Podcast Ep. 25 – Strategic content design for people and machines w/ Are Halland

In this episode, Noz Urbina and Are Halland explore the application of content models in the digital landscape, focusing on practical strategies for flexible, personalized, and omnichannel content solutions.

What you will learn:

  • The value and challenges of adopting AI for the pharmaceutical industry
  • The concept and methodology of the core model for content design
  • How to prioritize user needs and business objectives in content creation
  • The impact of content design on user engagement and business outcomes
  • Techniques for channel-agnostic content development and distribution



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Are Gjertin Urkegjerde Halland is the inventor of the Core Model. He has 25 years of experience with strategy, communication, and product development. He has worked both as a consultant and in-house with business strategy, innovation processes, user research, UX design, content strategy, and information architecture. From 2006 to 2019 he worked for the Norwegian digital agency Netlife Design, implementing the core model as a cornerstone methodology. He now works as an independent coach, speaker, facilitator, and consultant, helping people take advantage of the simple power of the Core Model.


Full session transcript


Noz Urbina  00:02

This is Noz Urbina, your host of the omnichannel podcast brought to you by omnichannel X and Urbina Consulting I am omnichannel X, Content Curator and program director and the founder of Urbina Consulting, so I have the pleasure of bringing you my favorite salt leading speakers and contributors to this community about how we can all go omni channel more effectively faster and with less risk. So I’m here today with Ari Holland. Ari is a independent consultant who works in the areas of strategic content design and helps bridge the gap between multiple different functions within the business and interconnect silos. Today we’re gonna be talking to ra about AI and its relationship with things like content modeling, content design, and being strategic for creating content for people and machines. So all right. Hi, welcome. Thanks for joining us. Why don’t you tell the group a little bit about yourself and how you got into this? 


Are Halland  12:03 

Okay. So I’m a Norwegian, and I found out the other day I’ve been working for a quarter of a century with digital strategy the site and communications 


Noz Urbina  12:19 

makes me feel old doesn’t know 


Are Halland  12:20 

this. But kind of this. I think everything is about people at some level. And the experience you get it’s it’s not just the tools you’re using, right? Now. It’s about the overall thinking and how people cooperate to great to create great experiences, to connect strategy and use the needs in in cooperation and within the organization to create delightful user experiences that were just strategic goals for the organization. So 


Noz Urbina  13:04 

what kind of roles have you had? Oh, 


Are Halland  13:09 

so let me count the ways. I’ve been Information Architect for quite a few years. UX designer and also a strategy consultant. So I’ve been working quite a lot with with content and users, how strategy connects to this. And, yeah, I’ve done 100 projects and counting and I actually did the new user testing with more than 1000 people. So I have kind of the background is mainly user experience side 


Noz Urbina  13:59 

and complex. You’re making me jealous. wish I’d kept track over all these years of fun to have the numbers so I’m gonna see if I can figure it out retrospectively. So already, you’re you’re kind of most famous and well associated with this idea of the core model, which I’m gonna ask you about. But I would like to first put that into context of what a lot of people are talking about right now. And themed session series that we’re running this year on content modeling. And of course, everyone is very excited about artificial intelligence. So these things are all connected, which we’ll get to, I’m sure in the course of the conversation, but I wanted to ask you first, what your what you feel the big kind of challenge is with adopting AI right now for the kind of organizations that you’re working with? 


Are Halland  14:50 

Yeah, I genericity in generative AI are fantastic. Tools. And it’s, it’s a paradigm shifts. It’s evolving in extremely fast pace. So, but I think the main thing with AI, it can do whatever you want, but you have to know what you want. That’s the main thing. You still have to know your users, their needs. And you have to have a clear eye on what is your strategic business goals. And you need to prioritize based on this and you need to involve the organization kind of align around these priorities so that if you have this in place, you have a much better picture of what you ask for what you want AI to do. For you to create the problems and feed the inputs that the models need. Sorry about that. So if you know what you want, then you can use AI if you don’t know them. I will not be that helpful. 


