Bringing my skills to content design and changing my career
Published 21 June 2021, by Anna Kruse, Rob Ingram, Sandra Valencia in Academy.
When you’re new to content design you don’t have to throw all your old skills out of the window. You might find that you’ve done some elements of content design already.
Similarly you’ll probably find that the way you look at online information changes and with that your writing career will take a different direction.
How Skills I Learned in Learning Design Make Me a Better Content Designer
One thing I’ve realised by being part of Content Design London and content design-related Slack communities? There are a lot of people coming to the realisation that their work IS content design, just without the formal name. I’m one of them.
I recently discovered a note I had jotted down a few years ago as I tried to articulate what I was doing increasingly often at work. I wasn’t able to put a name to it (yet!): “Working closely with visual designers, often writing copy.”
I’ve been working at a teaching innovation centre for 12 years now. As I learn more about content design, I find the overlap with learning design to be striking. Transferable skills are plenty! Here are a few parallels I’ve noticed:
Learning design and content design’s goal is to get the person going through the experience exactly what they need to move forward.
Learning design is objective-driven and based on learner needs. We start with research (like content discovery), identify learning goals (like user needs), describe how students can show us they have met those goals (like acceptance criteria), and craft the learning experience to bring students toward mastery of those goals.
Immersing yourself in any subject
Learning designers, like content designers, are ready to learn quickly about any subject.
I might, for example, be juggling work on courses covering such diverse topics as valuation strategies, personalised medicine, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and randomised control trials.
There is so much practical wisdom to be found in the toolkit of practices used in content design, and I wish I’d discovered them sooner. Methods and frameworks like the ones we’re learning in CDL Academy are a goldmine, especially those looking to formally transition into the field. But they also have a lot to offer many of us working in adjacent domains right now.
How Skills I Learned in copywriting Make Me a Better Content Designer
During my introduction to my fellow participants at the Content Design Academy, I explained that when I learnt about content design I felt intuitively connected to it. Looking back, I realised that I had been carrying out elements of content design in my roles without knowing it.
A key concept of content design is plain English, which helps to reduce cognitive load. I am a content creator who writes for a wide pool of users, who may not have English as a first language. I instinctively avoid figures of speech and jargon, which lead to complex and exclusive copy.
Translating badly written content
My job often requires me to either translate badly written copy into user friendly text, or research niche fields and then transform and rearrange my findings into usable content.
The other side to plain English is brevity, which again has always been a key consideration when I create content. The user interfaces I have worked on have been constricted up to blocks of copy as small as 45 characters. These restrictions emphasise a careful consideration of word choice, which words provide the most meaning and narrative for the user? My goal is to supply the words that meet their needs the most.
Using a consistent tone of voice
The iterative nature of creating content for episodes within a series or for pieces of content tagged to a certain channel or client, means that I naturally create a consistent tone of voice within a contained piece of content.
Creating tone of voice guidelines for different clients required me to explore user needs. What information do they need and how do they need it to be communicated?
All of these tasks were learned outside of content design, but gave me a grounding in understanding and executing its main principles.
Content Design vs. Copywriting
In advertising we are often told as writers to make our headlines “catchier” or “craft it up”. After our first session it was clear I had to unlearn that habit for good. Especially for the user. Here are some examples to understand the difference:
- Focuses on business needs.
- Gravitates to more content.
- Demands trust through product quality.
- Focuses on user needs.
- Strives for smarter content.
- Gains trust from content quality.
What I’ve learned so far
For writers in any field a user needs-led approach is becoming more and more important. They help us define our content solutions.
Good research can be desk research
Often, we might find ourselves in small teams, low budget, or research-unfriendly situations. But that doesn’t prevent us from doing our desk research using online tools, like my favourite, Answer the Public. It’s also useful to keep in mind, quantity doesn’t necessarily mean quality. But quality can come from planning ahead.
If you feel a sense of panic, you’re on the right track
A mantra to repeat throughout the course. What seems like a vast post-it wall, slowly clears up and gives you more confidence in your writing than jumping in from the start — something I might have done starting from a product brief.
Content design is for you if…
Content design is the way to go if you:
- want to learn how to integrate a user focused approach into your work,
- want to build your research skills,
- want to complement or change your writing career,
- are interested in learning about user journeys, user needs, or job stories,
- are ok with feeling a slight sense of panic.
You may want to try a different option if you:
- want to learn how to design beyond sketching,
- are not comfortable working in a team or speaking openly,
- want to learn in-depth research techniques.
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2 day foundation content design course 29 and 30 September 2021 (online. Sold out, waitlist open)
2 day Advanced content design course 20 and 21 October 2021 (online)
2 day foundation content design course. AEDT timings 30 November and 01 December 2021 (online)