In this episode I speak Hinrich von Haaren, Co-Founder of Content Design Academy at Content Design London and now author of Content Transformation - a fantastic book that no doubt will find its way into the hands of the UX and Service
Design community over the coming months. It’s an awesome book and read and we chat about this exclusively in this episode. The book sets out to enable a content alpha to occur in businesses, how to go about this, including setting it up and all the way through to measurement. Hinrich is awesome and know you are going to enjoy this podcast - so let’s jump in
Buy the book:https://contentdesign.london/shop/content-transformation-by-hinrich-von-haaren-paperback
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[00:00:00] Gerry Scullion: It's one thing to create the content, but do you think many businesses actually put a cost on creating the wrong content? No, I don't think Is that possible to do, do you think? I mean, sometimes.
[00:00:12] Hinrich von Haaren: We run workshops with people where we map out what the workflow looks like and then map out how many people are involved and how much does it cost them to publish something.
[00:00:24] Hinrich von Haaren: From the time when someone says, we need something about rainbows to publishing a page about rainbows, and often it's like four or five grand and people's jaws just drop to the floor.
[00:00:41] Gerry Scullion: Hello, welcome to Bringing Design Closer, and this is h cd. Our goal is to have conversations that inspire and help move the dial forward for organizations to become more human-centered in their approach to solving complex business and societal problems. My name is Jerry Schooling, as you probably know, I'm the founder of, this is H C D.
[00:00:58] Gerry Scullion: I'm an educator service designer, [00:01:00] and a podcaster here at this is h cd. In this episode, I speak with Henrick Ron. Co-founder of Content Design Academy at Content Design London, and now Author of Content Transformation, a fantastic book that no doubt will find its way into the hands of the user experience and service design community, hopefully over the next couple of months.
[00:01:20] Gerry Scullion: It's an awesome book. I've read it and we chat about that book exclusively on this podcast. Let me tell you a bit about the book. The book sets out to enable a content alpha to occur within business. How to go about this, including setting it up, how to sell it into the, the executives, and all the way through to measurement.
[00:01:38] Gerry Scullion: Henrick is awesome, and I know you're gonna really, really enjoy this one. So let's jump straight in. Henrick, how are you doing?
[00:01:46] Hinrich von Haaren: I'm all right. How
[00:01:47] Gerry Scullion: you, Jay? I doing so, it's a Friday afternoon ahead of a long, uh, a long weekend. So over here in, in Ireland. Is it a long weekend in the. No,
[00:01:57] Hinrich von Haaren: no, it isn't . [00:02:00]
[00:02:00] Gerry Scullion: It's, it's something to admire about the, they still have little ties to the church.
[00:02:05] Gerry Scullion: It's something to do with a religious thing, I think. I dunno. But, um, either way I'm, I'm happy about that. But we were chatting there, um, just beforehand, you are a partner, is that right? That's content Design London or
[00:02:21] Hinrich von Haaren: co. I am a co-founder of the Co-Design Academy, uh, which, uh, does sort of train part of the training for Content Design London, but we're all sort of one big and happy family over there.
[00:02:37] Gerry Scullion: Absolutely. Um, I met you through the wonderful, the one and only. Sarah Winters. Um, so we connected a number of years ago. We've done a bit of work over the years. Um, but you've got a new book out, uh, called Content Transformation. Where did you come up with the idea for [00:03:00] this? I wonder,
[00:03:04] Hinrich von Haaren: Well, the wonderful and unique Sarah Winters and I were chatting about, well 18 months ago, and we were chatting about content strategy and how content design is, is still a new discipline, but uh, it's kind of matured. So over the last 10 years, but content strategy is still kind of a new and wooly thing for many people.
[00:03:31] Hinrich von Haaren: And the more we were chatting, the more I was thinking, well, no one kind of wakes up in the morning thinking I need a content strategy, UR most urgently. Um, It's usually part of a bigger thing, and that's where we started to think about content transformation. And there's usually a, a reason why people wanna change something, why they want a strategy.
[00:03:57] Hinrich von Haaren: And so I then kind of [00:04:00] package the strategy and the sort of bigger thing. .