Noz Urbina  16:15 

Yeah, absolutely. I’m saying now I don’t know if I’ve said on the podcast before this. The kind of phrase I’m saying as AI turns us all into programmers without being coders in the sense that we can create logic and we can create what we want a series of events and before we had to go to coders who spoke computer language to be able to translate that so that the computers would actually do what we want. Now with AI we’re at a point where we can speak to the computers directly all of us and that creates a much bigger responsibility for us to have our our requirements, our thoughts, our desires, and the logic of all this much better worked out. So I think that in that aspect it causes humans to raise their game which I think is fantastic. So when we are doing this, when we’re kind of trying to figure out what do we want, we’re trying to get strategic about our content. We it is a design process, you know, we’re having a dialogue with each other we’re having we’re doing user research, and and I like to say we’re treating the content like a product, what are the requirements, what’s going to be the beta release, what is going to be the 1.0 release and how are we going to add features and functions overtime to our content. So the term content design is is rising fast in the market. What do you mean when we talk about strategic content design? 


Are Halland  17:46 

So, so what is contents? are defined content is whatever answers you provide to user needs. So it’s text multimedia, database functionality. Everything. So confident that this sign is about providing content that the user wants where they want it in the way they want it and being able to think strategically is your ability to plan for the future. So I think strategic content design design is about creating and maintaining, not just creating, but the right content. So you can provide this across channels, prioritized based on strategy and user needs. And in a cross competency collaboration within the organization. The core model is a tool that I developed to do it justice. 


Noz Urbina  18:57 

Yeah, so I think the main maintenance thing is really, really important. I think we have a lot of feed the machine kind of or feed the beast kind of content processes where we want to create more and new and and we would default to creating stuff rather than leveraging. So I think that’s very interesting when you say that the core model can address all of that. So how does that how does that work? What it can we define the core model first, first of all, 


Are Halland  19:26 

you know, and the core model is a kind of a framework that it’s a very simple canvas with cameras with six elements. And this is the basis for a workshop format. And it has kind of a practical philosophy for how to collaborate, competent competency. But I think basically, it’s about flipping the perspective to start out with one or at a time instead of trying to solve everything at once. So you kind of define the starting point, then you can see the connections, you can create answers that are channel agnostic. Okay, so yeah, it’s a simple framework to take the strategy and the customer journey down to earth. And it’s six simple elements that anyone can understand. Wanting to tie together these elements is I think, its design thinking in a nutshell so that everyone can can understand. 


Noz Urbina  20:38 

So when you say a core, what is it what does that mean that core? 


Are Halland  20:43 

Yeah, a core could be actually anything, could be a process. It could be a web page, it could be a user need, it could be a product. So you define a starting point, you make a hypothesis about what your core is, and then you use this model to kind of dive into and find out how is how it should leverage what your wants within this framework of use needs, business objectives, and all of this. 


Noz Urbina  21:22 

So it’s the center of your discussion that you’re having about in that workshop. 


Are Halland  21:26 

Hmm. Yeah, so it’s a you form a hypothesis and then you use this canvas to see if it’s the right hypothesis. So you might end up with several cores, or you might find that there is no core, you’re actually solving the right problems. So it’s a kind of a thinking to 


Noz Urbina  21:47 

solve. Problem solving the wrong problem. 


Are Halland  21:51 

Hopefully solving the right that you might find that you’re actually solving. Not necessarily the wrong problem, but your hypothesis of the channel and the format might be wrong. So I have an example of this. 


Noz Urbina  22:08 

Yeah, we put it it would be good to put this in. Also in the process. Context, when when would you have such a workshop? Like what do you need before it so that you can be ready for such a workshop? And so if you can tell us in your examples, a little bit of that backstory, that’d be great. 


Are Halland  22:28 

Yeah. And the core model, you have to know your strategy, and you have to know the user needs and you have to have apoptosis, or what to make so it doesn’t kind of doesn’t, you have to know this, you have to have insight into users and their tasks and before they can use this framework, but typically, if it’s in a kind of a start phase of defining product, making a minimum viable product, or working with your value proposition, but it can also use it and as to kind of working with the product two stages, take a step back and see if you’re making the right thing. And how does the thing you’re making connect to the rest of the customer journey? And how does it connect to the your other products and does it solve your business objectives? So it’s kind of typically at the start, but also, as we go along between sprints, for instance, take a small step back and see are we making the right thing? Do we actually solve the problems? We should solve? 


