For my Dad’s last birthday I bought him one of those bottle openers that effortlessly remove the cork in two simple motions. He was impressed, and wondered how he’d ever got to his ripe old age never having had one. Of course the miracle of this is that I’d managed to find a great present for someone it’s almost impossible to buy for!
While many digital teams are awash with different flavours of designer, the content flavour is often missing. There are many reasons for this (which warrants a whole separate blog post). But what I want to talk about is how content designers can add so much value that you’ll wonder how you ever coped before.
Nouns not verbs
If a company thinks of user experience as a thing that’s created, rather than something someone ‘does’, then they should also realise they need the right cast in place to create the experience. The cast should be there to provide the essential ingredients – tech, design, and sound research. While it can be clear what the tech roles are, design and research are often a greyer area. Some teams have ‘UX designers’ who carry out research and product or service design, some have researchers and UI designers, others have product designers. But the forward-thinking also include content designers – experts in determining how content can best be used to meet user needs, and business needs.
Content is a fundamental element of the end product. It’s the content that customers interact with, and respond to. Bringing content design in towards the end of your design process is a missed opportunity. Because it’s not just the content of your end product that these experts can provide. In fact throughout the research and design process there are so many benefits to be gleaned from working with them, and their content will be much better for it. Here’s how you should be using your content designers:
Enrich your research
Many content designers are from journalistic backgrounds. One thing journalists have to be really good at is research. From crafting test scripts, to writing briefs, content designers are a valuable asset to have working alongside your researchers.
It’s also useful for a content designer to be present at research sessions. Listening to stakeholders and users and noting down the language they use and the things they struggle to understand will help them to craft appropriate and effective content for your web journey.
In addition, a content designer is the perfect person to help create personas once your research is complete.
To properly scope out and resource a project you’ll need your content designers in the room. They’re there to explain how they’ll approach your project, determine who they’ll need to work with along the way, and give you an idea of the amount of work they have to do. Trust me, having them there will avoid a lot of sprint planning work later on.
Content designers have to have a great understanding of the end to end journey your users take when interacting with your brand. They’re linked into brand teams, marketing teams, email teams and call centre teams. This means when you’re journey mapping content designers can bring a perspective that other team members might not have, and raise some scenarios you’d never even thought of. So get them involved and pick their brains – you’ll be pleased you did.
Information is content, and architecture a design skill… so who’s better placed to tackle your site redesigns than a content designer? Content designers will understand your objectives, audit your content, decide what should be kept to address your user and business needs, and determine how best to structure it. Once their recommendation’s been tested and refined, they will then start work on the structure, tone, and format. If you’ve ever worked on site designs without a content expert on the team from the start, then you may be familiar with having to redesign elements once your content designer gets involved. Perhaps a particular page now needs less content than you’d planned for? Having a content designer do the ground work upfront will avoid this problem later on.
Having a content designer co-create wireframes with your designers will have the biggest impact on the quality of your work. If you’re wondering how this works in practice, in my experience it starts with pen and paper. A content designer thinks about the conversation your brand will be having with the user (and the most logical order to make the conversation flow naturally). Couple this with the interaction design, and you’ll start to create a journey that feels human. When you start with boxes and images on a wireframe and expect to ‘fill in the words later on’ you’ll never get a natural journey. When the content designer sits side by side with your UI designer to prototype, the wireframe can be iterated and improved by both as they progress. They’ll also learn a lot from each other by working in this way.
On the note of natural journey flows, how often have you tested a prototype to see whether the functionality or product works without the actual content present? Whether you like it or not, users don’t separate out the functionality, product and content, they take your web journey at face value. Content and functionality is intrinsically linked and will determine your participant’s view of your product or online experience. Testing with placeholder copy isn’t a true test of usability (or your product). Users can get hung up on the smallest details like typos, or incorrect monetary values, and that’s a waste of your time. Ensure anything you test has the right (and accurate) copy in it, and that your content designer is present at testing. At some sessions we’ve seen recurring issues with copy, but having the content designer there means we’ve been able to iterate for subsequent users, eliminating the issue immediately. I’d also stress the importance of your clickable prototype (whatever the fidelity) including accurate error messages and field validation messages if you’re testing usability. This can only be achieved when content designers co-create the prototype.
Also, did I mention that content designers are very insightful and great at note-taking?!
A content designer doesn’t stop work when a project’s in build. Reviewing the build and ensuring devs haven’t inadvertently made any typos or misunderstood a validation rule is all part of the content designer’s role. The final check is the equivalent of the last check to the right when you’re pulling out of a junction (or left of you’re anywhere else in the world!). Whilst a content designer might not be an official part of your UAT process, a copy review is always a good idea.
Conversion rate optimisation is the latest must-have for digital teams. But optimisation expert Craig Sullivan says ‘I estimate that at least 60+% of my tests got their main lift from optimising the words, the button copy, the headlines, the text decoration, the layout, the scan-ability, readability, comprehension and simplicity of TEXT.’
This means the majority of conversion improvements can be made through content design. Before investing in CRO resource, it’s worth considering whether you have content designers who could be optimising your journeys. I recently saw a 71% conversion improvement from a copy change made by a content designer.
There’s many articles that debate the difference between UX writers and content designers. For me, it’s the ‘design’ element that is important. Not only because design is about functionality as well as form. But because design needs to be part of the content experts role. Let me explain: that 71% conversion improvement I mentioned above was done as an A/B test. When we went to build it for 100% roll out we discovered that particular element of our design system had been built with a character limit. Which had been designed with, you’ve guessed it, placeholder copy. If a content designer had been involved in creating the building blocks for our content management system, this problem might have been avoided. I’ve written about content often being the missing element in design systems, but I genuinely think that this will continue to happen until everyone sees content as a fundamental design element. If your team is building any kind of design system, grab your content designer and ask for their input, they can add the valuable insight of how your modular system will be used when hosting real content.
Content designers are often under-utilised and under-valued; we have so much more to offer than just words. Every digital team needs them and once you start using content designers all the way through your design process you’ll wonder what took you so long!