How to apply content design training to your work

This is guest blog post is written by Kat Rose. She is responsible for content on the British Online Archives website. 

Kat attended our Foundation in Content Design training course. These are her thoughts on the course and how she is applying it to her work:

Getting started

When I returned to work after the course, I was full of enthusiasm. Having spent 2 days learning by doing, I wanted to test out my new skills. The decision to start designing the new editorial system on day two, before my enthusiasm could be over-taken by nerves, was crucial.

Having learned what I could be doing, the idea of returning to business as usual felt like moving from broadband internet back to dial-up. The fact that my managers were happy to step-back and trust me to apply what I’d learned was the other factor that made the challenge possible.

Using notes to create a general plan

The training course had given me a tool-kit, so the first thing I did was to review which tools I now had. I started by writing a report about what I’d learned for the directors who had sent me.

Once I had this basic summary, covering each part of my learning, I could start working-out how these tools could be applied to an academic publishing business. The plan I created was fairly basic, but it was a starting point.

User research

The first thing I did was watch how users interacted with collection information. From there, I rewrote the content for a website relaunch. Our course trainer, Sarah had advised us on how many users we needed to see in action to get a good idea of what was going-on and the results were striking.

For years we had been introducing collections with academic essays, but user research showed me that no-one was reading them.

It was a bit of a blow to realise that so much of my scholarly research was, in business terms, waste. My detailed notes, when reviewed together, told me what our customers actually wanted. My next step was to work-out how to give them what they wanted.

Building a team

One of the clear themes from the training course was the need to work as part of a team. As the only person writing text for the website, who was my team? Sarah taught us that you can pair write with anyone - they don't necessarily need to be an expert. So I started thinking outside of the office.

Directors, managers, software designers, salesmen, anyone who has a stake in the creation or selling of my work could be a part of my team. So I invited them to take part in a content crit once the project was near to completion.

The level of interest was actually wonderful. People who had never expressed an interest in my work were really up for taking part in the crit once someone had invited them.

Listening to others and adapting

A few days after I’d started doing my user research, I went to a content design meet-up in Manchester. At the meet-up, I started chatting with one of the other content designers about the best way to bring others into what I was doing.

They suggested that I create a Kanban Board. I was going to do this, but I didn’t remember the correct name for it. For some reason, when I researched the name ‘batak board’, it didn’t deliver the expected results!

Having understood that the post-its and whiteboard were important, I just made-up a design that would work for what I wanted to do. The net result used blue post-its to say what each general stage was, yellow post-its to say exactly what I was up to and pink post-its to explain why I was doing it. I then used green post-its to say which collection I was working-on.

So far I had created a storyboard, but I wanted to show my manager where I was up to as well. I then added green post-its to show where I was up to. The new board was not quite a Kanban Board and not quite a Story Board. When I was discussing it with one of the organisers at the Leeds Agile meet-up, she misheard me and accidentally named it – a Storyban Board.

The toolkit that I have been given by Content Design London's course has proven to be a starting point for innovation rather than an end point.

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