Content design skills you need beyond writing and editing

Dawn Kofie, , Content design

This guest post was written by Dawn Kofie, a content designer at dxw. Dawn reflects on the skills you need as a content designer, and shares resources to help you develop them.

I came to my first content design role from a write-edit-publish background. And because I was aware of how much I did not know about the discipline, I focused on filling the gaps in my knowledge. They included:

  • information architecture, 
  • how agile works in practise, 
  • accessibility,
  • wrangling our CMS. 

It took me a while to realise that there were other basic, but equally important, skills needed when you’re working as part of a multidisciplinary team. And with clients and stakeholders too.


Back in the early days, I genuinely thought that I’d get this reaction from the stakeholders I was working with:

“Oh, I get it now! Making things easier for people who use our services will help us meet our business needs too? Thanks for pointing that out. You content designers really are worth your weight in gold!” 

But this was not always the case.

This means I’ve done a lot of cheerleading and persuading. For example:

  • advocating for content design as a discipline,
  • explaining how testing content will help us understand if what we create works for users,
  • using data to show sceptical stakeholders that the decisions we made were valid. 

Bringing people round to user-centred thinking is part of the job. But you also need to show that you understand their contexts and priorities. You have to explain things in a way that makes sense to them, outline the benefits of your suggestions and explain how they’ll help them achieve their goals.

A resource I wish I’d known about sooner

How to influence stakeholders as a UX content designer, an article by Laura Constantino


To be able to design effective content, you need to understand your colleagues, clients and the people who’ll use the products and services you work on. And to do that, you need to listen. 

By this I mean proper, active listening. Not ‘camera off so you can work on something else, and keep an eye on Slack’ listening’. This means not letting the words wash over you. Or making assumptions and waiting for your turn to speak. (I’ve obviously never done any of these things.)

Instead you’re curious, focused on what the other person is saying, and aware of what they’re not saying. Whether it’s in a user research session, a retro or a chat about timescales, listening helps to deepen your knowledge and build relationships. 

Resources I wish I’d known about sooner


Content design can be satisfying. But, like all jobs, there can be frustrating aspects to it, like not being invited to meetings. Being treated like The Word Fairy. Having colleagues who do not always want to work with you. Enduring long discussions about features that are not even distantly related to a user need. 

You do not need to cultivate a thick, titanium-strength skin to be a content designer. But explaining what you need to do your job, and holding your boundaries can be hard. 

And, if you’re a member of an historically marginalised group, you may also be dealing with the challenges that can come with being a minority in the workplace. 

Resilience can come from knowing what helps you deal with difficult experiences. Being part of a community can help so you do not feel alone. This also means you have a bunch of people who can respond with an emphatic, ‘no!’ when you’re having an ‘is it just me?’ moment. 

Resources I wish I’d known about sooner


My pre-content design life involved lots of meetings, but not many presentations. This suited me because I’m a shy introvert who’s not a fan of being the centre of attention. But somehow, I’d failed to realise that being a content designer was not just about creating and improving content. 

Pair writing, content crits, and show and tells come as part of the package. If you work as part of a team, you need to share what you’ve been doing. Why? So people understand what you’ve produced and contributed to, how you did it and your rationale. No-one’s expecting you to have TED Talk level skills. But you need to deliver something that’s relevant, clear, concise.

Resources I wish I’d known about sooner


When I first started in content design, I read some books, attended a conference or 2 and went on some courses. I thought I knew what ‘good’ content design was supposed to look like, and that’s what I aimed for on every project. 

But not every organisation has the culture, resources or digital maturity to support good content design. And not everyone views user-centred design positively. This means you have to take a pragmatic approach. 

One of the things that helped me realise this was Sarah Winters’ blog post about done being better than perfect. It gave me permission to stop aiming for lofty ideals. Nowadays, I step back and ask myself, ‘is this a genuinely important point to make?’ And ‘will not doing anything about it make life difficult for the people who’ll be using this?’ If it’s a no on both counts, I take a deep breath and, in the immortal words of the mindfulness expert that's Elsa from Frozen, I let it go. 

Resources I wish I’d known about sooner

  • Design is a job by Mike Monteiro, a book focused on sharing insightful advice about working as a designer from someone who’s been doing it for more than 2 decades.

This is my personal list of non-technical skills that content designers need. What's on yours?

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