Noz Urbina  24:00 

So I want to remind everybody that when we say product, we that product could be content, it could be websites, it could be video, it could be whatever. Although there’s no reason it can’t be a product more traditional sense, like an application or a or a device. So do you have any particular projects where you felt that this added a lot of value? 


Are Halland  24:21 

Yeah. I kind of a classical case for the court model was this. We’re doing a website redesign for the Norwegian Council union and they have had a very similar oriented website and information architecture was 


Noz Urbina  24:42 

so that what oriented website Yeah, so 


Are Halland  24:45 

sender oriented, not user oriented, kind of sampled around here around. Our needs are not usually it’s right. Yeah. And the motion architecture was basically silos was the departments in the organization. You had a lot of new news articles. Happy news that we want to produce that doesn’t really solve user needs. And they had a main call to action which was become a member now. But so this was the basis. And then we looked into user needs. We defined the user, or what we did was we actually asked the users Why did you come to the website? What are your user tasks and what typically happens when you do that is that you see, there are some top tasks that it’s really 80% of the requests are just a small part of the content. So this is about identifying those top tasks. And used as your that use that as the tool for prioritizing. Now use the task is is very important part of the core model. So what we find was that users had kind of three tasks either they had cancer, wants to know how to live and live with cancer or they are afraid that they might have or might get cancer. So the main use of tasks was to find the symptoms how to treat and how to prevent it. And the business objectives mainly is to help patients and family families live good lives. Increase and also they wanted to increase the number of inquiries to this cancer line for I had a professional nurses, other people who who kind of could relax and ask questions for real human beings so they wanted to increase the number of requests go to council. And also, of course, they want to increase donations, increase membership. So this was the kind of the starting point to tasks. We knew the target groups and you knew the business objectives. And then we had kind of a process where we prioritized one core, which is, which was a form of cancer, cell lung cancer, so the core is a cancer form. And then we had this core workshop to work across silos and competencies to define the most important content elements and how to prioritize. And we knew that our main call to actions or we defined and found that main quotes a call to action should be contact the cancer line to talk to human being, and we very much downplayed the become a member and we find that if you treat people well, they will become members. Eventually. They have to doesn’t you don’t have to recruit cancer patients. You have to treat them well and they will become members. And 


Noz Urbina  28:40 

so you actually, the the main call to action within which they felt was the thing that they should be pushing for you downplayed that but it actually helped their main objective. 


Are Halland  28:54 

Yeah, we we kind of we we just buried the become member it was we made kind of long pages with quality content around constant firms and almost at the bottom was become a member. But by citing the become a member call to action, we actually doubled the number of membership so it’s kind of finding the right a core model. It’s about defining this core and then you create inward thoughts, how should people find the core content and define the forward thoughts? What should have happened next. So we will find a forward path, which is when you come to a website, you’re not there to donate. But a forward path was to read about cancer research. Understand that these are very important projects. And on that page, we can have a call to action on donate. And this this tactic actually led to a 200% increase in donations. So not just the core model, but using this thinking about invalid paths, four paths and how these Connect. 


Noz Urbina  30:26 

Right. So that’s all part of the canvas, the inward paths in our paths as part of the methodology. 


Are Halland  30:30 

Yeah, maybe I should explain the canvas. 


Noz Urbina  30:33 

Yeah, I was actually going to remind people also that we have a workshop available on the core model through omnichannel. X already, if you have been a subscriber when you should have access to that to see a little bit more detail with some visuals. But please do walk us through walk us through what the canvas looks like so people can kind of picture it a bit. 


