I once worked with a non-profit healthcare client who was creating an informational website to help people make medical decisions. One of the challenges that became clear early on was the need to support the client in making the website content user friendly and accessible.
Medicine and public health are very evidence based domains. People working in this space have a clear concern about delivering accurate and statistically sound information, and rightly so. A particular challenge around this is making the content feel relatable to a general public audience. When making decisions about their health, people need to connect this evidence based medical data back to the impact it has in their particular circumstance.
How might we support our clients and stakeholders in developing content that is compelling and user friendly, and that feels like a two way conversation rather than a one-way pushing of information? Throughout our research, we discovered that our user group was used to talking to people about these types of decisions – for example their doctor, or a trusted friend or family member. This was a key insight which led us to reconsidering the design of information, and making the website feel like a conversation.
Tips and tricks
Content as conversation can be a great guiding principle in cases where user engagement is key, or where you need people to have a self guided journey in discovering a topic. Especially in the case of health information, making content conversational rather than dictatorial is really important; it can be very off-putting to be told what to do or feel like you are being lectured to. So how can you bring a conversational tone to your content strategy or the content development work you are doing? Here are some tips based on the project learnings…
Role play the conversation
A really powerful way to get client stakeholders and subject matter experts to think about content in a new way is to simply role play the conversation they want to have with users.
In this case, a team member played the user coming to the site looking for information to support their decision making about a medical procedure. Our subject matter expert chatted with the ‘user’, communicating the important information. A UX team member jotted down the flow of the conversation.
We used this exercise to note some characteristics of how our subject matter expert delivered the medical information:
- Flow and branching – the conversation starting in one place and growing from there.
- The human element – reassurance, plain language and anecdotes were woven into the serious health topic.
- Conversation is two-way – the user decides where they would like to start, and explored the topics they were concerned about or felt were relevant with support from the subject matter expert.
When we incorporated these characteristics into the design principles for the content, we came up with some interesting solutions. Instead of a linear, statistically heavy quiz format, we opted for a ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ style user flow which allowed users to drive the order of the content based on what they wanted to start with.
Speak your users’ language
Our upfront user research had made it was clear to the team that there was a big discrepancy between the drafted written content and the way people talked about the topic. Building on the role-playing exercise, we infused the principles of colloquial language, anecdotes and reassurance into the content creation.
We did this by using the words and phrases we had heard during the research phase, and we found ways to include people’s stories and anecdotes. When creating content of any kind, it is important to understand how your users think about and speak about a topic, so that the language reflects their mental model. We found that our users responded to words and phrases that matched their way of talking, and were not clinical or medical jargon. When specialised medical or subject matter language is used, relatable language helps to explain the word in context. Plain language is a powerful UX tool.
Using a reading level checker is also a crucial way to assess content. Word processors such as Microsoft Word often have a readability assessment tool, or you can use an online option. Inputting text and running the checker results in a readability score. As a rule of thumb, anything with a general public audience should aim for a reading level of between grade 6 and 8.
Test, test, test
When designing anything the proof is in the user testing pudding! Finding ways to test the content and flow of information with people was crucial for this project. The content we developed as a team went through several rounds of user testing. In many cases this took place in the context of a usability test.
Asking open ended questions while doing a usability test can be a good way to gauge the content’s success. For example, looking at a page and asking the participant ‘what does this mean to you’ or ‘what is this telling you’ can give a good sense of what is resonating.
If you are working with a live platform, A/B testing is an approach that can identify which content is better, for example based on number of sign ups, or purchases. This works best where an explicit call to action is in play.
A great approach is to print out the content you are testing, and ask people to highlight words that are unclear. The UK Government Digital Service suggests getting users to underline pieces that build confidence in green, and pieces that make them less sure in red. In aggregate, you can get a sense of what is and isn’t working.
What conversation would your users like to be having with you?
Approaching content as a conversation is a great way to keep the user in mind as you are developing your product. Thinking in human terms about the tone, pace and language of how the information is getting delivered opens up new possibilities.