The biggest change in my understanding of design after joining Capital One, by far, is how I understand the importance and nature of content strategy in my design work. It just makes logical sense that when someone interacts with something you’ve designed, a lot of what they see and what colors their understanding of the experience as a whole is word-based! I honestly can’t understand how I’ve gone as long as I have without really digging into content strategy; it just seems so obvious now.
This realization was made a lot easier through the similarities between how Adaptive Path thinks about design and how our director of content strategy, Steph Hay and her team think about content. They aren’t lone poets just winging it; it’s actually a very rigorous process around understanding the purpose and context of the product, and using natural language. Because of these similarities, our methodologies around generative research and non-arbitrary design decisions work together seamlessly.
Last year, I was working on the design of the Capital One Home Loans product, we were on a tight deadline and didn’t have access to a full-time content strategist to work on the project. I was able to get some guidance from Michaela Hackner from the Content Strategy group which was great, but she was a couple thousand miles away and couldn’t be on the project more than an hour a week, so I decided to take on the writing myself. This is how that project played out.
We were a few months into designing the Capital One Home Loans website; we had already done our generative research around what type of information people need and had some idea about how to get it to them. From our interviews, we learned that most people don’t have a lot of confidence in their knowledge of how credit or the mortgage process works, and this coupled with the fact that they’re effectively being judged for their entire fiscal history amounts to a ton of anxiety around the process of getting a loan. People felt like they were submitting their info to a big black box and getting a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down without any transparency around the decision or a way for them to understand how prepared they were before applying.
Our design of the Home Loans site had three goals:
- Give some clarity around the credit system as a whole
- Be as transparent and specific as possible about our approval process
- Provide information and tools for people to understand their specific context around credit and loan-readiness
The idea was that if people had this foundational knowledge around the mechanics of the system and were able to understand where they fit within it, they’d be less stressed out and more prepared when they finally applied, which translates into more people being able to buy homes.
First, I defined each chunk of content that we needed. This wasn’t too difficult because it was an informational site, I just needed to help people learn certain concepts. I got some help from loan officers (people that help people get ready for applying) and identified the primary factors in the loan consideration process, I also did a bunch of research on all the factors that contribute to your credit score. After I had all of the high-level pieces of information that we wanted to include in the site, I documented specific points to make about each section based on our design goals and understanding of our users’ knowledge gaps from the research.
Small section of content architecture document describing intentions of content sections.
Content Themes and Voice
When I finally sat down to start writing I decided that in order to achieve the design goals, the content had to have these three themes:
- Causality – It is important for people to not only know what affects their credit score and chances of getting a loan, but why it affects their credit score and chances of getting a loan. Each section needed to include reasoning behind why things are they way they are in order for people to gain confidence.
- Personal Context – Provide tools or examples of good and bad hypothetical situations that people can compare to their personal situation as an indicator of their loan worthiness.
- Action Items – If they need to improve, show them ways they can improve their situation.
As for voice, plain language is a given, but I wanted it to be very direct and friendly. One of my biggest goals for the voice was to give a sense of learning the “secrets of the pros” or having a person on the inside who’s got your back and tells it like it is. This contrasts with a lot of other sites (including our old one) that were weirdly opaque and seemed like they were always trying to sell something. For a mental image, I pictured Vince Vaughn explaining all this to me (not a joke).
After deciding on direction and voice, I went back over all of the verbatim notes from our research, copied each separate thought in to a spreadsheet, and tagged each row with Primary and Secondary themes as well as some metadata around the interviewee. This tool is a combination of Steph Hay’s language board, and my research note taking/synthesis method of separating out thoughts and feedback into rows of a spreadsheet and tagging them with concepts and themes. This allows me to quickly access and use the exact language that our users use to describe these concepts, as opposed to using internal language that might be corporate-y. Steph Hay uses the example of residence halls and dorms, “People search “dorm” on the university’s website, but the university has everything under “residence hall” on the website.”
Language board / synthesis tool hybrid
Actually Writing Words
The writing itself can be pretty intimidating to start, I had to completely isolate myself from everything and just sit there with the keyboard. The best advice I got from our content strategy team was to write it all out in one continuous chunk like it’s a conversation; I call this an Ingot, because it’s unstructured raw content that can be poured in to a mold (the design). This helped a LOT. I knew what the chunks were eventually going to be, but starting out without structure really helps get everything out without worrying about where it’s going to end up or trying to fill in little buckets; I imagine I would have lost some of the concepts I wanted to talk about if I was thinking about it otherwise. I went back-and-forth with the synthesis tool the whole time, checking to see that I was matching the language we heard from our interviews.
Mixing in with Design
After getting everything out on paper, I sat side-by-side with our visual designer and we worked through each page. The natural flow of the content dictated the structure of the pages that were already loosely planned out. This worked really well as we were both able to argue for certain decisions and compromise on the right things. In the end I feel really great about the work. Check it out on Capital One’s Home Loans site!