Are Halland  30:54 

Yeah, it’s six very simple elements, or actually, it’s six questions that you have to answer in the process. And if you answer these questions one by one, then we will come out with a much clearer picture of what to make or what to ask your AI to create. So the Canvas has a top floor where you have the first element is the target group. Who are you making this solution for? The next element is use of tasks. What do people come to do? What are they their needs? And the third element is, are the business objectives, the measurable key results that you want this core to actually deliver on? So that’s the top floor, the contexts. And then you have the main floor, which is a inward path to a core, and then a forward path from the core and the inward path is how should people find your content? What is What are how do you drive traffic? Or another way to look at it is what was what is the previous path of the customer journey? Before this court? So it’s, it’s about? It’s about Inbound Marketing, it’s about information architecture is it’s about customer journey. So it’s the same thinking. So define the inward paths. And then before you come to the core content, define also the four parts and the four parts is what do you want to happen next. So then you look at the business objectives and you define so how do you want this customer journey to continue? And if you look at your business objectives, then you’ll have a much clearer picture of what should be your call to action. You can also leverage principles from behavioral design on how to choose to encourage that behavior that you want. So the inward parts and the four parts and when you have all of these, when you have these elements, as answered these questions, then you come to the core content, which is how do you answer the questions and reach the business objectives at the same time. So and this is about not jumping to solution, but the finding this framework before you work with the solution. And then there are a number of different techniques for how you can work with contents, core content, but really degree you tie in some overarching principles that you want. And you look at different content elements and what functionality you need. And also your ask yourself, what channels what channels should its contents be leveraged in? So actually, the core model is channel agnostic. You define the content and then you see what channels with this content be presented in. 


Noz Urbina  34:40 

comes last after you defined? Yeah, what the answers are gonna be. Hmm, yeah. So I’m a big fan of this concept. I think it relates a lot to the kind of customer journey work that we’re doing. It’s kind of a little window into the customer journey. So to summarize, just to come back here so you have across the top you’ve got who your target audience what they want to do, and then the business objectives, kind of kind of your context setting. And then there’s many context journey, at least many customer journey of the incoming paths and the outgoing paths. So where, where might they have come from? So the user context and then calls to action and pass out of that particular piece of content? Yeah, at the end of that you discuss, okay, well, what channels should this appear on? So you could that the same kind of core could appear it could be represented on multiple channels. 


Are Halland  35:38 

Yeah, absolutely. You might find that very often, we see that this is actually a YouTube video. It’s not a web page, or this is something completely different. This cute little example, where we’re making a website for telling you, which is the largest telco in Norway, and we wanted in task was to make it websites that explained their invoice. So nobody understood the invoice and we’re supposed to explain it. But using the core model we saw that of course, the core is not the website, nobody would use the website. The core is actually the invoice itself. So we had to make a better invoice and so that people didn’t have any questions. So that’s kind of a typical example of where you use this framework to actually see that the core is something else. It’s a different channel. What you thought initially, initially, 


Noz Urbina  36:49 

yeah, that’s a great one where you’re actually going what is the actual user need and desire and how are they actually going to want to access it? Okay, so how does this with this this big session series we’re doing this year is is about content modeling, and I mentioned we’re gonna talk about AI a lot. How does this relate to content modeling? I was thinking specifically, could you have a content type as your core as opposed to a specific piece of content? In the sense could we could you use this to define what should be the typical inroads and typical out out paths from our articles or a certain class of article or how to page or how does these two things wrap up? 


Are Halland  37:32 

Yeah, I the problem. A huge problem with content modeling is that it’s so abstract, it’s so different, difficult to comprehend. So have less content modeling is a basically a paradigm shift. That’s hard for people in organization to do understand. And I think that by starting out with something concrete, or a core and having a process to define it and then use these results to inform the content modeling process, but since the core could be anything you can definitely start with a content elements that you are a hypothesis about the content element. Or you could use the core model to define which parts or you can this construct the core and see how the content models should should align to this. So it’s about having a concrete starting point and something concrete that you can hold on to so that you understand the core concepts of, of content modeling and an audit sanity or carry hang. So fond of using this, this method. So before you stop content modeling, you do a core workshop, to see to inform the process and have people understand this thinking because the core being channel agnostic. What you want are content elements that kind of answers the user tasks fulfills the business goals. So it’s much more concrete approach to content modeling. So it’s kind of a headed pedagogical way of understanding on that modeling. 


Noz Urbina  39:42 

Yeah, I think that’s great because one of the things we struggle with one of the things we’ve been addressing in this series this year, has been the abstractness and the difficulty of wrapping your head around content modeling. It’s it’s it’s something that people need, but something that people don’t understand. We’ve been one of the most exciting topics we’ve we’ve addressed with a huge number of people registering for these sessions, because with headless and I think with artificial intelligence, which I’d like to ask you about now. It’s become more and more important to have this structured approach to define our content types or content elements and how that really maps to user needs regardless of channel. So I’m interested. So we talked, we started at the top of the session talking about AI. How does the core model this process of strategically working out our user needs and our content structures and how it addresses user needs? How does that relate to AI? Like how, how does this make us more apt able to leverage AI or keep talking about AI making us redundant? So how does it these two things fit together? 


