I often start content workshops with a simple question: What is content? The answers invariably point to copy, which is an element of content, but not the totality. I then propose that content is anything that conveys meaning: it is copy, and imagery, and video, and even interaction. If it conveys a message—no matter how subtle—it is part of the content of that experience. That generally gets conversations going.
To put this into context, let’s look at TV. How do we know who the bad guys were in old westerns? We could look to their hats, which conveyed a bit about their motivations. But that’s simple and easily turned around to blur the lines of good and evil as writers and directors have become more creative and complex in their story telling.
Superfans of some shows, desperate to find meaning and potentially predict the fates of their favorite characters, have begun to identify patterns and substance in nearly every detail of their favorite shows and that’s where the fun begins.
My favorite example of this is the Mad Style blog from “Fabulous & Opinionated” bloggers Tom and Lorenzo. The level of detail given to identifying and analyzing the meaning behind every little costume decision is amazing. And while some of their predictions have (so far) fallen flat, a surprising number have been borne out. But the real gem is how they look for and interpret meaning, even among minor characters:
Blue and yellow; again in a scene signaling a lack of connection; not between Betty and Don. They’re actually in a pretty good place right now. It’s between Betty and Sally. Betty isn’t connecting with her and thinks Sally is mad at her for some reason. The golden yellow here has a slight metallic quality and the wealthier women on the show have always been the ones who wore the metallics to signal their wealth: Betty, Jane Sterling, and Megan, most often.
Read the whole series to see how they weave in costume and set considerations with the narrative and character development of the show. It’s fascinating.
But to get really down and dirty you have to turn to the dark side: Breaking Bad. The theories surrounding this show’s end are unlimited in their scope and detail, but the best are gathered in this Wired article that looks into “Seven Mind-blowing Theories” for how the show will end. Everything from color palettes to Chekhov and Shakespeare is explored. Some are wacky and some are pretty inspired. What is confirmed though is that these subtle clues were sprinkled through the show with intent, as show creator Vince Gilligan explained, “Your appreciation of the show doesn’t in any way rely on noticing these things. But they are there to be noticed, nonetheless, which is up to the viewer to pick up on it or not.”
And so it’s clear that the content of the shows is not limited to the dialog or even the plots that are written. It’s in the minute details expressed through wardrobe and set design and soundtrack and setting…it’s in everything that conveys meaning. And it all required a strategy to tie it all together.
Consider that the next time you’re comping up a page.