[00:04:04] Gerry Scullion: So talk me through, um, the use case of this, because content transformation, content transformation, um, might be almost like an oxymoron for some people. They might kinda go, well, how would this work? Like in terms of transformation of the business or transformation of the website, um, digital transformation, where, where does this sit amongst all
[00:04:26] Hinrich von Haaren: of that?
[00:04:27] Hinrich von Haaren: So there's books around. Digital transformation out there that talk around sort of the big tech background, et cetera, and the organizational change. Yeah. Et cetera. But what I found was, um, so for example, when people come on the eSign London courses, uh, there was a lack of understanding about how to run.
[00:04:57] Hinrich von Haaren: Bigger content design project and there [00:05:00] were a lot of people coming saying, um, our website isn't working. There's too much stuff on there. Years and years of legacy content. People can't find anything. They keep calling us up. That sort of thing kept re, the stories kept repeating themselves and I thought, okay, there's something here.
[00:05:24] Hinrich von Haaren: Where people Okay. Need a bit of guidance. Need
[00:05:30] Gerry Scullion: help. Yeah, cuz that's a, it's a really common thing. Like we were, I was speaking to a, a bank yesterday, um, and they were talking to us about the role of some of, of management in, in product spaces like that where their, their job is just adding stuff. To the system.
[00:05:51] Gerry Scullion: It's not really about extraction or managing that process. Their job is, is effectively a task completer. They ensure that the thing gets added for the [00:06:00] department. And I was like, God, that sounds like horrendous um, example for people managing their content because you're gonna end up with this mud hut scenario where you're just throwing stuff and it's not really.
[00:06:14] Gerry Scullion: Thinking about the, the whole kinda sequencing of things. So in that example that I'm just talking about there, like a bank where there's so many people looking for things and they're competing about, uh, you know, space on the website, you know, the homepage as I'm talking, I'm actually, you know, feeling somewhat queasy.
[00:06:33] Gerry Scullion: I've been in those positions. Is this book set up for people like that where. It'll give them a, a sort of step-by-step process to how to enable that, that this type of transformation to occur.
[00:06:49] Hinrich von Haaren: Yes. Yeah, absolutely. So it's basically great. Thank you podcast. Thanks, . They'll solve all your problems. [00:07:00] And I did it all on my own.
[00:07:04] Hinrich von Haaren: I look at it like this is an an atlas that people. Open up and say, okay, I'm here, but I want to go to hi there and how do I do that? Yeah. And then there's workshops you can run, et cetera, and then you, I, what I want people to do is read it and then think, okay, yeah, this is good, Henrik, but actually what we are going to do is something.
[00:07:28] Hinrich von Haaren: Different. I, I just want to spark some ideas in people's heads and, and help them to take action. Really nice. Cause I think content is, designers are often a bit afraid to speak up still in organizations and, uh, this will maybe help them get sort of a clear idea of how the process can work.
[00:07:57] Gerry Scullion: So if you had to give a tagline, because I know [00:08:00] Sarah's book Content design, which for me was the first piece that I'd really, I I'd bought, um, and just resonated with me straight away.
[00:08:11] Gerry Scullion: I was like, okay, well this fills in some spaces for me in the user experience and the product design and the copywriting worlds. It kind of brought all of. Disciplines interaction and uh, information architecture together. What would the tagline be on this one and how, what's the connection between the two books?
[00:08:30] Gerry Scullion: Or is there a connection between the two books?
[00:08:33] Hinrich von Haaren: So the connection is that Sarah's book explains what content design is and how you write content in a user-focused way. And this book is, The process of changing your content to slim it down, first of all, and, um, make it [00:09:00] user focused. And of course, that isn't just about content.
[00:09:05] Hinrich von Haaren: When you start taking everything apart. Yeah. And then puzzle it back together while your user needs in a new way. Everything else changes. Yeah. The, the design changes, the structure of the whole thing changes. So the tighter content transformation is maybe a little bit misleading in that. It can't just be above the content ,
[00:09:30] Gerry Scullion: there's almost different lenses, um, that you can apply to this.
[00:09:35] Gerry Scullion: Um, especially, I remember when I was speaking to Jerry McGovern about content and his statement is, you can get rid of 95% of the content on a website. Obviously not. Any pieces of content you need, there needs to be process put around it, and it'll still function. It'll still run like, you know, like an awful lot of the, the long tail of the, the content that's been created historically by [00:10:00] organizations tends to be not very good.
