Events Service design

Is good content service design? And how do you deliver it?

Thank you to everyone at IXDA Sydney — especially Joe and Lisa who were no sooner off the plane from the IXDA international conference in Milan, than they were hosting another event and sharing what they learned.

The Feb 20 IXDA gathering headline speaker was Mel Flanagan from Nook Studios who shared Nook’s case studies and approach. Check out Nook’s site for the government case studies outlined on the night.

Nook’s approach is content first, participatory, highly visual, and user-centred. The government case studies featured websites, brochures, and videos. Examples reimagined maps to overlay other information like policy data. Others included visual representations of process and legislation to show where people fit in. One such visualisation influenced the government department involved to create an extra step in their process for community consultation and outreach. This shows the power of reimagining and ‘evidencing’ experiences.

Here is what I took away and took notice of from the evening.

Reframing service design with content strategy

  • Services don’t work without content. Content is central to the experience
  • If you are not being content-first you are making transactions, not experiences
  • Get to know the policy, how the money flows, the time involved, the material flows – to then map and visualise a process that people can make sense of and use

“Content design is service design” Mel Flanagan, Nook Studios.

Content and information design is service design

  • Consider, what the user journey is and should be, and what the content experience should be to support it
  • What information do people need to know and understand across their journey? (Mel spoke of creating technical maps, story maps, and policy maps).
  • What decisions is the user informing?
  • Who do they need to go to? What are their rights?

“A lot of what we are doing is map making” Mel Flanagan, Nook Studios

Redesign the project

  • Gather data and content first
  • Have a content team from the start to avoid the ‘content crisis’ that occurs when project development and design streams progress too far without content. After all, what can you launch without content?
  • Rethink “discovery” phrase – include an explicit pre-design phase to understand objectives, audiences, stakeholders and importantly to also understand the context, data, and what content exists now
  • Include participation with stakeholders at every step
  • Optimise your workflow and design process to produce the digital experience with print artefacts

As always, be human-centred

  • Get to know your audience to give them what they need
  • Take a participatory approach with stakeholders
  • Test concepts with the target audience/end-users



Content strategy meets design system

Feb 10 was a joint meet-up between Sydney Content Strategy and the Design Systems meetups. The speakers were:

  • Tony Starr, Content Design Manager for the Atlassian Cloud Platform and Product Content Standards;
  • Steven Berends, formally at the DTA and currently founder of Bear Lion Bird and on assignment at the Australian Trade and Investment Commission.

Both speakers outlined projects and the underlying principles where content has evolved alongside and within design systems. Anthony Starr titled his talk “Strive for 73% content in your design system”. This was not about content playing second fiddle and both talks showed that mature product and service design teams are merging design systems and content strategy.

So what’s in a system?

  • Pattern libraries and style guides but keep these short, usable, and readable
  • Style and grammar: voice and tone, mechanics, glossaries
  • Resources for writing user-facing documentation, emails, in product help, and other content
  • Examples of best practice

The problem that content strategy and content design systems are solving for:

  • The friction caused by inconsistency across ecosystem of websites and services
  • Creating consistency throughout the user journey
  • Capturing institutional knowledge

As always

  • Start with user needs, meet the user story


  • Identify indicators as well as measures – e.g. 0 searches on pages can infer unmet needs


  • Consider a content style council to manage decisions. The metaphor of a tree was used to show this system of decisions
  • Root decisions
    • Terminology
    • Voice and tone
    • Brand guidelines
    • Messaging (think microcopy of interactions)
    • Organisational styles
  • Trunk decisions
    • Glossary
    • Product terminology
    • In-product experiences
    • ‘Spicy’ style and grammar choices
  • Branch decisions
    • Content patterns
  • Leaf decisions:
    • Product guidelines
    • Standards and style choices

Form communities of practice, be visible to embed use:

  • Team up with Brand to increase ‘capacity through the system’
  • Allow uniqueness, and
    • incorporate new patterns into the system
    • also ask that people document why they have created a new pattern
  • Keep agile practice, interaction design, and developers close
  • Socialise wherever and whenever possible. Examples included:
    • Through project delivery
    • laying the groundwork with stakeholders
    • being visible in Slack/social channels
    • speaking at in house events
    • attending team and project brainstorm sessions
    • considering a service design to support the design and content system

Thanks as always to Elle Geraghty for organising an amazing free community event. For more info on future meetups by these organisers go to: and

If you want to learn more another write-up of the meetup was captured by Mattia Fregola at and a video of one of the talks is available at


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