Getting into content design
This guest blog post is written by Persis Howe. She has expertise in content strategy and content design and has worked in government and public services.
No one I know who’s working in digital content actually studied that at school. I studied English and Theatre. I’ve worked with great content strategists who have degrees in art, biology, women’s studies and international relations. There is no single path into content.
But I have seen a few common traits in all of the content folks I’ve loved working with. I’ve found people with these traits tend to enjoy working in content strategy and design.
Love of language
At the core of every content designer and strategist is a word nerd. Some of us are grammarians. Some of us are amazing editors. Some of us read dictionaries every night.
Not me. I’m not a great editor, but I love words. I love etymology and finding out the stories behind words. And I love discovering how people consume language. Mostly because it helps me make sense of the weird way I read, and why I get letters jumbled up.
Love of numbers
Content people love numbers, too. Pageviews, the number of consumable words in a sentence, percentage of return viewers to a webpage; they all build a story.
Numbers help you paint a picture. They let you know what page you need to write. They tell you how fast people will read your page. Numbers back up everything the word nerd knows to be true.
And numbers sell that story. I argue with stakeholders over language all the time. But numbers help me have that conversation. Like when 98% of viewers don’t click on the call to action. And we think the post-grad reading level and 35-word sentences might have something to do with it. With backing from 2 major studies showing people with higher educations don’t like to read long sentences, I can change minds.
Because content strategy and design is a new field, there is no set text. We’re constantly learning things about how people read. New studies come out daily. And we’re all doing our own research, right?
A content designer or strategist is constantly curious about what new info is out there. And curious to learn more every time they talk to users.
We know we need to put our users first. But how do we do that? For me, it always comes back to listening and being humble. And every time I’m getting very proud of my writing or a project, a true, from-the-heart retro makes me realize I’ve not considered all users, or not considered staff as users. And I’ve got to start again.
A few years back I was at a training session for content folks to learn how to navigate a website using a screenreader. The idea was that it would help us write for screenreaders.
It was incredibly frustrating. I suddenly couldn’t use a computer. I couldn’t find things on the page that I knew were there. The attempt taught me a bit about screenreaders. But I really learned about what it’s like to not be fluent using a computer. I understand more about the frustration with dead ends because, with the screenreader, I couldn’t escape them.
I’m sure there are many more traits content designers and strategists have in common. As there are many more paths into and through the field. But for me, it’s been a great way to do something I care about and enjoy.