[00:10:02] Gerry Scullion: Um, so how, how does deleting of the existing content form part of your, your narrative in the.
[00:10:11] Hinrich von Haaren: The retrospective stuff, I think that content is as a dis digital discipline is a bit of an exception in that everyone can put their fingers on a keyboard and start writing something. Not everyone can put their fingers on a keyboard and sub coding or designing something people might have.
[00:10:35] Hinrich von Haaren: Opinions about design, but they usually can't do it. So that means, yeah, that a lot of organizations, like you were said about your bank example earlier, and a lot of organizations over the years we've seen this mushrooming of C unnecessary content because people just publish stuff because they can Yeah.[00:11:00]
[00:11:00] Hinrich von Haaren: A friends and, yes. Yeah. And. The process I've kind of laid out in the book goes through, um, a researching what people actually want from you. How, what, what does your audience need Then, From that. Mm-hmm. , identifying new user needs and then puzzling something new back together. Rather than saying we've got 2,576 pages, which ones of these are we going to keep?
[00:11:33] Hinrich von Haaren: That is usually a very work intensive, boring, and, uh, not very effective process.
[00:11:43] Gerry Scullion: Yeah, it's, it, it's also probably quite demo demoralizing as well for, um, for teams, I imagine.
[00:11:51] Hinrich von Haaren: Yes. And it's, um, the, the process I've just described is also, [00:12:00] A culture change means culture change. People have to think about starting to think about content in a different way.
[00:12:07] Hinrich von Haaren: Not as in, I'm writing a Word document with, uh, 2000 words and then I'm handing it over to the digital team and somehow like magic it will appear on the website. That kind of model that is still exist in a lot of places. , it doesn't work anymore. And you're taking something away from people. So that's scary for them.
[00:12:35] Hinrich von Haaren: From stakeholders. Yeah. Um, but you're giving them something else, which is, let's just think about why we're doing this, why we need this new piece that you're suggesting. What are people actually getting out of it, and what is the business getting out of it? Because the, the other side of this is, Publishing content can be very [00:13:00] expensive because lots of people are involved and most businesses have no idea how much it costs to publish something.
[00:13:08] Hinrich von Haaren: So this is also about streamlining the whole thing. Uh, teams working together more efficiently, being more happy and saving money at the end of the.
[00:13:22] Gerry Scullion: It's one thing to create the content, but do you think many businesses actually put a cost on creating the wrong content? No, I don't think Is that possible to do, do you think?
[00:13:32] Gerry Scullion: I mean,
[00:13:32] Hinrich von Haaren: sometimes, um, we run workshops with people where we map out what the workflow looks like and then map out how much, how many people are involved, and how much does it cost them to publish something. From the time when someone says, we need something about rainbows to publishing a page about rainbows, and often it's like, Four, five grand [00:14:00] and people's jaws just dropped to the floor.
[00:14:04] Hinrich von Haaren: So I'm just sorry. You don't think No,
[00:14:07] Gerry Scullion: no. They don. It's, um, it's fascinating, um, to see what, what lies beyond that. Um, but what I really like about the book is you set it up in terms of an alpha. Okay? So like you set the premise up about trying to sell the, the, not sell the discipline, but sell the approach into how to start off like with some housekeeping rules, um, and then setting up the alpha.
[00:14:36] Gerry Scullion: In your experience, what are the resistance points within organizations to taking that first step? Um, do you have any experience in that yourself? Often
[00:14:47] Hinrich von Haaren: is, is that senior people don't really understand the digital space to start with and you are selling them [00:15:00] something. That might be very abstract for them.
[00:15:05] Hinrich von Haaren: Hmm. To say we are going to scale back the content and we are going to make it more user friendly, et cetera. It doesn't really. Resonate with them. So I find you have to find ways of tapping into their mental space. So more engagement, let lower costs, making more money if that is part of their business model.
[00:15:34] Hinrich von Haaren: So you need to know what the business goals or bigger business goals are and kind of tie that into. Story into your sales pitch.
