margo bloom sees website and item for her, she has a beautiful set of ready-made cards for you to use, and that link is also a host for the tone and also who are like the perfect level of your voice and your toe… It’s really good to do flow mapping exercises to map out the steps that there are in a flow, to understand what the user is going through and what messages you have to bring to them doing… So help them understand, Oh, this is really going to be this kind of experience for them, and that will mean like, Maybe we should tone our message down, or any way that we communicate, or this maybe is a place that can be a little bit more funny.
You’re going to… You’re going to do uncover some assumptions about the user state of mind, and
That is fine as a law issue, acknowledge that their assumptions, because those assumptions you can take with you into the next step, which is user research in what you talk to really use it. And you can do it via video conferencing, as you know with people all over the world, and you can test those assumptions and ask him how they really feel about steps in the process. Now, when you have written all the things, you should test what you have written also with the people who are going to use your content style guide, and you can do that with some workshops, so have people around a table do some exercises. So we have this content based on what he’s written in the context, halide, how would you judge this kind of content or even have them write some content or create some content or selective content based on the content style guide, and that will really help you uncover… Maybe if there are any issues, things that need to be better in your content style guide. Now, when you want to implement it, you really want to make sure, of course, that your document is being used, so the most important thing is that you have worked with a lot of people or a lot of different stakeholders in your organization to make sure that they’re aware of the project and you have their buy-in, so they will also be more willing to use the on product, and it’s not going to be like, Hey, here’s a guy that you should use, because that never really works well, so creating something that is built with other people is always the best way to implement such things, create…
Even if it’s just like a Google Doc or something that lives on your your Internet, that’s fine, it doesn’t have to be all fancy, it’s also important to keep it alive and to make sure that if something changes, that you add some notes to it, never just go in and change something, but if something changes, make the changes collaboratively and an out, so people will know that something has changed, and of course, if you are working in an organization where other people are also working on a content style guide, not the content style, but for instance design system or component Blackberry, then find those people, or if you are one of those people working on a component library or design system, get in touch with your content people because they might have some really great things to add about how content should be done and you can look at examples from Shopify for instance, where you see that all these elements come together really beautifully, and the thing is that if you bring all these different disciplines together and having their perspective on all guides, so where it’s from a design perspective or a development perspective or content perspective.
If you bring all these together, you can really help people to understand how things should be done, and the developers will understand also like the content needs.
So it will make also the discussion a lot easier if they need to develop something and they will understand… Oh yeah, that’s because the conduct is to be like this and we need to provide this for… To content. So
To sum it all up, make sure that if you are going to go into such a project that you work with a diverse group of stakeholders, because that variety of perspectives and insights is really the most important thing, you’re really going to need that in the process.
Use the right tools, definitely use holes, not just to have a conversation, to have people blurred out words or how do you think it should be done, using tools will really help you steer the conversation in the right way, is entered the user to… This is a US conference, so it also goes for our content there that you shoot, of course, listen to what the user has to say and to test if your assumptions about how they feel at a certain point in the flow, if those are… Right. Hunters also usual is definitely not about the text alone, it’s also about animations and videos, illustrations, photographs, etcetera, and make sure that you have a plan for implementation, and if you take those five things in account, I’m sure at your content that grill definitely be a success.
Thank you so much. Like I said, I’ve written a lot post with the resources you can find out on my website, the Dutch is the be, and thank you so much for coming.