Are Halland  40:58 

Yeah, like I said in the beginning and the intro, is that the main problem? With AI is knowing what to ask for what you want AI to do for you. And the core model helps you define what you want. So you take the user needs, the business objectives, and from the inward path you you can also look at the search words. So what are the keywords people are using? That’s a an important part of the inward thoughts and the forward path is about prioritization and calls to action. So when you’re working with core content, you find these overarching principles and prioritization channels. So when you have this you have a very good starting point for making prompts for AI, and giving AI or Chuck GPT or Claude or whatever you there are literally hundreds tools and a new AI startup every day. So whatever tool you’re using, you now have a much better starting point for creating good prompts and feeding AI with the background it needs. So from the target group, you could die, the final persona and have aI you answer the questions that this persona have and that is something that Aya likes to know the target audience, because then it can tailor the content towards that. And in the use of tasks you have the questions that people want to get answered. So that’s also a very good input to AI to. So AI knows what to answer, and for whom, and, of course, you can also have aI create different kinds of content for different channels. So how should this be leveraged on a web page or in a social media, LinkedIn posts or whatever? So you can use our to generate different forms of your contents. So of course, using AI you this is kind of a sparring partner, a first draft you have to do QA and, and another thing you can impact of course is your tone of voice and other principles you have defined in your strategy and when we’re not just AI will produce the entire website for you and not distant future. So then you can input your design system. And yeah, they can use this framework to new know, what you want to feed AI with and what complex context you should give it and also having understanding within your organization, how we use AI to create content that delivers on user needs and business objectives. So this 


Noz Urbina  45:06 

provides us context even internally to help our colleagues understand how to apply AI where it can be applied, and how to couch that properly in user needs and strategy. Yeah, I like that. I like that. We’ve actually used it in some cases, for question brainstorming, in the sense of the AI has access to an enormous amount of human interactive interactions. So you can ask things like what would this kind of persona up to your persona want to know about this kind of product? Or what questions might they have at this stage of a process? And they can actually generate questions? That’s an interesting, fun thing to try. If you’re trying to brainstorm 


Are Halland  45:48 

Yeah, one thing I’m to do a top task analysis on your website, just asking people what they came to the website to do, and then you get a lot of free text free form inputs and having AI look through that and find the top tasks based on this formula. Two questions. That’s a great input to your user tasks. So excellent. 


Noz Urbina  46:22 

Right, so use it use it to summarize actual reserve data. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And as always, we always caveat this with with you cannot just trust AI without checking its work. Of course, I always treat AI as a very, very, very, very junior member of the team. So they are very useful, very fast, very efficient, but I need to be checked. Definitely. Okay. So where can we get where can we learn more about you in the core model? All right. How should people connect with you or follow up or if they have questions? 


Are Halland  46:58 

Yeah, and I have a book in the forthcoming book. It’s titled The core model, a common sense approach to digital strategy, the site and so it’s, hopefully this fall. It will come out and people can buy it. But in the meantime, you can look at my website on the car model.com. And, of course, sign up for the mailing lists to be informed that the book is there, and also to get the templates and articles on how to understand the portal is process. Yeah, so the Core Model COMM And then of course, you can check out my LinkedIn profile and follow me and then you get, yeah, so connect on LinkedIn, and check out the core model.com 


Noz Urbina  47:59 

Excellent. Excellent. Okay, great. Thank you so much for your time today. If people want to keep in touch with me, LinkedIn is a good place to or Urbina consulting.com. And please do check out the rest of the sessions available on this content modeling session series that we’re running all of these sessions will be available on demand after the series ends and they’re all available free of charge. You can sign up for an individual session, or you can sign up for the whole thing and get notified about all the sessions as they come out. Or we get access to the entire session library once it’s all available. On Demand. So that’s on omnichannel x dot digital and you can check under our events section. If you have any more questions or if you have topics you’d like to see addressed in the future, please do contact us. So thank you very much RA and thank you all to us for for joining the session. Talk soon everybody.