16 Mar 2012
What you're reading on this page may not be what I intended when I wrote this paragraph. A careless or careful choice of words, the thoughts that preceded you reading this, knowledge of the author, even the font displaying these words-- all these factors are working together to create a concept in your short-term, working memory. What you come to understand is based on what you perceive.
Given this knowledge, I cringe when people say "It's all about content". No, it's not. It's about perceptions and memories, which are continually constructed and reconstructed with every new bit of sensory input.
If I were to give you a fine piece of artisan chocolate (content), your judgement and reaction would be based on far more than the quality of the chocolate alone. In mere seconds you'd be recalling memories of other chocolates you've tried, adding in your estimation of me as a chocolate connoisseur, evaluating how this chocolate is packaged, factoring in the origin of this piece of chocolate, considering what the shape and color of the chocolate reminds you of as– in seconds, your brain would make a staggering number of conscious and unconscious associations. And your enjoyment of the chocolate? It is, according to numerous studies from psychology and neuroscience, based on all of these associations. Your experience of the chocolate is based on far more than just the chocolate.
The same is true of online content. Whether we're talking about text, photos, or something else, these things do not exist independent of some form of presentation. And the experience you have with that content is always situated inside of some larger context.
Why is this important?
Think about how many people respond before reading past the first sentence of an email, or how content displayed in a creative magazine layout doesn't get the same reaction when displayed in HTML. Or how the simple addition of "Sent from my iPhone" allows us to be more forgiving of a terse email reply. These aren't content issues. These are perception issues, of which content is a part.
Isn't this what our "user experience" work should be about: how people experience and respond to the stuff we put into the world? Why are we so quick at placing a premium on one discipline over another? Why do our processes place one discipline farther up stream, ahead of another? And why do we stop at providing content and graphics without asking "why" or what comes next in the experience? As human beings, we experience the totality of things working together for some intended purpose. The piece of chocolate, the remarkable web site. How much better off would we be as a profession if we focused less on the defense of these isolated things (content, graphics, interactions, code) and more on the experience people have with the sum total of these things?