My first draft of this piece began by walking through definitions of the word “content.” The noun form. As I revised the work I grew to realize that, like a cold pool, the best approach is to jump right in instead of relying on formal definitions. So, I decided to write my own.
When I think of content, I define it like this:
The sum of the ideas, the text, and the form of a work of art. It makes the audience feel something, learn something, take action – or all three.
Like the atom, which is composed of protons, neutrons, and electrons, there are three basic elements that comprise any piece of content: ideas, text, and form. The three elements feed one another in a rich partnership that drives the story forward and produces meaning for the audience.
Meaning is what we want the audience to take away from the experience of interacting with the content. It is that thing we want them to remember, ponder, and recall. We make meaning sticky when we create an experience that engenders a feeling. The meaning, the feeling – these are what linger in the memory long after the experience. This transfer of meaning and emotion is how we create human connections through our work.
Lets peek at the three elements and see how they make this happen.
The idea is the seed from which the finished piece is borne. You need only start with one. And an elementary understanding of it is the minimum requirement. Before long, a single idea will lead you on a creative journey to the discovery of a garden of intertwined ideas. The exploration of ideas through the written word will bear more fruit than expected, and each draft will defy expectations. But each draft will reveal related ideas and shape the main idea. It is through this work of art that you understand your ideas and their relationships.
Writing is one of the primary ways we explore ideas and expand our understanding of our world. In this case, it is the simple act of producing text. The text – or what we want to say – shapes the entirety of the final piece. Without it, we can’t find the form, produce the visuals, or lay out the piece. The text reshapes the idea through the revision process until we reach its fullest expression.
Form encompasses design. The form adds shape to our words and ideas and helps convey meaning and understanding. The form represents the structure and all the elements within it – layouts, interactions, even the physical design of the content delivery mechanism (like a book, for example). Once we have the words, we can explore the form. The form and the words shape each other while reshaping the ideas. This is the continual process of revision that compels us forward until we discover the finished piece that expresses the meaning behind the now mature ideas. In some cases, text is a vehicle to produce form and will be dropped in the final version.
Ideas, text, and form combine and re-combine to deliver meaning and produce an emotional response in the audience. For the content creator, the meaning shifts throughout the alchemic creative process as they better understand the subject and how best to express it.
As ideas clarify, this iterative process through which content creator makes their own meaning yields insights, and as creators, we are changed by our work. Ultimately, we transfer this meaning from creation experience through the three elements, which partner to tell a story that creates shared meaning for the audience and moves them to take action.