5 things I learnt from the Content Design Academy

This guest blog post is written by Beth Skinner, who took part in our Content Design Academy.

The Content Design Academy 2020 was a collaborative end-to-end process, from discovery to production. Now I’ve completed the course, here are the 5 main things I’ll take away with me:

1. Every interaction is a chance for user research

The research we did at the start of the course was particularly valuable once we began identifying user needs. Any direct or indirect user feedback you can use will make designing content easier. From now on, I’ll take every opportunity I can to better understand my audience.

Working on new content put me in the position of a user trying to interpret unfamiliar terms. Now I’m more aware of the internal jargon I’m used to in my own area of work.

2. Do research at the start to save time later

Visualising our research along a user journey helped us to see where the challenges were. This process revealed that most of the pain points were clustered around the stage when users needed to understand what the organisation was offering.

A few hours spent collaboratively sorting and mapping our post-its with research notes revealed the nature of the problem. The pieces of the puzzle were already there and it was our job to put them together.

This showed us where to focus our efforts for the rest of the course. You can save a lot of time by making the effort to understand a problem from the user’s perspective before you try to solve it for them.

3. Let go of what you think the answer is

Without planning and collaboration, the content you design will be influenced by your individual perspective and interpretation of the task. That’s why the discovery phase was so important. It’s about uncovering the best solution instead of inventing it on your own.

The course helped me to get over what I thought the content should say. Creating content without user research would be like running a restaurant by guessing what people want to eat and hoping they come back. Whether it’s a webpage or spaghetti, you’re not your customer.

When you’re writing new content, don’t be distracted by what’s already there. Redrafting was easier once I started interrogating the information by asking “do I need to use that term? Is there a clearer way to describe this?”

Starting with a blank canvas instead of a bloated webpage helped me to get the message across in a more straightforward way.

4. Speak up

Working as a group is an opportunity to make the most of the different brains and professional backgrounds in the room (or in our case, on Zoom). It helps to think aloud and ask questions. This was hard at first, especially remotely, but it got easier as we got to know each other.

It was reassuring to learn that none of us was alone in the challenges we’d encountered as content professionals. It was a privilege to work with such a talented group of people. Hearing several different viewpoints is valuable, so I plan to get more of my colleagues involved in future.

5. Enjoy the process

Distilling information to extract the main message can be really satisfying. There’s something cathartic about organising and simplifying content. It’s a simple but granular, almost scientific process that provides a logical framework for creativity.

Content design helps information to reach as many people as possible by removing barriers to interpreting messages. In that way it can be really rewarding because ultimately, it’s about making life easier.

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