“Content design means not limiting yourself to just words. Content on the web is often words, but not always. The point of content design is that you start with research to help you identify what your users actually need (which isn’t the same as what they say they want). Then, instead of saying ‘How shall I write this?’ you say ‘What content will best meet the need?’ “Sarah Richards, Content Design London
What I know so far
Content designers are typically the people in the room who are asking all the questions. As a technical author, this was the case as well. Geesh, dating back to my brief stint as a journalist, questions were the bread and butter of my day.
It’s abouty being curious, not necessairly combative or challenging. It’s about thinking of the user, channeling all your empathy and trying to figure out what the user needs the moment they come across any interaction with a product.
I’ve been lucky enough in my career to work with some exceptionally talented product and development folks who have found solutions to problems in really innovative ways. It can really pay to be the least knowledgable person in the room, because you become the advocate for that user, the person who hasn’t come up with the brilliant idea. You become the person trying to do a thing. And, for the most part, this partnership between innovation and simplic querying can make a massive difference to the success of a new product or feature.
Content design has opened up a wider range of outputs for me as well. Analytics and onboarding tools such as Gainsight open up a whole new world for how we can interact with users. Video and visuals are an important element in creating a straightforward user experience. In-screen interactions, including pop ups, error messages or any micro copy can actually go a long way to bring users along on the journey.
Data is also a key part of my day now. I use analytics to make decisions about what users need and this is a rewarding experience, having concrete details to validate choices you’ve made. There are always lots of options to give users and data is helping to keep us focussed where we can really make a difference.
As most content desingers will tell you, gov.co.uk has some amazing resources about content design and best practices. They have actually set some of the foundations for key principles around content design.
And of course, a resource I rely on heavily is Sarah Winters book Content Design. Her agency, Content Design London delivers some amazing courses on Content Design. The website states that Sarah is “often credited with codifying the discipline of content design” and in reading her work, I can really see the truth in that. The book is the perfect length, easy to pick up and put down, a great reference tool for those of us doing this type of work every day.
I’m in the process of exploring some of these courses and expanding my knowledge for 2023. For now, I’ve got the book tucked up under the screen shelf on my desk and will keep taking it out on a regular basis to check in on my approach.