Content Design London

Content Design London case study with BFI

Published 28 January 2021, by Sarah Walsh in Content Design Content Process.

The content design process isn’t a writing process, it’s a much bigger process.

Dan Smith, BFI

I can’t unsee the process now… we’re not here to create content just because we like writing it.

Catheryne Littlejohns, BFI

A short synopsis of the client and the benefit they received from working with us

How BFI started to use content design during a global pandemic to begin the process of moving people (staff and audience) in one direction towards a common goal.

The BFI hired CDL to work with them on their digital transformation project and to help embed new content design processes and skills within the digital team. The BFI launched their new public beta website in September 2020, and it included new evidence-based user-centred content designed by CDL.

In December we started to work alongside the BFI digital team and the BFI National Archive team to work up a bank of user needs and a set of user journeys that the organisation can use to design further content.

In mid-November we chatted with Catheryne Littlejohns (Head of Digital Production) and Dan Smith (Digital Production Manager) about their experience of working with CDL.


The British Film Institute (BFI) is a film and television charitable organisation which promotes and preserves filmmaking and television in the United Kingdom. It also awards Lottery funds for filmmaking and film education.

We asked Catheryne and Dan what led the BFI to choose CDL to help them with this work:

Dan said: “Your reputation…what was particularly compelling was the experience of CDL and the background of people in the agency, and its connection with the origins of Content Design at GDS

Another important factor was CDL’s approach to training. We have become much more interested in working with experts who are prepared to impart knowledge and help the internal team gain knowledge… CDL combines both and delivers the actual discipline but also helps us to gain skills as a team. It was very important to have both of those things combined”

Catheryne added: “Sarah’s (Winters) Content Design book had just come out… we all bought the book and started using the term ‘content design’ which was new to us! It was a big mental shift away from the traditional publishing model. Suddenly that language became an important part of our narrative because it was about how you write the content but from a design perspective which we hadn’t thought about before”

How CDL helped:

The benefit we give to the client

Content Design London started working with the BFI in April 2020. Even during the UK’s first Covid-19 lockdown, we were able to provide expert support remotely.

This included:

  • content design and strategy working alongside FutureGov as part of a wider digital transformation,
  • supporting the BFI where there was an internal skills gap,
  • knowledge transfer and training to allow the BFI to start to implement content design processes themselves.

The results:

We asked Dan what the analytics indicate about the new content and user journeys that CDL developed for the BFI archive section:

“It’s demonstrable that people are moving through [the pages and user journeys] e.g exit rates along those journeys have decreased substantially. For example, a page about researching the archive and the exit rate is down to something like 9%. The inference from this is that people aren’t seeing that as the end of their journey because they’re going off to do something else. Which is exactly what we’d want them to do on that page, because they have further to go to actually act on the desire to do some research.”

Added Value:

What else do we do over and above the contracted work?

We also:

  • advised BFI staff re: content design principles and methodology,
  • helped with Agile content lifecycle plans,
  • produced weeknotes to track progress and help with accountability and transparency,
  • took part and advised in stakeholder meetings,
  • attended Agile ceremonies,
  • helped write user testing scripts.

We spoke about what the BFI liked about working with CDL - what did they gain from the processes we introduced?

Dan responded: “[Content design] has both creativity and discipline in it as a way of working. I think finding the balance between those two things, when it works, is really exciting. Being focussed on the needs of the end user rather than any other thing is very simple but very compelling as a way of working. Even for people who aren’t involved in creating any of the content that might end up on the website, they still have an opportunity to be creatively involved in the process of thinking about their audiences and how to communicate.”

And Catheryne says: “Like many large organisations, we often end up working in silos. It’s been wonderful to see the team having confidence in a bigger framework and starting to really understand how to do it.”

Dan: “The influence these processes may have on other organisational ways of working is intriguing to speculate on and how we will communicate with audiences in different ways. I can imagine this will be influential in ways we’re not quite able to tell yet.”

Working in a global pandemic

Working together entirely remotely has had its challenges. As Dan commented, we missed out on a certain level of ease in communicating that we’d have had if we were all physically in rooms together. So we put a lot of emphasis on writing detailed weeknotes to share with the team at the BFI. Our weeknotes followed this structure:

  • what we did,
  • what we learned,
  • what we were doing next,
  • what we had concerns about.

And a ‘just for fun’ section: what we were watching, listening to, reading etc. This was intended to replace the ‘watercooler’ chats and trips to Pret for coffee that were sadly missing. Let’s face it, this is where most of the valuable interactions between team members happen!

The CDL team:

Who was involved?

The project was led by senior content designer and strategist, Sarah Walsh, with support from Cass Bonner, Fiona Roberto, Clare Reucroft, Mary Connolly and Mark Picken.

Hinrich von Haaren ran the 2-day content design course for the digital team, while Sarah Winters hosted a 3-hour webinar for 50+ members from other non Digital departments across BFI.

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