Content Architecture for Multiple Devices

06 March 2012
Cleve Gibbon
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mobiles Is 2012 the year of mobile? One in six of us have a smartphone (mobithinking.com).  You’re probably reading this article on your mobile now, or within arms reach of a mobile.  So no, 2012 is not the year of mobile.

In fact, no one asks that question anymore.  We’ve all moved on and are happily consuming content across tablets, media consoles, Web TV, electronic billboards, laptops, digital cameras, game consoles, fridges, and not forgetting our trusty “old” desktop but what are the underlying challenges faced by companies producing device-agnostic content (editorial challenge) in order to create highly engaging device-specific experiences for their consumers (publishing challenge)?  And what role does content architecture play in all of this?

The Publishing Challenge

How do you move from the desktop to supporting mobile devices?  Mobile First is one of many emerging approaches to this problem.  Underpinned by a Responsive Web Design that pulls together fluid grids, flexible images and CSS media queries, mobile first supports the business case for progressively enhancing the user experience on the web to engage with consumers across multiple devices.

Walking around Publishing Expo last week in London and taking part in a few talks and product demos, the publishing challenge appears well understood and vendor solutions abound.

But if you’re not a vendor, how do you create a responsive web design?
Start with the content and work from there.  Only with the content can you figure out the layouts required to support resolutions from the largest displays to the smallest feature phone.  This is where web designers start their journey. On the publishing side, focusing upon the user experience for the consumer site, methodically subdividing the browser canvas to support multiple devices.  However, how does the content within a responsive web design get created?  And how is it maintained and authored going forwards?

The Editorial Challenge

The content management system (CMS) lies at the heart of the editorial platform.  It’s the primary content entry tool for authors.  In addition to the usual content considerations around targeting, localisation and tracking, authors now need to create content for multiple devices.

For example, a merchandiser promoting an offer on a high value page may want to deliver a more succinct message to their mobile users and have video content served to those consuming that page on high-end devices.   This scenario is becoming the new norm, where authors want to create content that is specific to a device, but using the same authoring interfaces that is aware of the user’s context.

Multiple devices need to be catered for within the editorial platform’s authoring interfaces.  Authors will want to preview different content layouts across the various device families, legal and compliance need to sign-off on this content, usability engineers must verify these user journeys against prior research, and so on.  If all this must happen before any content is published, then new and improved capabilities need to be baked into the editorial platform to support authors creating multi-device aware content.

Content Architecture

content architecture Enter content architecture. I’m going to say it, defining a content architecture to support multiple devices requires an investment in content strategy.  Scott Abel’s keynote at Content Strategy Applied put this more succinctly:


Content strategists manage the cost of content.

Content strategy sets the goals and objectives around your content.  Content architecture both works within and is an extension of content strategy, but is one important step closer to the target implementation.  Content architecture both models and specifies the various elements of content against which more informed technology decisions can be made around the:

  • Structure of authoring interfaces within the CMS.
  • Rules for targeting.
  • Integration requirements and strategies with supporting technologies.
  • Translation and localisation wants, needs and capabilities.
  • Workflows for key editorial tasks.
Content architecture helps us get a handle on what we need to build to deliver better end-user and author experiences, whatever device you’re consuming content on.   The first step in that journey is to revisit the way we implement content projects.  Then, it’s just the matter of building a case for content strategy to re-enforce those messages.

Come on, we can do this!