[00:15:46] Gerry Scullion: It, um, it, it, it's a, it's a, it's a more of a, a modern way of thinking when you think about it because, you know, we wanna make sure that what gets created is the right thing. Um, and we wanna do it the right way as well, but, [00:16:00] Some organizations, and this is an assumption on my behalf, I've got no, um, research to back this up, but there's a certain amount of self-serving happening where they're like, oh, we've been so busy.
[00:16:11] Gerry Scullion: We created whatever, a hundred pieces of content this, this month. And they, they feel some way vindicated that they've produced. This amount of effort, like it shows the business that we've, we've actually created something. We're creating things, and that equates to like, oh, aren't we doing well? Is that fair to say?
[00:16:32] Gerry Scullion: Or am am I way off the mark?
[00:16:34] Hinrich von Haaren: No, I think you're, you are absolutely spot on and that is a, a hurdle to overcome when you introduce. Content design principles and this way of working, because the biggest part of running an alpha or a transformation project is really to figure out what people need, [00:17:00] not to write as many pieces in as little time as possible.
[00:17:06] Hinrich von Haaren: So a lot of time is spent to. Figure out what people need and how to give it to them. And then the smallest bit of the work is to actually make the thing, at least for content, and that is difficult for. Senior people often to to understand and it makes them nervous because they don't see lots of stuff being churned out.
[00:17:37] Hinrich von Haaren: So there's a lot of managing expectations that you have to do.
[00:17:42] Gerry Scullion: One, one of the big pieces there is, um, it's a shifting of the mindset in terms of rather than creating, uh, and reframing it more towards the outcomes that we're hoping to achieve by creating the output of our efforts, so to speak. Is it fair to say that in, in [00:18:00] that sort of fable that I've just told you, there are that narrative.
[00:18:04] Gerry Scullion: It's measuring the wrong thing. It's measuring the, the amount of work versus the outcome. So it's more of an outcome driven measurement that we're looking to achieve. And if so, do you, have you included any of the, the ways of measurement in terms of the effectiveness of the content?
[00:18:22] Hinrich von Haaren: Yes. There's a, a part in the book that talks about how do you actually know what you.
[00:18:29] Hinrich von Haaren: Is successful. Yeah. And that, that looks at sort of different content formats have different purposes. So you can't just sort of apply some blanket analytics to everything and then to, to think about what is, what do the users want out of this? Can we measure that su su succession, uh, uh, rate in some way?
[00:18:55] Hinrich von Haaren: Um, so there's so kind of d. Uh, success [00:19:00] criteria you need to apply and you also, because that adds to this process being transparent so that you don't. , um, we, okay, we've gone through this alpha now we've published some stuff. Uh, it's just sitting there and we don't, we, we don't know whether it's doing well or not.
[00:19:23] Hinrich von Haaren: So you need to create also to sell this into the organization. You need to create transparency, sell it, saying, okay, we'll let it run for six months or eight months, and then we go back to it and we iterate.
[00:19:39] Gerry Scullion: And you work from that point. I mean, I think that's where a lot of design designers probably fall down.
[00:19:45] Gerry Scullion: Like, you know, when we're going to do research, we do an awful lot of the preparation, we do the screeners, we, we do the, uh, the work. And then when it comes to the sense making, um, we kind of just say, okay, well we've got enough what we need, we, we move ahead. But there's [00:20:00] a piece there that we could also probably do a little bit better.
[00:20:02] Gerry Scullion: And that's what I'm hearing from you. Is the, is the kind of like the, the shouting about it or the talking about it or the, the sharing and the incre increasing the visibility, um, of, of our efforts. Um, can you talk a little bit more around the metrics that you mentioned there about, um, being able to measure it?
[00:20:21] Gerry Scullion: Are there any things that you can talk about without giving away too much? Cause I know you're. You know, we're on a podcast, you, you want people to, to be a little bit more interested and hopefully buy the book. Cause um, you know, that's, that's kind of the nature of why we've written the books, I guess.
[00:20:34] Gerry Scullion: But what measurement tools do you have, um, included in the book that, that people could learn about?
[00:20:39] Hinrich von Haaren: So it's, uh, broadly, it's a mix of. What is the content trying to achieve? So let's say, uh, you are running a health website and, uh, you've published a bunch of new con content pages [00:21:00] around, uh, diabetes type two diabetes, for example.
