Master’s Programme Content Strategy – Review of the Curriculum of the Second Semester

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Time flies – the second semester of my Content Strategy studies at the FH Joanneum Graz is nearly over. The energy levels are already below zero and only a few days off work are in sight. However, the project paper still has to be written and a few tasks are to be completed, including this blog post. Thus, time for a personal résumé of this semesters’ curriculum.

Open Space and Portfolio 2: Web Science and Internet Research

The main topics of this semester were internet research, web science and digital methods accompanied by portfolio-related activities. The main focus was on building and sharing knowledge within the group of students and lecturers. We were required to work on our “own online reputation” and to “build our personal brand using the web”.

I have to admit that I am not entirely happy with the WordPress blog template because it is rather restrictive concerning the design. I thought about a complete individual re-design over the summer but I am not sure any longer if this will be feasible considering the remaining tasks.

Concerning my blog posts, I am not totally satisfied as well but I think considering the time constraints the results are not that bad. However, I am not sure if I have managed to build my personal brand.

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Content Audits

Our lecturer calls content audits the “bedrock of the content strategy discipline”. Content planning and developing is only possible when we have a sufficient understanding of its “current state”.  There is no standardised way for content audits, they are always as individual as the content that is evaluated and they always need to be adapted to the project and the purpose.

In this course, we had to carry out a qualitative content audit of the website of the Elevate festival in Graz. Additionally, a social media audit and a competitor analysis were required. The goal was to provide the organisers of the festival with recommendations on how to improve the website content. (It has to be pointed out that they basically did a really good job but were probably just overwhelmed with the rapidly growing amount of content.) If you are interested in some details, please refer to my colleagues’ blog post Learning by doing: An information architecture case study of elevate.at.

So, the semester started with a huge amount of work. Although we were split into groups, the content audit itself had to be done by each of us individually. The other tasks were shared and the results had to be presented at the presence week in London. The short timeframe and the extent of content really made it a tough task! However, it was really insightful! A content audit shows you the soul of a website and you understand that you have to treat it carefully. Reduce the dark sides and increase the brightness of the bright sides. The website will rise and shine and can then help to meet future business goals.

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Information Architecture

An enterprise content strategy needs to be supported by a solid information architecture.

You can’t build a great building on a weak foundation. You must have a solid foundation if you’re going to have a strong superstructure.

Gordon B. Hinckley

“Fundamental concepts of structural design that provide the foundation for shared information environments” were covered in this course. They included:

  • Organisation schemes
  • Labelling systems
  • Navigation systems
  • Search systems

This course was thematically connected to Content Audits and we had to visualise the information structure of the Elevate website. Additionally, we had to develop a concept of our own in groups and suggest possible improvements concerning usability, findability, and understanding to the organisers of the festival.

I was really impressed by the amount and quality of the recommendations we came up with. COS17 is an awesome group of students! I am really curious how the Elevate website will look like next year.

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User Research and Interaction Design

The description of the course in the Trello board sounds rather harmless: “This course provides an introduction to the practice of user research and user interface design, explores different design layers and learn how content strategy impacts user experience and vice versa.” Believe me, that is only half of the truth!

The course was split into two parts. The first part introduced us for example to Garret’s Five Planes of User Experience, usability tests, heuristic evaluations, interviews etc. So far, so good!

The second part of the course was dedicated to project work with Arvid Brobeck, the UX Director at Digitas LBi in London. Please refer to my article Bias is a Nasty Bitch (and Apps are Fucking Hard to Create) to learn more about my takeaways from this project. It has been the most exhausting course so far but I have to admit that I learned a lot. And we will know if we really did an excellent job when we finally receive our grades.

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Basics of Empirical Social Research

This course turned out to be another energy thief. We started smoothly with theoretical input on quantitative empirical social research and continued with hypotheses and Likert scale item creation.

