Content design weeknotes

What do content designers actually do?

We all know what skills a content designer needs, and there are job descriptions and blog posts aplenty – but what is it actually like, day-to-day? What do content designers do? Well, I’m a content designer working on a service and this is a weeknotes-style record of some of the work I did last week.

Designing something to work better for users

This is probably what most people think content designers do: I made a piece of content as clear and simple as possible for users.

The problem was with a date. I was working on a letter, which included an important instruction to users to do something within a certain time. Here’s how my line read:

You must do this within 6 weeks of the date of the decision.

However, when the letter was sent for quality assurance to a group of policy teams, lawyers and other stakeholders, we realised that things were more complicated than we first expected. (No surprise there!)

There were in fact 2 potential deadlines we had to tell users about. And the original ‘6 weeks’ was actually not, legally speaking, 6 weeks – it was one calendar month plus 2 weeks. So the line would have been more like:

You must do this by the latest of these 2 dates:
– 1 month and 14 days from the date of the decision
– 2 weeks from the date on this letter

I wasn’t happy with this. It’s complicated. It takes work to read and understand. People getting this letter are already likely to be stressed, which has a negative impact on cognition. They might be reading this in a second language, or have low literacy. I thought this was too much to ask of our users.

So, I got together with my team and the relevant stakeholders and proposed a solution. Instead of making the user work out this date, how about we do the hard work to make things simple? We should fill in the specific date on the letter. The person sending this letter out already knows which date to use. As they are employees of the organisation, we can be confident that they have adequate literacy and language skills, and can ask for help if they need it.

This took some persuasion, and some influencing skills, and I needed to spend a bit of time reading policy documents and sending emails back and forth to explain my viewpoint. Eventually, everyone agreed that this was the right thing to do in order to make this as clear as possible for the user. Now the line (with an example date) is:

You must do this by 31 December 2019.

It sometimes takes a while to get even a single line right, but it’s so rewarding when it happens.

Tagging and categorising feedback

The service I work on is used by internal staff as well as the general public. All the pages used by internal staff have a feedback section, where staff can leave comments and suggestions – a bit like the ‘Can we improve this page?’ feature on GOV.UK.

We’re working on a way of making this feedback easier to measure and act on. As part of that, we’re manually tagging and categorising feedback.

I spent a day this week with a user researcher, looking at ways of doing this well. We came up with a system we thought let us capture overarching themes, as well as the individual user needs. I helped the user researcher write up this work, and write clear definitions for the tags, so we can share this with the wider team.

Updating a prototype

My team is working on a new feature for our service. I had worked with the business analyst and interaction designer to create wireframes in a programme called Sketch, showing the new journey. The developers coding and testing the feature need accurate wireframes so that they can see what it is that they are building.

This feature was all ready to go – then things got tricky. The security team requested a last-minute change. The original interaction designer was away. The new interaction designer made a series of changes. The content designer who reviewed the content suggested some changes via email. The developers working on early iterations had issues with some of the error messages. Suddenly, the Sketch files were all over the show and out of date.

I spent a couple of days checking and updating the pages in Sketch, making doubly sure everything was as it should be, so that we could be confident we were going to build the right thing.

Spending time with the content team

The final big thing I did this week was a content community day, with team members from all over the UK. Our team lead organised this, so we could get together and plan for some of the big projects we have coming up.

It was a brilliant day. We got to know each other better, talked about what’s important to us as a team, got some solid planning done and went to the pub. We rely on each other for knowledge, expertise, shared skills and support, and the rare occasions when we spend proper focused time together are invaluable.

So, that’s a week as a content designer

If this sounds like work you want to do, get in touch. We’re always looking for talented people, and we’re happy to talk to you about working with Scroll.


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