Confab Intensive 2016

Last month, I volunteered at Confab Intensive. I figured, how often does the content strategy conference come to my hometown? It was fun and busy… and very well-organized. I was so impressed that the Brain Traffic team showed up with signs and flags to tell people how to find their workshop sessions. Having been at UXPA in the same hotel earlier in the year, I can tell you that it’s hard for attendees to find their way around the meeting rooms in the Westin. The food is lovely, though.

My takeaways:

  • Workshops are a great way to bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and actual experience.
  • We are all still learning. (Thank goodness; wouldn’t it be boring if we stopped?)
  • Are you tired of all the groups in your organization arguing over who gets space on the homepage? Ida Aalen has the solution with her core model. (I confess, I was kind of unimpressed with the name “core model” until she started talking and I understood what the benefit was.) The idea is well-described in her slides from Confab Intensive 2015 and her article, “The Core Content Model” on A List Apart.
  • You made a beautiful style guide. But nobody uses it. Eileen Webb has a great way to handle that, using the UX principle of providing information in the context where people need it. Her article, “Training the CMS” on A List Apart, sums up the solution well.




The only disappointing thing about the conference was that being in one session meant missing out on another one. I’m kind of sad I missed out on the content-first design session by Steph Hay, since I love her Lean Content talk on “Testing Marketing Copy (Instead of Spinning Your Wheels)”. And I’m also sad I had to miss most of Ahava Leibtag’s talk on governance, since she wrote my favorite book on content strategy.

I enjoyed Tracy Playle’s talk on comedy in content strategy, and I’m looking forward to reading her upcoming book on it. She also has some lovely cards for brainstorming exercises, and I hope she makes them available for sale sometime.

Carrie Hane and Mike Atherton’s talk on content modeling had the best slides. (If you missed it, watch the “How to design future-friendly content” webinar recording on But it left me with some questions: what do you do when you’ve made a content model, put it in your CMS… and now you find there’s some problem with it? Now it takes dev time and budget to fix. So I’ve always hesitated about structured content for that reason. I have to admit, though, that I’ve never worked with a good CMS, so perhaps that’s the real problem.

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