Content design: planning, writing, and managing content

Last updated January 19, 2023

A collection of guides to help plan, create, and manage digital content that is accessible, usable, and meets the needs of your audience at UW–‍Madison.

Applying these content design principles means we do the hard work for the user. The reward is a site that is simpler, clearer, and faster for both content creators and the students, faculty, and staff who use the content.

What is content design?

Good content design allows people to do or find out what they need simply and quickly using the most appropriate content format available.

Our university has a tendency to publish content that is more focused on who created the content, or what it wants to say, rather than what the user needs to know. This makes content difficult to understand and act upon.

This can result in frustrated users (students, faculty, staff, collaborators, those outside of UW) who cannot find the information they need or complete the tasks they are looking for. We can avoid this by basing what we publish on research into user behavior and what users actually need.

Elements of content design

User needs

How to develop user needs and why they are important to your content.

User research and evidence

How to figure out what your users need, and how to develop evidence to support your content design decisions.

Planning content

How to decide what is useful, avoid duplicate content, the content lifecycle, and why accessibility must be planned for.

Writing content

How to write and format content that everyone can use.

Adapting your own content style guide

If you develop your own style guide, it should still adhere to UW–‍Madison’s core brand principles.

Content maintenance

Part of the content lifecycle including when it might be time to make an update.

Data and analytics

How to use data to make content decisions, and ways to determine whether your content is working.

Links and calls to action

How to add links to content and make them clear and accessible.


How to choose and describe images, use alt text, produce accessible graphs, diagrams and infographics, and copyright rules.


When to use tables and how to make them accessible.