[00:21:03] Hinrich von Haaren: So you will set some, uh, criteria around what these pages are trying to achieve. So, for example, we get a lot of phone calls about people, um, struggling to understand, uh, how they, how to take their medication. Are those phone calls, the number of those phone calls, is that going down, for example? So you, you're looking at, okay.
[00:21:33] Hinrich von Haaren: The format, what is it trying to achieve? The content itself, what is it trying to achieve? Then what are then user intent is an, an important, uh, thing to measure. What do, do your, uh, users want to get out? Of this, are they engaging with further content? Are they going on, uh, onward journeys, for example. Um, so we, for example, we work with [00:22:00] charities who want to build their community.
[00:22:02] Hinrich von Haaren: So you can see an effect of people coming from content into the community pages, discussing topics there. But then there's also, um, business goals, what. Business want to get out of, uh, this new content, uh, whether it's sales or saving costs or more engagement. Um, so that's another, uh, measurement, uh, that that comes into this.
[00:22:35] Gerry Scullion: What I really like about the content design discipline is they've stood up and they've pointed at the thing that's not working. Okay. Typically, what I've seen when I coach teams is they're somewhat subservient to the organizational. Control and command, where they're like, okay, we're gonna work on this project.
[00:22:57] Gerry Scullion: And they start working on it and they're effectively [00:23:00] doing the Mud Hut scenario that I'm talking about. They're contributing to the long-term design and content debt of the organization. Content design, on the other hand, has stood up and said, we're, we're different to this. We want to look at, you know, the processes that go into how we, how we create things.
[00:23:19] Gerry Scullion: So it looks at. Reducing the debt over time. Where do you see, um, after this book has gone out? And if you imagine it's a, a New York Times best selling book, Henrick. Okay. An organization
[00:23:44] Gerry Scullion: And Jerry said it, and then who, you won't believe it three weeks later, was a New York's Times bestselling book. . Um, if it's folks, you've heard it here first. Ok. But imagine that it is like an organization's adopt this, uh, this mindset. [00:24:00] Um, where do you see the content? Design discipline going beyond this.
[00:24:04] Gerry Scullion: Okay. Because between yourself and Sarah, and then there's Rachel McConnell as well, who's been on the podcast as well. There's a lot, an awful lot of very solid books being created. Um, what do we need to do more of amongst the zoomed out design disciplines about working better
[00:24:22] Hinrich von Haaren: together? I think there's still a lot of work to do in terms of.
[00:24:29] Hinrich von Haaren: Cross team working. I'm still experiencing myself and hearing a lot of stories from colleagues where a startup makes, uh, a service or a transaction, an app, and everything is built and designed. And then at the end they bring someone in and they say to them, Can you just sort of put some words on these screens in our app here?[00:25:00]
[00:25:00] Hinrich von Haaren: And that is, yeah. Is annoying. Not because I'm a content designer, because also because it usually doesn't work, because then PE content designers look at it and they say, well, why is this here and not here? And the, there's no narrative through this and you're just jumping around. So basically, when. Make a new product to look like.
[00:25:26] Hinrich von Haaren: It's a given that you have developers and designers and a product manager on there, it should be a given that you have a content designer on there. Not because we need to be involved in everything all the time. No one, no one does, but to involve people strategically so that you can build a better product at the end of the.
[00:25:50] Hinrich von Haaren: I think it's important, and the book, I hope, is going to give content designs out there, a clear [00:26:00] idea of how a project can be run so that they can join these teams and say, Hey, hang on a second. Why don't we try this? Or let's, let's do a workshop about X, because they're still. There's a bit in the book about we need to overcome our Cinderella complex, where we always sit in the corner and waiting to be asked to the ball, and I want people to just stand up and walk over to people and say, I can help you with this thing.
[00:26:37] Hinrich von Haaren: Oh, because I have all the subject matter knowledge, for example. . Um, so hopefully it's gonna give them a bit of confidence to do that.
[00:26:48] Gerry Scullion: Yeah, absolutely. Did you mention at the start, um, that you've been working on a, a course around the, the content transformation piece as well?
