Content Design London

Our first Content Design Academy

Published 20 January 2020, by Sarah Winters in Content Process Research Academy.

How it went, what we learned, what we will change

From September to November 2019 we ran our first content design academy. For 12 weeks 18 students worked through a content sprint. For this, we partnered with the charity Action Duchenne that helps families with children with muscular dystrophy, a muscle-wasting condition.

The idea behind it all

The idea of the academy came out of the fact that there is no in-depth training for content designers available out there. You can do degrees in UX and design but not in content, apart from one course in Austria as far as we could see.

So we decided to do something about that. We wanted it to be a practical and hands-on experience.

Every Tuesday night over the 12 weeks we met for 2 hours and Sarah and Hinrich took the group through the steps we follow in our content sprints:

discovery – production – revision – strategy

We mapped user journeys, identified needs and the best solutions for those needs before we went into writing and reviewing content.

We were nervous

At first, we weren’t quite sure whether mashing up our content sprints and our courses would actually work. We were also nervous because the topic we were dealing with via the charity was very complex and for some of their audience, highly emotional.

But we were proven wrong. We had a stellar group of students who were very engaged and Action Duchenne were absolutely fantastic to work with.

Working as a team

The most important thing when working on a project like this is the team. A good team can make or break the product.

We were lucky to have an amazing group of people from different backgrounds – content, UX, research, policy and others. They were all willing to work together, share their experiences, thoughts and ideas immediately. This was really important as it made it possible to move quickly.

Read the Academy students’ blog post

Here is one of the student’s experience with the academy:

‘The weekly sessions were well structured and seamlessly delivered by Hinrich and the team. The students were obviously highly engaged and the variety of the sessions built on each of their professional strengths. They learned why content design is important, how to create and design content and how to hone and perfect their content.’

Learning and doing

Our basic concept of introducing content design practices to the group and then working through them worked well.

We focussed on a short tutorial and then applied the principle to a tangible piece of work rather than long lectures. We found students got more out of it.

To give you an example: first, we talked through content formats and structure and how we arrive at the right solutions for our product. Then we ran a sketching session to apply that knowledge. In short 2 minute bursts, the students quickly drew content solutions for specific user needs.

Over the 12 weeks, we covered quite a lot of ground, from content discovery to content strategy. The lessons were packed with information and activities, which can be hard after a day’s work but the team worked hard and stuck with it throughout.

Changes for 2020

There are a few things we want to change in 2020 though, mostly based on the feedback from the students in our final retrospective.

We’ll provide more user research upfront – interviews with users and charity staff. This means we will spend more time on the discovery phase of the project.

We also want to spread some of the other work over more weeks, in particular, the writing and reviewing.

That’s why we decided to invest more in research in 2020 and make the course 14 weeks long (it’s currently 12 weeks).

Overall, we were surprised and thrilled about the positive feedback from the group and the charity. We can’t wait to start again in April.

Next Academy starts in September 2020

Comments from Lynnette, Action Duchenne.

We have had the absolute privilege to be chosen as the case study charity for the very first Content Design Academy, set up by the wonderful Content Design London team. Claire initially got in touch with us following our application to take part in this new initiative. It was clear from the outset that our current website and content was a great fit for this programme. Having designed the content for GOV.UK we were impressed by Claire and her team’s professionalism and approach to incorporating us into the Academy.

Claire introduced me to Hinrich, who led the weekly Academies in the rustic yet creative hub in Waterloo. The first session, I attended and presented my perspective of our charity, from a Duchenne Parent’s perspective (I have a 7-year-old with the life-limiting muscle-wasting condition) and also as Fundraising and Support Officer. I told the story of my son, Samson and his diagnosis and beyond. I illustrated the lives of the families living with Duchenne so that the Academy students could get an in-depth, under the skin insight into Duchenne and how important our support, research and education work is.

We never anticipated this level of talent would be working on our content, and we were so incredibly impressed by the way the students threw themselves into our charity. Each week that passed, the students had researched more and more, asked more questions and were building their own picture of our charity and business processes. I am certain that this level of understanding, facilitated so expertly by Hinrich and Claire, was the key to the detailed and well thought out content the Academy students produced.

The weekly sessions were well structured and seamlessly delivered by Hinrich and the team. The students were obviously highly engaged and the variety of the sessions built on each of their professional strengths. They learned why content design is important, how to create and design content and how to hone and perfect their content.

The final result was a folder for us to download, full of user journeys, maps, explanations of how we could use the process for ourselves in the future, and most importantly for our pages and pages of content. With a few tweaks, we can use this content, written by the experts, the Academy students directly on our website. This will enable our families and users to access the information they need more quickly, and help them in their Duchenne journey.

Due to family commitments, I was only able to attend 4 sessions, but I would certainly wish to attend more should we be given this amazing opportunity again. Building a rapport with the students, and them building a relationship with the case study charity, in turn, is so important and an experience we are so grateful to have been involved in. Thank you so much.

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