Book Review: Designing Connected Content


Designing Connected ContentTwo book reviews in a row? Yep. As I said in my last review, I’m reading non-fiction a lot more now and I have a backlog of industry books to read. One of the authors of this book, Carrie Hane, is a good friend. I watched her work on Designing Connect Content for pretty much all of 2017. I was very excited to finally get my copy.

For years, Carrie and her co-author, Mike Atherton, have been talking about Designing Future Friendly Content. In the web world this means using a structured content model so that the management of the content is not tightly coupled with the presentation layer. As design trends change, your content and underlying website structure doesn’t have to. Taken to its ultimate conclusion, you are looking at a headless Content Management System (CMS) supporting one or more presentation layers (web, mobile, Alexa…).

They finally took the time to write a book on the topic. It was time well spent.

Content First

When I started reading this book, I figured I was looking at a big piece that Deane Barker didn’t cover in his book (Web Content Management), the design. Not the user experience (UX) part of design but the structural aspects. Information Architecture (IA) with a Content Strategy focus.

Yes and no.

What I found as I read was some great lessons on why content matters. I always knew this but they make the case for why real content matters early in web design. Forget Lorem Ipsum (or Riker Ipsum). Let designers work with real content. Allow stakeholders to evaluate their evolving website with words that provide much needed context.

I had always been a proponent of architect first and then adding the UX to a website. This book really helped me understand why content needs to be first to drive that architecture.

Content Modeling

I am not going to lie. I flashed back to my college days in the Structuring Content section of the book. Back in college I studied the modeling of business processes, business entities, and how to translate those into both application and database designs.

Carrie and Mike walk you through many of those same concepts. They don’t get too technical like my old textbooks. They focus on sharing only what you need to know at each stage.

That is key. They outline multiple steps so you aren’t trying model the most granular detail at the very beginning. You gradually evolve your model until it is ready for the CMS. Tips on how to get the domain experts involved, ensuring the model is correct, are scattered throughout the process.

The authors provide multiple examples, from their own experiences, to illustrate how it all flows together. The examples they use are well chosen. Most readers, including you, are likely to understand the modeled domains without too much effort.

Practical Advice

At every stage in the book, references are provided to other experts should you want to learn more on a topic. This is not to say that they skimp on any relevant topic. They, like Deane in his book, realize that it is impossible to cover everything in depth. As such they point you on where you can go to learn more. I fully expect that future books in the space will reference Designing Connected Content for an in-depth look at creating structured content.

You are guided through the process from initial research to making the hard design decisions when implementing your model. The authors stress that you should never work in a silo as you need input from content creators and those building the website to do the job correctly.

I don’t know a single developer that doesn’t want the content model stable sooner rather than later. I’ve also never met a designer, architect, or developer that wouldn’t rather build things using real content instead of fake content. You never know what is going to happen when real content hits the application until it actually hits the application.

That is the advice and plan they lay out for the reader and they do it well.

In Short…

What I now have in my library is a great tutorial for content modeling and why you need to model it early for any content effort. And yes, I am talking about the old stodgy Enterprise Content Management (ECM) space as well.

If you are working on a website redesign, this book will serve you well in making sure you don’t head down many bad turns in getting to a robust design. If you are building Content Services Platforms, then you need the techniques in this book to help you build a flexible, holistic, model.

It is an enjoyable read full of little bits of humor to help you get through what could have been a boring, technical, process manual. It is far from that and I highly recommend reading it. I already know some people on my teams I’ll be suggesting strongly that they read Designing Connected Content.

Disclaimer

I wasn’t paid to write this review. Carrie gave me a free copy of the book over a frozen picnic table. The usual author requests were made of me; if I like it, please write a review. I did and now I have.