The Mews Blog > Lateral thinking in content design
There’s a general tendency for people to really dig into their professional community when they want to learn and improve. I notice this a lot particularly in the content design community. People love to discuss voice and tone, title case vs sentence case, and so many other styling preferences, but this really does have its limits.
When you’re starting as a junior content designer, it will take time to get used to the way of thinking, shifting your perspective, knowing what to look for, and what questions to ask. After a couple of years, most content designers will have a grip on the basics, but for some reason choose to jump down the rabbit hole of cyclical discussions on the same topics. There’s not much to it, folks. After my first two years in the field, I remember asking my mentor, “Hey, do you know any useful content design blogs, podcasts, or books that you would recommend? I really want to improve.” His answer was very clear: “None that I would recommend. Look anywhere else, except to content design.”
The search for inspiration
At first, I thought his answer was a little weird because I thought that it would make sense to lean into my field. But now I get it, it really isn’t that deep. If you want to go beyond the basics, improve and innovate, you have to think laterally. Look into interior design, ergonomics, human physiology, and psychology. Yeah, it might sound like I’m going far out, but there are a lot of great lessons to learn when you simply know a little bit more about the reality we exist in.
My favorite example of lateral thinking in design is how the Japanese Shinkansen bullet train was developed. One of the engineers, Eiji Nakatsu, had to ensure that the train could travel at high speeds while keeping noise to a minimum, particularly as it travelled through cities. It just so happened that Mr. Nakatsu was also a birdwatcher. Taking his own interests into account, he investigated how a particular bird, the kingfisher, is able to dive into the water after fish at break-neck speeds with minimal resistance. He studied, learned, and utilized aspects from the kingfisher’s beak to shape the leading carriage of the Shinkansen bullet train.
This video explains more about the design process:
Video explainer on lateral thinking in design from Vox.
While Nakatsu’s story is impressive, you may think it’s not directly related to content design. You’re right, and that’s the point. But we often come across the same type of issue in content design. Improve one thing, while not sacrificing something else, and ensure that all stakeholders are kept happy – that’s the objective. But the solution may not be right in front of you, so look around.
Solutions are not industry-specific
As part of our content design process at Mews, we consider many factors when solving a problem. While solutions can be found by researching within the hospitality industry, we often look elsewhere to apply more relevant solutions in different cases:
Is a guest checking in, and waiting for a kiosk to load their reservation? We could just show them a screen that says “Loading…” while they wait – but we would also take inspiration from loading screens in games like Hearthstone – and display something more joyful like, “Fluffing pillows…”
Is a staff member issuing a room key to a guest? We might consider listing the instructions of how to activate the card – but we might also take inspiration from workout apps like Carrot Fit, and instead use a Gif to show them how to activate the card.
Our current medium may be keyboards and screens, but writing is not our primary function as Content Designers – the medium will change. What’s important is clear communication with our users, and that’s something that will never get old.
So, let’s not get too hung up on the same old styling debates. Let’s start innovating communication by thinking laterally. Look for inspiration – everywhere else.
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