When it comes to improving web content, the proof is in the pudding

David Pepin is full of positivity and life as he sits down to tell me about his job in the Digital Transformation Office (DTO) at the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS). DTO is the design team for Canada.ca, and works on making the top tasks Canadians look to complete easier to accomplish. Through the vibrant energy he’s exuding across the table, it’s evident that he is passionate about his job.

It is a never-ending job to improve web content, David reminds us. Web content is not meant to be simply signed, sealed, and delivered. The web environment moves fast, and we need to constantly evolve our content to move with it.

In David’s role as a content designer, improving web content often means focusing on the actual words written on a webpage, “the design patterns make a difference, of course, but the words themselves are crucial for task success,” he says. While users may automatically be drawn to the look and feel of a website, people don’t always realize that things like headings are crucial. David hammers this point home: “headings are like road signs for people who are scanning the page; they have to provide enough information to lead people to the answer they're looking for, but not be too long that it then becomes distracting.

When working with subject matter experts within departments, it can be a challenge to reinforce the importance of simplifying content. It’s a matter of helping the experts realize that the content must be presented under the assumption that the end user does not have the same knowledge level as them. To demonstrate this point, DTO administers testing where participants try to find answers on Canada.ca. Watching the content be put to the test with real Canadians is what really resonates—it then simply becomes an indisputable matter that ignites the need for change and improvement.

“Canadians don’t necessarily need to know which departments offer which services, they just need to know how to complete their task—that’s what Canada.ca is about, and that’s why collaboration is so important.”

Every little thing makes a difference when it comes to achieving effective web content, and to do so for the Government of Canada (GC), cross government collaboration is key. As David points out, “Canadians don’t necessarily need to know which departments offer which services, they just need to know how to complete their task—that’s what Canada.ca is about, and that’s why collaboration is so important.”

Throughout our discussion, David continues to drop one profound point after another, impelling my fingers to fly across the keyboard so that I capture his wisdom well. Here are 3 of his points that stuck out to me—delivered on the basis of improving web content, but applicable to being successful at any job in general, if you ask me.

  1. The best way to overcome resistance to change, is to show people where the issue is through practice—“the proof is in the pudding,” as they say.
  2. Be humble—just because something was improved does not mean it is perfect, and certainly doesn’t mean it can’t be improved again. Sometimes you may be wrong, and that’s perfectly fine. It’s about trying and testing, and trying and testing, all over again.
  3. Focus on outcomes, not outputs—people often get caught up in the “look at this, look what we produced,” and while that may check off some boxes, at the end of the day, does it really matter? Instead, the focus should be “did you help Canadians get what they need?”

By the end of our chat, I can see that I was, in fact, correct in my thoughts that David’s positivity correlates with the love he has for his job. “We are trying to make a real difference for real people to access real stuff. People need to have access to these services. It has a real impact on people’s lives and that’s why I’m doing this,” David says. It’s the fact that his work directly improves experiences for Canadians that motivates him.

As I take David’s photo for the article, a pigeon lands on the ledge outside the window behind him. He acknowledges the creature who is bravely photobombing his shoot—a sweet coincidence. “Make sure you get the bird in the photo,” David laughs.

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