I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the ratio between content and design, and the importance of finding a balance. I’ve not yet come across a company where content producers outnumber designers, but often the reverse is true.
I’ve spent a couple of years building my current team, and whilst we’re not yet resourced to the same levels as design, we’ve at least improved the ratio from 1:4 to about 2:3. I strongly believe the right balance between content, design and research teams will achieve maximum efficiency for production. There’s so much opportunity if you can get the balance right. Here are some of my observations on how it can impact the content team if this balance isn’t right.
Always playing catch-up
When there are more visual designers than content designers on a project — it’s tempting for them to race off and create pages without the real content; ‘the content team are taking too long’. This can lead to a lot of re-work when the content team have done their bit but the designs don’t quite work. In an ideal world there would be no ‘doing their bit’ — content and UI design would work together to map out structure and navigation before any hi-fi design work begins. But not many of us work in the ideal world. At least having content and design working together ensures the design and content complement each other, and no one has to compromise.
Content design and content writing can be time-consuming, but it lays the groundwork for the visual design so it should be given as much — if not more — focus. Ensuring a project has equal content representation means less wasted time on redesigns, and fewer awkward stakeholder conversations; if something’s redesigned after a stakeholder’s seen it there’s often a lot of explaining to do.
I’ve also worked on projects when lack of content designers or copywriter availability means another function takes on the role of deciding on the wording or managing the approval process with stakeholders. This is the worst scenario of all for so many reasons, and almost justifies its own blog post.
Style guides and pattern libraries
The bigger the design team, the more important it becomes to have style guides, pattern libraries and design systems to ensure consistency and quality. Having these toolboxes to work with also improves design efficiency.
The same is true for content teams who should have tone of voice guidelines and style guides. Producing these guidelines needs resource, and if content teams are already stretched to keep up with the pace of work, these tools often get neglected.
Not only does this waste time (checking the correct turn of phrase, or researching how a brand speaks mid-project isn’t ideal), but it also means your content team isn’t providing consistent work. This can be amplified when content work is outsourced due to lack of internal resource.
It’s also crucial that design systems are fit for purpose when they’re used to house real life content. When our design team recently developed new design modules for our website I tried to ensure ‘holding copy’ was avoided at all costs. This can help avoid character limitations and similar things which are a nightmare for content writers!
Ideally a brand style guide should accommodate both look and feel and language — again something which needs equal input from design and content. Increase your content representation and your design team will be able to enhance their style guide!
Skill gaps and capability
A team heavily weighted in one area almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The area with more ‘weight’ is perceived to have greater importance and gets more time and investment. It’s seen as more valuable.
I’ve noticed that as my team has grown the value of content is becoming more significant. With greater representation we’re able to add value to a project from the start and all the way through, not just at a time when the project team thinks they can ask ‘for a quick favour’. It means we’re now seen as integral project team members and treated as such.
A bigger team also brings a greater breadth of knowledge which helps to build better capability. As my team has grown so have our skills, as I’ve been able to recruit to fill skill gaps.
A team without equal weighting across functions isn’t just lacking critical skills, it’s lacking different perspectives too. These perspectives can be exceptionally useful when identifying opportunities and pain points.
The most fruitful projects I’ve worked on have had equal weighting from content, design and research. I mean fruitful because as well as collaboration, there’s been tension too. It’s healthy to challenge each other’s decisions and ensure that the output is as robust as it can be from all angles. We’ve all learnt a lot from working hand in hand.