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How good content design helped me travel during the pandemic

Updated: Feb 4, 2022

When the virus hit Italy hard, all I could think of was when I would be able to see my family back home. As countries started closing borders and Trump banned travel from Europe, my hopes to see them started waning down. So I did like everyone else, I went on lockdown and did my best to stay safe, be patient and wait for new guidelines on traveling.

While the amount of contradicting news from all over the world was overwhelming, I consistently checked government and health department sites to stay abreast of any new directive. Sifting through new laws, decrees, and guidelines word by word, I was looking for anything that would tell me when I could go home and how to do it safely. Never before, words on websites had meant so much to me personally.

Fast-forward to more than four months later, I’m safely quarantining in my hometown. As I think about what a journey it has been, I realize how much well-designed content helped me figured out how to reunite with my family.

Good content, responsible travel

On my long journey back home, I had to self-isolate for a short time in the UK. As a UX practitioner, I am a fan of the work of Sara Richards and know that many experts in the field of content design are based in the UK. As a user looking for information on how to safely travel to the UK, I experienced first-hand how GOV.UK uses brief, easy to understand, and clearly laid-out content to improve an already stressful situation made worse by a global pandemic.

Traveling internationally—and especially relocating abroad—can be a complex ordeal. The spread of the virus made it nerve-wracking.

As countries work to contain the spread, immigration offices are asking users to fill out immigration forms to track people’s movements across borders. From finding accurate information and guidelines to completing the correct form, the process can be overwhelming and frustrating. For me, that process was downright daunting as seeing my family after months apart was on the line. Traveling to the UK, however, reassured me all the way that if I followed the right process I would be ok—at least from an immigration perspective.

A stress-free journey

The first step in my journey to prepare for my first international trip since the start of the pandemic was finding the right information. Navigating through the site was quite easy, but what was even better was that all I had to do was googling travel to the UK. Entering the UK is the first search result and the most relevant to what I was looking for. On this well-laid-out page, I found all the information I needed and what’s most important I was able to identify the recommendations for traveling during the pandemic and the form to provide my journey details and contact information right away.

Search is more often than not the first step in a user journey. Finding the right information is key to a stress-free user journey. Easy-to-navigate, well-organized content and strong use of SEO for discoverability are key to a successful user journey. Thinking of content within the UX framework as only writing would be reductive, in my opinion. While the writing can be clear and informative, good writing would be pointless if users cannot find what they are looking for.

"Speak as you eat"

There’s a saying in Italy that translates as: speak as you eat, which simply means to convey information plainly to avoid complexity. I think this saying applies very well to the Gov.UK experience. Once I was able to find what I was looking for, scanning through the content was a breeze. As I read through the information, these were the content qualities that made my experience frustration-free:

  1. A simple, well-balanced layout: Using negative space, bullet points, and related content made the information easy to read and digest. Admittedly, I’m a sucker for lists so I found the list of descriptive links at the top each page a particularly nice touch.

  2. Brief, simple writing: Also referred to as “writing in plain English,” the British deemed easy-to-understand content so important that they create a government campaign around it.

A little aside on warning messages. According to the Nielsen Norman Group, error messages should be:

“...clearly visible, reduce the work required to fix the problem, and educate users along the way.”

In this particular case, reading the warning message was vital to not only safe traveling but also avoiding a heavy fine so I’m glad it was bolded and easy to see and understand.

Lack of clear information has been the most frustrating aspect of the spread of the virus. Being able to find accurate and easy-to-understand travel directives on the GOV.UK website has been reassuring and refreshing. This experience has reminded me how important content written for humans by humans is and how much of an impact it can have on someone’s life. So a personal thank you goes to all the UX and content professionals who do their best to simplify our lives during a scary time.

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