In search of beautiful content

"Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it" – Confucius

Content should be engaging and compelling. But it should also be “beautiful,” says Antonia Christie, head of communications for Facebook in Australia.

Speaking at a recent PRIA panel discussion on the new rules of PR and Marketing and the role of social media in communications, Antonia said design, evocative images, compelling words and sounds are only part of the recipe for effective communications. Producing beautiful content is more complex.

It uses a combination of language and design (and may also have interactive components) to spark an emotional response in users.

From a written perspective, beautiful content uses elegant and inspirational words on topics that directly interest the user, and it does so simply.

From a design viewpoint, it uses images to surprise, move and fascinate. Bright colours can enrapture, arouse or amplify an atmosphere. Typography and animation that reflect a mood or emotion inherent in the message – humour, authority, excitement – are also powerful. Today’s unique typefaces transcend text; they help to blend images, colours and shapes to present coherent, potent statements.

This all makes sense, but does it necessarily make content more effective? In the opinion of another panellist, social media consultant Roger Christie (no relation to Antonia), content should strike a balance between beauty and effectiveness. Truly effective content is not only aesthetically appealing but tailored for the most appropriate digital channels that will reach the right people, easily, and designers seeking to create something artistically brilliant shouldn’t forget that. As he puts it: “Beauty appeases the artist – ‘effective’ appeases the executive, and in the end businesses must ensure they do their content justice.”

The goal of many content creators is to produce something that evokes a strong response in the user – and potentially changes their behaviour. For example a Spanish charity project takes placards made by the city’s homeless people and turns them into unusual yet attractive downloadable fonts that can be purchased. It raises awareness of the homelessness issue and encourages the use of unique and striking fonts on corporate branding and social media.

Evoking the senses is Whole Foods’ online magazine Dark Rye, which cleverly integrates vivid pictures, videos and stories to highlight recipes and farmers’ experiences. Their blog pulls in the user with punchy advice that combines corporate values and innovative thinking.

Visual platforms like Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr are reflecting current appetites for appealing visual storytelling. Undoubtedly the push for beautiful content is in part a recognition of the increased competition for attention of audiences, who have grown tired of marketing messages and ”noise” that can seem bland, unfocused and contrived.

Content that’s subtle, colourful, emotional, authentic, meaningful and possibly surprising can look, read, sound and feel ”beautiful”. But for beautiful content to be truly effective, it must be interactive, portable, conversational, responsive and dialogue-provoking. It goes beyond the visual, the design, and the understanding of demographics and psychographics.

It’s about knowing how users interpret, absorb and relate to content on an emotional level. In the fast-moving world of content creation, the evidence suggests it’s a road well worth following.