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.