We are very excited to announce the first official keynote speaker for the Ingeniux User Conference 2016: Karen McGrane! Karen is a recognized expert and thought leader in the content strategy, information architecture, and interaction design fields. In this exclusive interview with Ingeniux, Karen discusses what drew her to these fields, as well as her thoughts on the current content management landscape after 20+ years in the industry.
Karen is the founder of Bond Art + Science, consultant in content strategy and information architecture consultant (former clients include Franklin Templeton and Time, Inc.), and a recognized thought leader in content strategy and user experience. Currently, Karen teaches Design Management in the MFA in Interaction Design program at the School of Visual Arts in New York, which aims to give students the skills they need to run successful projects, teams, and businesses. She is also the co-host of A Responsive Web Design Podcast with Ethan Marcotte.
At the user conference, Karen will discuss structured content and why it's important for the multi-device future.
Ingeniux: Please tell us a bit about yourself... Where did you begin your career and what is your area of expertise?
Karen: I'm one of the rare people with 20+ years of experience in this field who came in through the front door and have never done anything else. I studied human-computer interaction and technical communication in graduate school, and have been practicing UX design and content strategy ever since.
Ingeniux: What drew you to this field?
Karen: To some extent I got lucky. I started in this field in 1995, when the web was just taking off. I knew I enjoyed working with computers and thought that there might be career opportunities. In graduate school I learned the foundational principles of designing for a user or a reader, and that concept is still the driving force behind what I do.
Ingeniux: A portion of your career has been spent helping traditional publishers like the New York Times adapt their content for web and mobile. What are some of the roadblocks you had to break through with publishing organizations like these to help them prepare content that was better suited for the web?
Karen: All roadblocks are culture and politics. Entrenched values systems make it difficult for organizations to shift gears. There are economic disincentives for moving away from print in the immediate term, even though everyone can see where that's headed in the long term.
I am an independent consultant, and I'll confess that I'm not the one doing the difficult work of culture change-that happens from the inside. I will often get brought in to spark a discussion, or to solve specific and limited problems around content structure or author experience where I have expertise that in-house teams don't have (and don't need to have.) I can't necessarily break through roadblocks for people, but sometimes I can point out paths around them.
Ingeniux: You often speak and write about separating content from form; preparing content on the web to seamlessly adapt to different contexts and constraints. This might also be described as preparing content for multi-channel publishing. Why is this important in the digital world today?
Karen: Before the web, written communication was inextricably locked to the constraints of the printed page. When the web came along, we pretended a web page was really just like a sheet of paper. We produced designs and layouts to conform to the expected size of the screen. Today, it's not about getting our content to work on smartphones-it's about recognizing that we will never again be able to design around one fixed screen size.
I believe making that transition is more of a content problem than a styling problem. Content creators must develop more flexible, adaptive content that isn't attached to any one particular presentation format. Today, we need new publishing processes to help content make the leap to different platforms and devices. This isn't easy! But organizations that start thinking this way today will be better prepared for the future.
Ingeniux: Where do you see web content management platforms fitting into your view of the digital world today? From your perspective, what features and capabilities should a web content management platform or content distribution platform have in order to be successful?
Karen: Structured content is at the core of how I think about true multi-platform content. And I think we're lucky that most web content management systems support granular content pretty well.
Presentation-independence is another core concept that we're still wrestling with on the web. Frankly, I think there will always be tension between having authors encode semantics and having designers describe layouts. Separation of content from presentation needs to exist in our CMS products; it needs to exist in our human workflows. But in another sense, we truly can't separate content from layout in the content creation process-writers and editors need ways to control narrative form and presentation. I believe we will continue to evolve what this means. It's not going to work the same as print.
Ingeniux: Is there an anecdote you'd like to provide to prepare attendees for your presentation? What are you hoping they'll get out of the presentation?
Karen: In my talk, I describe the "zombie apocalypse" of new devices and platforms we are dealing with. I got that reference from a post by Scott Jenson . So if you're interested in multi-device publishing, structured content, or classic zombie movies, I hope you'll enjoy my talk.
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