The Content Design Academy: Making sense of it all

This guest blog post is written by Orla Doherty, Jenny McIvor, Emma Challinor and Nadin Rayya. They are all students of our Content Design Academy course.

The Content Design Academy is a 14-week course where students work on a real-life project. 2020 was the year when we all had to learn to work remotely. Here, we share our experiences of working together in a group with people from 9 countries and making sense of the spider web that is content design.

Working remotely as a team

Orla Doherty and Jenny McIvor

One of the strangest things about the Covid pandemic has been the rapid, full-body immersion in Zoom and other digital platforms. Distance learning brings its own, different set of challenges.

For instance, you largely miss out on the casual pre- and post-session chat with other participants, that helps you connect with them a little. We’re probably still not as at ease with each other as we would be if we were all in the same classroom each week.

“Anyone? Anyone?” Don’t leave Hinrich hanging. There’s no point in worrying too much if you’re going to speak over someone else. That’s unavoidable - thanks to the lack of instant non-verbal, visual cues and time lag. So if you have something to say, get it out there.

But be aware of how much you’re talking too.

The online post-it board was a challenge for many of us. When you’re all working on it at the same time, with just small, rapidly moving icons to tell you who is doing – or about to do – what, it’s harder to work in tandem.

However once the class is over, visit the discovery board when you can. You’ll pick up things you might have missed in the cut and thrust of the class.

The online format means there’s a geographically diverse blend of participants – with a mix of perspectives and experience. But the time zone difference can make collaboration on copy slightly stop-start - when you’re waiting for your work partner to respond. You need to build in extra time and make sure you get back to people when you should.

Building an online discovery wall

Emma Challinor

The discovery phase of a content project is where it all begins. This is usually done in person, on a wall, with a pile of sticky notes and pens.

The remote nature of this year’s Academy, however, unfortunately meant we could not all gather in person and instead, congregated over Zoom. We were introduced to Mural, a digital workspace where you can type onto virtual sticky notes and move them around a vast online discovery board.

The benefits of this are simple - we could all add our own findings and move sticky notes around just as we would have done in real life. Sounds perfect in theory, however, in practice it took a little getting used to.

Sticky notes would literally move from under your eyes and you would find yourself gazing at completely the wrong part of the board and wondering where everyone else had gone to! Everybody working at one time and trying to read the small print on notes were probably the most challenging aspects of this.

In the future, I would definitely have practiced on my own with Mural first and familiarised myself with how it worked, as other people in my team were definitely quicker and more adept at moving ‘stickies’ around the board. However, being able to all work together remotely was great and I’m assured that in real life, the discovery phase of a content design project is kind of messy and chaotic, anyway.

Content design is like a spider web

Nadin Rayya

When I think of content design, I think of a spiderweb.

To build a spiderweb, the spider starts off on a node and connects its silk to a second endpoint. The spider repeats this process until it is left with 7 nodes; it then builds a network of silk which becomes its web.

The more we progressed through the course, the more I felt like a spider creating 7 nodes of content design knowledge.

These were:

  • user research and discovery,
  • user journeys,
  • user needs
  • acceptance criteria,
  • designing and writing content,
  • taxonomy and information architecture,
  • caring for content.

By the end of the course, we ended up with a content design spiderweb; a solid network of information that’s holistic and interconnected.

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