How design and functionality factor into publishing programs

When people are talking about how to put together a quality publishing program most all of them hit the same three or four points: Make it regular, make it quality, curate and share links generously and so on. But one thing that rarely gets discussed in depth is how the design and functionality of the platform – for argument’s sake let’s just say we’re talking about a blog here – plays into how those programs are designed and executed.

I’m sure that no one would argue with the general statement that design is important. The user experience on a publishing hub needs to be a positive one or, quite simply, people won’t come back. You can rationalize (as I did for a number of years) that if the design isn’t fantastic that’s alright since those people should be encouraged to subscribe to the RSS feed, where all the design gets stripped out anyway. But that’s a bit naive and overlooks how design and functionality support the publishing in a number of ways.

First there’s the simply the choice of platform that’s being used for that publishing hub. For many of the programs we run at Voce we use WordPress because quite frankly our Platforms development team can do just about anything with the software that they’ve ever been asked to. But beyond familiarity and skill, WordPress allows them to do whatever the client needs the platform to do.

That brings us to the second point, which is how does the platform work to support all – or at least most – of the spokes that come off of that publishing hub. Again looking at many of the programs we help to manage at Voce, a lot of the corporate blogs display the most recent Tweets, links we’ve saved as bookmarks to Delicious, a featured video from YouTube or Vimeo and more as well as buttons linking to Facebook and whatever other outlets there might be. So when someone comes to that blog they see right in front of them samples from many of the components of the publishing program.

There’s also the interaction mechanisms to consider. That can range from how people are able to leave comments – including whether or not they have the option to use their Facebook or Twitter credentials to identify themselves – to how they’re encouraged to share what they’re reading or watching. But this isn’t just as simple as making sure you have comments enabled or have installed Facebook Connect. There’s a fundamental way in which this has to be integrated into the platform and therefore into the overall publishing strategy in order to make it attractive and useful to the reader. It has to flow within the design or it’s going to be an eyesore that trips up the audience’s experience.

Five years ago or so when everyone was being encouraged to just “start a blog” there were a lot of assumptions made that wherever you did this was fine. It was very much part of the “social media is cheap and easy” movement. And, as I’ve said to people again and again, yeah it’s possible to start a blog and get it mapped to a custom domain in about five hours. But content is judged by the wrapping it’s put in and the quality content that will be coming from a corporate publishing program deserves a quality presentation. Ideally it’s one that is designed with the same sort of strategic and tactical considerations as the content creation since, in the end, they’re all serving the same purpose.

By Chris Thilk

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist with over 15 years of experience in online strategy and content marketing. He lives in the Chicago suburbs.