Things you get for free when you hire a content designer

Content design and user experience (UX) writing are becoming more commonplace. Digital teams are increasingly using content professionals to make their apps and websites better — but that’s not the whole story.

One thing that I think can go unnoticed when a company considers hiring a UX writer or content designer is the tacit training and capacity-building that these specialists provide on a day-to-day basis, simply by doing their job.

Here are some ways content designers added value at the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA). It seems that when you hire a content designer, you get a lot for free!

(And if you’re a content designer feeling the need to raise awareness of your profession within your organisation, perhaps these things could be a good place for you to start.)

Style guides

We created a content design microsite. We created it by running workshops to draw on the collective experience of the agency’s content design contractors.

The site is now used to on-board new starters and encourage consistency across the agency’s services. It also shows the thought that goes into content design and the value content design adds to the ESFA.

Show and tells

We educated policy and operational civil servants about user-centered design via fortnightly ‘show and tell’ presentations. UX and content designers would present together, and the content people would explain the research and thought processes that informed the language structures they used and their word choices.

Showing that you base your decisions on data — even if it’s as seemingly trivial as some qualitative anecdotes from user testing — can help to instill a user-oriented attitude within an organisation.

Blogging

We wrote blog posts for the ESFA Digital blog, which helped shed light on the self-aware and considered approach content designers were bringing to the project.

Writing with mental health in mind aimed to debunk the idea of mental health as a fringe issue, and showed how, as content designers, we were aiming to reduce the anxiety involved in using digital services.

Think like a content designer (to be published soon) aimed to explain the value content designers were adding to the agency by focusing on the questions we ask users, rather than the products we create (which are highly collaborative). This post also encouraged everyone involved in the project, not just content designers, to put themselves in the shoes of users.

Mentoring

As a content ‘clan’ we collectively mentored 2 civil servants who were new to content design.

We gave constructive feedback and advice, we discussed content challenges and disagreements. Sometimes we were just a shoulder to cry on!

This was part of the capacity-building that we provided the agency on a daily basis.

Email mailers

Between us, the content clan set up a group email list through which we shared content-related videos, blog posts, latest thinking and conventions with interface language. This knowledge-sharing improved the standard of all content designers in the agency and it definitely gave me the occasional bits of inspiration I needed.

And then, non-content designers started signing up to it, too.

I think one of the best things we shared here was a Google talk about how words can make your product stand out. This talk inspired us as a content clan to keep improving our services. It also helps to show how seriously big-hitters like Google take content design — because the agency’s non-content designers started to pay more attention to content design as a discipline.

Sprint planning

Every sprint, each content designer presented new design work to the rest of their scrum team.

As well as being a chance for people to interrogate the content designer’s thinking, it was also a way of educating people in other specialisms about the thought and processes that go into content design.

I think the most important thing to show here is that you’re responding to data and research, and you’re not dogmatic about any particular solution. This helps defuse differences of opinion and creates a working environment that’s more user-focused and less egotistical. And that has got to be a good thing!


Pete Kowalczyk is one of Scroll’s associates. Get in contact with Scroll if you’d like to see how much value he could add to your organisation.

Content design in the private and public sectors

Content, Seriously is a meetup for content professionals in London. It’s organised by Rahel Bailie, Scroll’s chief content strategist.

Before the latest Content, Seriously event, Rahel polled the meetup members to ask what they wanted to talk about. Content design rose to the top of the list.

As the meetup series normally focuses on content strategy, the topic was a bit of a departure, though a delightful detour into an all-too-important aspect of content.

The field of content spans a long continuum, in the context of both private- and public-sector creation and delivery. At one end of the spectrum is straightforward content creation and copywriting. At the other end is content strategy and content engineering – creating content systems. In between are a multitude of roles and responsibilities. Content design is firmly situated in the space where UX meets content.

What is content design?

Content design is a well-defined discipline in the UK. Thanks to GDS (Government Digital Service), content design is a commonly-understood role with a standardised job description. For those unfamiliar with the term, here’s the definition on GOV.UK:

“A content designer works on the end-to-end journey of a service to help users complete their goal and government deliver a policy intent.

Their work may involve the creation of, or change to, a transaction, product or single piece of content that stretches across digital and offline channels.

They make sure appropriate content is shown to a user in the right place and in the best format. They start from discovery and work closely with user researchers, service designers and interaction designers.”

 

Start with user needs

The content design process begins with determining user needs. This means doing user research as a core activity before you even think of putting fingers to keyboard to create content. The research can span a range of methods, such as ethnographic research, analytics, keyword research, and user journeys.

The user stories that come out of this must include meaningful user acceptance criteria. They can follow the same format as normal agile user stories – but only if the criteria is useful. In other words, a user story that goes:

  • As a user
  • I want to understand Regulation ABC
  • So that I can be in compliance

probably isn’t useful unless users already understand what the regulation is and why they need to comply.

How content designers create content

The second part of the equation is when fingers do begin to dance over the keyboard. This is where writing for digital becomes so important. It’s not just the basics of writing for the web, where we keep the text as short as possible, front-load the important points, and write for viewing on multiple sizes of screen.

It means using the language that your audience expects and uses themselves, keeping the copy short, breaking up the text with meaningful headings and subheadings, and using conventions such as lists to make the important points easier to follow.

And, last but not least, be sure to have all content reviewed by another person to catch any mistakes or bias that could have been inadvertently introduced. This is known as the ‘2i’ process – short for ‘second pair of eyes’.

Content design in the private sector

Danielle Kirkwood, a content designer with Intuit on their QuickBooks product, uses similar content design techniques to ensure that their products stay focused on their users and stay leaders in the marketplace. However, the job description is not quite the same as that of GDS.

Enterprises can make content design their own, and the demands on a content designer in this particular company make for an enjoyable job, with substantial improvements to products as the outcome.

At Intuit, content design goes beyond meeting user needs and into a technique they call ‘Design 4 Delight’. Content designers use design thinking principles to alleviate frustrations that users have, solve known user problems, and think of ways to solve problems that users might not realise they have.

Content designers are expected to do regular user visits, going to the customers’ offices to observe how they use the products in their environments. The breadth and depth of these visits facilitate customer-driven innovations.

In a business context, this means using team, tools, customers, and space to create valuable business opportunities by turning ingenuity into reality. As in the public sector, the work is a blend of content and UX. Here it shows that when content and UX are considered together, content can play a critical part in making a product understood.

See the presentations

Come to the next Content, Seriously meetup

If you take content seriously, then this group is for you. It’s a relaxed and informal atmosphere for content professionals to meet and learn from another. It’s also a place where organisations looking for serious solutions to content dilemmas can come to find answers.

We’ll discuss how to use content to solve business problems, explore industry best practices, discuss trends in the management of content, and share case studies.

Join the Content, Seriously group on Meetup