A few weeks ago, while in the throes of manuscript editing, I wrote a quick post about what I was doing that week. I did so to help demystify content strategy to people who want to know, as the NYC CS Meetup group would have it, what content strategists do all day.
In the post, I mentioned something I’d made for a client project: a diagram that traces the mental path we want to encourage a particular group of site visitors to take. Not specific interactions, pages or tools, but a process of gradual engagement with ideas, eventually leading to the decision to act. I’d never made this particular thing before, and I’d never seen anything quite like it elsewhere.
I can’t show you the thing I made, but here’s an example that I sketched out for an imaginary conservation organization that wants to educate students about habitat loss and related activism when they visit the site to complete school assignments.
Pretty simple, right? A project with a dozen or a hundred pages and only a few target audiences wouldn’t need something like this. But before I could proceed with the content recommendation for this large, complex, and intellectually crunchy project, I needed to distill all the things we’d been saying and thinking about this audience’s progression through the site’s ideas.
I made it as an internal tool, but when I showed a dim iPhone photo of it to client stakeholders, they found useful, so I ended up including it in my content recommendations.
A Diagram Named Sue
When I showed the client my sketched-out version on my phone and then hastily re-drew it on their whiteboard, I called it a “user engagement model,” which is reasonably accurate, but also jargony. In my blog post, I called it:
a cognitive model that translates pieces of the organization’s mission into a conceptual blueprint for deepening user engagement with the site
That’s both vague and awkward, but it does describe the thing and what it does—or at least, what it did for me on this project. A Google image search for “cognitive model” produces a variety of hideously formatted diagrams about how people think; the one I made is also about how people think, and specifically how we imagine them thinking their way through the information presented on a website.
But because I didn’t have a non-proprietary example to post, the mention produced confusion. So just to be clear, I’m not talking about a mental model. Nor am I talking about “the features of an information system,” as one commenter suggested.
Have You Seen This Boy? He Is Very Ugly.
I’m certain that I haven’t created anything new by drawing up this diagram when I needed it, and I expect to continue using the tool on other projects that need a nudge toward clarity.
So here’s my question for you, internet: Have you made or used something like this? And if you did, how did you use it? (And what did you call it, anyway?)
Speaking of pandas, go read “An Elephant Crackup?” It’s the single best thing I’ve ever read from the NYT. Since I read it several months ago, few days have passed when I haven’t thought of it.