Be brave with your content design

The role of the content designer has changed. Before, a business or a subject matter expert used to write something then hand it to us for a few hours copy-editing before it went live. This just doesn’t cut it anymore.

The competition for readers’ attention online is now so intense that no-one can afford to publish poor content.

To do our jobs properly, we need to be involved at the start of the process. We’re content experts and while we don’t own the message, we own the user experience. (In many organisations, this sometimes still feels like a distant dream.) So we’ve all got to find ways to be brave, step up and help people use our expertise properly.

Start with user needs

When someone hands you a piece of content to work on, it’s probably already had a lot of people

working on it. It might have been signed off by the CEO and the lawyers. Maybe people will tell you

that ‘it’s always been done this way’. Everyone will think it’s finished.

It’s not.

But there’s something about a written document that can make it feel ‘done’ – sometimes, a written

page is harder to own than a blank page.

The best tool to use to help you resist the power of a completed document? The user need.

Check the user story and the acceptance criteria for this piece of work. If you’re in a government

department, you’ll may have to get out the trusty Post-Its and write these yourself.

The user story will set the structure for the whole piece of content.

Trust the process

You and your content team probably have a well-established process for producing content. Trust

the process! Take what you’re working on and go through every step.

Once you’ve got the right user story and acceptance criteria in place, do some keyword research so

you’re using the right language. Then, follow the basic rules about using plain English and writing

well for the web.

That ‘finished’ piece of content probably looks radically different now.

Try working in pairs

Working in pairs to collaborate on a piece of content can produce really good results. It’s an Agile

tool – software programmers use it to improve the quality of code and cut down on delivery time.

Work with someone at the design stage. (Don’t wait until the proofread at the end, as that’s too

late.) As well as writing excellent content, you inspire each other, share knowledge, and you’ll get a

more consistent tone and approach in your team.

Don’t be scared of ignorance

When you first start working on something new, you’re probably unfamiliar with the subject matter

to begin with. That narrow window of ignorance is a gift – grab it with both hands! This is your one

chance to see through the eyes of your users, who also won’t know they’re reading about.

Question everything you don’t understand. (You’ll sometimes find no-one else understands it,

either.) Be rigorous about this. How else are you going to bring clarity to what you’re writing?

What if you get it wrong?

The truth is, we’re all going to get it wrong at some stage.

Track your content, so you know where you’re failing and how to fix it, fast. Keep iterating and

improving.

And one thing you can be totally sure about is that, if you have followed the process, you will have

got it more right than it would have been.

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