Alpha is for learning, beta is for doing

Guest author, , Content strategy

This guest blog post is written by Hinrich Von Haaren. He's a content strategy consultant who's worked for a wide range of organisations, including HM Treasury, the NHS and Well Pharmacy.

In a recent content alpha and beta with the Law Society, we discovered how you can change your processes and content formats while producing a block of new content.

Getting content transformation on its way

The Law Society (TLS) – the professional body for solicitors – is currently undergoing a major website transformation. Content Design London helped them to get the content side of this underway. We did a 5-week alpha, followed by a 5-week beta.

Our time with TLS was a mix of discovery, skills transfer, content process work and content production.

A hunger for change

When we arrived at TLS there was little awareness of what content design was.

But I could sense something in the air of that impressive building on Chancery Lane in London – a hunger for change. And that we could work with.

Skills transfer in the alpha

A big part of the alpha was going to be about skills transfer. For this reason, we approached things quite methodically. We took the team through a series of sprints that followed this pattern:

  • user journey mapping
  • topic desk research
  • identifying and prioritising user needs
  • sketching
  • writing, reviewing, publishing

We guided the team through this process but also gave them the freedom to experiment at each stage. This was particularly interesting during the various sketching sessions. At first, people seemed unsure about their ideas. However, the more we did it, the easier and freer these sessions got. The result – they produced some fantastically simple ideas.

Work on content formats

Developing new content also means looking at the formats it’s presented in. Although this was something the Law Society specifically wanted us to look at, we almost did it by default.


  • looked at commonalities in the sketches
  • picked out the content design elements we wanted to use
  • prioritised them into things we could do now and things that needed more development
  • made a quick note of our findings

The team reduced the number of content formats from currently 17 to 3 that were flexible enough to accommodate a number of comms needs like advice pieces or consultation responses.

From crawling to running in the beta

The beta was the time to let the team lead while we stepped back to just support. I think this is a bit like playing the piano alone at home in your room and then playing in front of your musical friends. You know you can do it but you need the confidence to show it.

It took the team a little bit of time to get to this point. We watched them crawl, then walk, then run. And when they ran, they ran fast. They self-organised their work, sped up the process by giving constructive feedback early on and shaped the crits in a way that suited their team dynamic.

Basically, they took charge of their own process without even realising they were doing it.

The content they produced was stunning. We are talking intricate legal matters here and, with the help of a very open-minded policy team, they turned them into simple, straightforward copy for a solicitor audience.

So, if anyone ever tells you that legal content has to be convoluted and badly written, point them to the Law Society.

Changing the workflow

As the team took more and more charge of the content production process, a new workflow almost fell into place by itself.

Digital and policy worked together much earlier on and silos were broken down. The workflow was now designed around producing content that fits the needs of the audience.

The Law Society team will refine this new workflow further during their transformation.

A new way of thinking about content

For me, however, the most impressive thing was how, over the 10 weeks we spent with them, the team began to think differently about content.

There was a move away from ‘we need to publish X by next week’ to ‘our users tell us they want X, what’s the best way to give it to them?’

They had made the shift from publishing pages to problem solving. And that’s exactly what content design is about.

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