But then R happened! One letter, so much trouble! Our task was to create codes and to analyse the datasets produced with the programme. This task took away at least 10 hours of my lifetime! After approximately 500 “What???” exclamations and heavy cursing, I finally managed to hand in my results. However, without the help of my colleagues and my private technical stuff tutor, I would probably have failed!

The second part of the course was dedicated to qualitative empirical research. The focus was on interview techniques and interview questions and it was really interesting and helpful. The tasks were linked to the project work and made much more sense to me than using R which I will most probably never ever use again.

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Accessibility and Multiscreen Design

Have you ever been in the situation in which you had to climb tram steps with crutches? If you can answer this question with no, you are really lucky. Believe me, it is more than difficult! You just wish that there were more low floor wagons. There is a common awareness of this topic concerning locomotion. But have you for example ever thought about how visually impaired people use the internet?

The website W3C Web Accessibility Initiative informs how to make a website accessible to people with disabilities and this was one of the main topics of this course. One of our tasks was to check the accessibility of a website according to the Easy Checks instructions. My group performed the check for my company’s website and we detected some opportunities for improvement. I forwarded our summary file to the responsible persons within the company and they asked me if they may send the feedback over to the team working on the new website. I may even get the chance to do some shadowing which would be totally cool.

The second topic of the course was multiscreen design. The development of devices and screen sizes has been and still is an enormous challenge for the industry. The users want the perfect performance on any device. We heard a lot about awesome techniques to make that possible. However, they will probably remain a mystery to me forever.

If you are interested in an alternative approach to responsive web design, read my blog post Responsive Design – Is Laziness the new Effectiveness? which summarises a talk given by Ethan Marcotte at the web conference An Event Apart.

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Monitoring and Web Analytics

Web and social media analytics and how they can be used for “in-house feedback, optimisation and further development within the company/organisation)” were the focus of this course. Methods and tools were introduced to enable us to design, carry out and evaluate our own studies.

As I am a newbie in this area, it was very interesting for me to find out which kind of data is collected by websites. Data and privacy protection really get a new meaning when you devote some time to think about this topic. For companies, it is crucial to know the users of their websites. But if the users take a moment to contemplate, it may well be that they feel somehow naked.

For our group work, we have to develop a strategy to introduce a new chocolate brand to the market. We are supposed to do market research regarding the share of buzz, topics, hotspots and influencers. We still have to finish the task and to present our results which means that our “holidays” may not be exactly holidays.

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Empirical Project on Internet Research

The curriculum for the second semester also includes a project paper and thus it is guaranteed that our “holidays” will not really be holidays.

For my project paper, I plan to conduct usability tests combined with short follow-up interviews with 5 – 6 participants. My company wants to find out about opportunities to improve the usability of an internal service portal. I am really excited about this project because I get support from our usability/UX business unit.

However, I am also a bit afraid as the energy levels are already below zero and the timeline is tough. One thought that keeps me going is “One year to go!”

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Information Graphics and Visualisation (Elective Subject)

The second semester is the one with the highest number of subjects and the first one in which we had to choose elective subjects.

I decided to take Information Graphics and Visualisation and I do not regret it although the course somehow was more university-like than the other subjects. We learned the theory about how to interpret information graphics and had to use that knowledge for the tasks.

It may not have been the most favourite course of some of my colleagues but I simply loved it. But that was probably just because in this course I had prior knowledge from my English and American studies at the Karl-Franzens-University at Graz, while in most of the other courses I was the newbie.

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Knowledge Management and Internal Communication 1 (Elective Subject)

As my job title is “Document & Knowledge Management Lead”, it was only logical to choose this course.

We were introduced to concepts of knowledge management and to the rules of internal communication. The main focus of the course were issues connected to these areas. We discussed case studies and had to hand-in a concept for a solution for such an issue within our own company.

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Reading recommendation: „Das COS-Kinojahr 2018“ – die Blockbuster und Flops des Sommersemesters

© Photos: Alexandra Wurian

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