I joined the content design team in the Home Office in March and I’ll be leaving at the end of August. Design has never been something I saw myself doing long-term, but my brief foray has taught me a lot. I think it can do the same for most people working in digital.
Care about the message, not the words
This is the big one. A content designer learns to tear apart sentences and paragraphs, question the words used and try to make things as simple as possible while never losing the meaning. Once they’ve done that, they give it to someone else to do the same. Somewhere along the way, you realise they aren’t attacking your work, they’re helping make it better.
Work in a team – trust and support
A content designer takes the work of others, applies the things their user researchers tell them and makes it all easier to read and understand. Then everything happens again. You get used to seeing your text come back with new suggestions each time. More to the point, you need to trust your researchers, especially when they tell you something you didn’t think was true.
You can also help other designers. Attend their demonstrations and offer ideas and constructive feedback if asked. We’re all part of the same team.
Defend the message
We get told something needs to be said in a certain way more often than needed.
We owe it to our audience to make things as clear as possible for them. If something needs complex language, it probably needs a simple explanation as well. Why can’t we give people the simple version?
Understand your colleagues
Do you ever wonder why that designer looked less than impressed when you changed some of the settings? Do some of your colleagues curse your name beneath their breath when you tinker with permissions?
A content designer looks to create a common style to the designs, and if you’ve locked Comic Sans in as the default font, you’ve just made their job that much harder.
We all benefit from knowing the problems our colleagues face. It helps us make sure our requests are reasonable. Few people get the chance to spend six months in a role, but try and shadow someone for a day or two. Tell your team what you learned.
You’ll be surprised.
Comment by Mia O'Donoghue, Senior Content Designer, DWP posted on
Well said, Tim. I'll share your post with the 17 stakeholders that are looking at one digital message - it's not easy. I often refer to our discipline as language architecture to try and break the idea that we're copy editors.