[00:26:59] Hinrich von Haaren: So [00:27:00] we're running, uh, So several courses already at, at cdl there's a kind of foundation course of the introduction to content design, and now we've also got an an advanced content design course which covers parts of what's, what's in the book.
[00:27:17] Hinrich von Haaren: But our next endeavor is to go pro and, uh, do something about content design for pro, which I think there's a lot out there about thinking on your feet. It's something I've. Thinking about a lot lately because when you, like, you know, Jerry, when we're on these projects, things never go according to plan.
[00:27:41] Hinrich von Haaren: So you have to be creative and flexible and sort of react to change very quickly.
[00:27:48] Gerry Scullion: Yeah. Speaking of change, one of the bits that I really enjoyed reading about, and that's not been anyway, a sadist, but I enjoyed reading about the difficulties that content design London had and [00:28:00] redesigning their website, which, um, do you wanna talk to us a little bit more and that, and I don't mean that in a negative way, it's.
[00:28:09] Gerry Scullion: I, I, I can imagine, you know, it's like anyone's website. Like it's always the, it's, it's easier to work on other people's website than it is in your own. But talk to us, um, about the, uh, the process of, of presumably a team of content designers worked on it. Um, and you had some great books to, to lean on as well, to, to get the information, but yet it was still a struggle.
[00:28:32] Gerry Scullion: Can you tell us a little bit more around.
[00:28:34] Hinrich von Haaren: I wasn't, uh, involved in making the new website. No one
[00:28:40] Gerry Scullion: was involved in it. That's what I can say. No one wants to put their hands up and say, I was involved in it. Sarah was the
[00:28:46] Hinrich von Haaren: same. wasn't me. The CDL team, I, I mean, it's like writing your own cv, isn't it? Like you suddenly it's pretty much, it's cringey talking a about your own [00:29:00] achievements and, and all that.
[00:29:03] Hinrich von Haaren: Um, but the team, uh, at cdl, they kind of followed this process. They had sort of their user needs developed and identified and pieced them together into, um, pieces of content that would be needed and to, to think about the journeys that people might go through. It's a relat. Small side. But, um, once you sort of start thinking about, well, what do we want to achieve as a business and what do we know about Yeah.
[00:29:36] Hinrich von Haaren: Our users, it gets sort of more tricky very quickly.
[00:29:41] Gerry Scullion: Absolutely. One of the things that I did notice was the speed on the website now is. Ridiculous. But there's, there's very few, um, images on the website. So it's, it's mostly text, is that right?
[00:29:57] Hinrich von Haaren: Yes. Yeah. Which also has to [00:30:00] do with, um, accessibility and also le loading speed.
[00:30:06] Hinrich von Haaren: Um, because they, the, they've thought a lot about. People who might not have very, uh, good wifi or not, no high speed connections, or look at this on their crappy old phone, et cetera. So that kind of thinking also came into this.
[00:30:29] Gerry Scullion: Well look, um, Henrik, I'll put a link to obviously the book Content Transformation, um, in the show notes for this episode as well.
[00:30:38] Gerry Scullion: And I'll put a link to Content Design London, uh, as well for people to, to learn more about the brilliant work that, um, the team does over there as well. Um, if people wanted to connect with you personally, um, what, what are the best social media platforms for us to include in the show notes and maybe to give a shout out to them now?
[00:30:56] Hinrich von Haaren: Um, I'm on LinkedIn, uh, Henrick Van Harron [00:31:00] and I'm on Twitter as pop-up story.
[00:31:05] Gerry Scullion: Nice . What we might do as well, um, we're we're chatting there about, uh, maybe Henrick doing a takeover of a newsletter to talk a little bit more around, uh, content transformation, cuz I know it's a topic, uh, dear to many of our listeners hearts.
[00:31:20] Gerry Scullion: So stay tuned and sign up to the newsletter if you wanna hear more about this. Thanks so much for your time,
[00:31:25] Hinrich von Haaren: Henry. Thank you very much for having me.
[00:31:31] Gerry Scullion: There you go, folks. I hope you enjoyed that episode and if you enjoyed it and want to listen to more, why not visit? This is hate cd.com where you can learn more about what we are up to and also explore our courses while through there. Thanks again for listening.
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