IT'S CALLED CONTENT DESIGN - NOT EDITING. AND HOLD THE WAFFLE!
Content design is still a relatively new discipline and still somewhat poorly understood. I find that when someone hears the words “content designer” they automatically think it’s a new way to describe a content editor, but they are two completely different roles.
This blog post is for anyone that has an interest in understanding:
- What it means to be a content designer
- How we differ from other content roles, like a content editor
- Why we even exist in the first place
What it means to be a content designer
This is a bit of a loaded section.
A content designer wears many hats in their day-to-day work. We don’t just write words - we think about what we’re writing, why we’re writing it and we design the way we present content.
Whenever we have a content task, we think about the user need for it and how to then put that information across in the simplest, faster, clearest way possible.
We will challenge, we will question, we will iterate.
A content designer cuts out the fluff so a user reading a piece of information doesn’t have to struggle to find it or understand it.
We simplify, and we do this because it gives the best user experience. No one ever wants to spend lots of time trying to work out how to do something or to find what they need to know. They just want to get the task done, whatever that is, and get on with their lives.
So why not make that possible and leave your user happy with your website? If a website is difficult to use or understand, will they come back? No, they’d rather not if they have a choice.
Most of my experience as a content designer has been in service delivery. Content designers *should* work closely with designers, user researchers, service designers and UX.
Our work overlaps with theirs and it’s when we understand that our roles are interdependent to the success of our task that we create some magic.
Currently, I’m a content lead and have content designers in my team. I encourage them to talk to designers and work together on the best solution - not to do it all solo. There’s a whole new creative process that happens when design and content design work together, bouncing ideas back and forth.
Two minds are better than one, and experience has taught me that when we all work separately, it just takes longer to get it right for the user.
We build working relationships
More often that not, a content designer will spend time introducing the concept of content design to their stakeholders. It means we have to have some good people skills because it’s not always easy. It can be tricky trying to explain to someone that their content needs to change.
Introducing content design to someone new normally means explaining:
- What content design is
- How our role changes the process
- What it means for their content
A content designer or content editor?
The first thing always that comes to my mind when explaining the difference and teaching people about content design is that we think about how content is presented to our users.
We don’t write copy and we don’t just improve your grammar.
We always put user needs first and present content in such a way that a user can easily find information, complete a task or understand a process.
We’ll think about how the design and functionality of a page (or series of pages) affects the success of our content for our users.
Why do we exist?
From my knowledge, content designers came into existence thanks to Martha Lane Fox. Her report, Directgov 2010 and beyond: revolution not evolution, paved the way for people like me to transform government from the inside. We were given a mission: make government communications and services simpler, clearer and faster for our users.
I joined the GDS content team in 2012 before the launch of GOV.UK, and it was there that I learnt what it meant to be a content designer. I was part of something massive, magical and memorable.
I worked under some amazing people, such as Mike Bracken, and it was under the leadership of Sarah Richards that content design became what it is today. At least that’s my opinion.
From the top down, we had great leadership that believed in what we were doing.
We achieved something amazing and the world paid attention. We won the prestigious D&AD Black Pencil - Writing for Design award. Public and private sectors across the world saw the value in content design and how it could truly make a difference to their websites.
The rest is history.