Dec 31, 1969

Mobile Content Strategy: “We Can Fix This” says McGrane

Karen McGrane says there are a lot of content management systems that “look like a database got drunk and vomited all over the screen.” Designers can do better, McGrane insists. “We can fix this.”

McGrane gave her talk, “Adapting Ourselves to Adaptive Content” at Hot Studio last Tuesday night, Nov. 13. The event was held in conjunction with the Bay Area Content Strategy Meetup Group. McGrane, known for her sardonic wit and sincerity, drew a large crowd, many of whom asked her to sign her book, “Content Strategy for Mobile.”

Check out a video of the full talk here:

Lessons from Publishers Old and New
McGrane has worked with a number of digital publishers who were once in the business of non-digital publishing, including the New York Times. She says news publications, like NPR, Boston Globe and The Guardian, are having an easier time than others because they’ve always created structured content: headlines, “decks,” body copy, etc.

Magazines and other publishers who have a process that is more tied to one medium and form struggle the most in the digital age, she says. There are a lot of publishers, McGrane says, who are entering the digital publishing world with a mistaken “unshakable belief that there’s only one place you are supposed to read content: print.”

The result? Lots of extra work and truncated, missing, mis-shapen or garbled content on zillions of other digital devices.

Let the Device Choose the Content
A large part of what McGrane advises is for content creators to get comfortable with the fact that, increasingly, they cannot control the context of where their content is experienced. It could be a phone, a television, an ipad, or a device that has only just suddenly appeared on the marketplace.

When there was one format to worry about–print–you could spend a lot of time creating a meaningful design for that one particular format. But when people are viewing your content on a zillion different channels and a zillion different devices, no organization realistically has the bandwidth to take the same kind of time and care.

At a certain point in the publishing process, McGrane says, you will have to “let the robots decide” how the content gets displayed.

Designing Future-Proofed Content
How can we design for content in a way that anticipates a world of an ever-growing number of digital devices in various shapes and sizes?

For McGrane addressing the problem means taking the content creator seriously, putting more emphasis on the non-public-facing, non “glamourous” side of the digital world: Content Management. She calls for treating content creators like users, designing, testing and building systems that work for them as well as “the robots” so that the meaning doesn’t get lost in translation.

For the full-length audio podcast of the talk, please listen here:

For more about Karen McGrane and how to get your hands on her book, “Content Strategy for Mobile,” visit You can follow McGrane on Twitter at @karenmcgrane.

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