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Cognition

Content Strategy for Designers

Two weeks ago, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend Confab Central, the ultimate content strategy conference. I am a designer with no formal training in writing or content strategy. As a non-content-strategist, I thought I’d be entering a whole different world. A world I had only a rough understanding of. While I had read about content strategy in a few books years ago, before the conference I couldn’t clearly articulate what it was. The gist of it from my fuzzy point of view was: It’s the practice of charting a roadmap for future business writing. But how guidelines were to be created, in my mind, was still alchemy.

To maximize my potential for learning at the conference, I made a point to attend talks on topics in which I had the least background knowledge. As a result, I learned:

  • How a company can determine an appropriate voice, and how voice is separate from tone and messaging
  • How to advocate for content strategy and research in a project

  • Several strategic frameworks for content strategy that visualize core components of the discipline and its process
  • How to create a content inventory
  • The importance of collaborative editing to establish a uniform voice
  • Considerations when writing for various locations around the world
  • And how writers are creating thoughtful content in unconventional places like release notes

With my increased clarity on content strategy, my boundaries between a content strategist’s job and a designer’s began to blur. While the medium of guiding content creation is slightly different than creating design systems, the output and process are interwoven. For instance, both designers and content strategists account for current and aspirational content, how a system will grow and evolve, and how content connections are made. Both take into consideration research and business goals. (There may even be some overlap in how research is gathered.) And both work to create consistent, appropriately communicated messages.

Just as design is much more than creating comps, content strategy covers a scope far more broad than writing: It’s user testing, making decisions on governance, creating UX deliverables, and more. Content strategy builds the sinews that run throughout each discipline’s roles on a project, ultimately strengthening the end result. This process happens while working together with individuals from other disciplines. Content strategy influences and informs user interfaces, design hierarchies, CMS structuring, tagging, and even user testing. Content strategy does not merely set the table for design (or a next step).

I absolutely recommend going to a conference or workshop that covers material a little outside of your typical responsibilities. You can talk with people from different backgrounds and expertise, and see how their corner of the industry has evolved and where it’s headed. You’ll have the chance to ask challenging questions and share your point of view. You’ll be able to form a clearer understanding of shared goals, and perhaps change the way you collaborate. You’ll have the opportunity to see a larger picture by making connections beyond your skillset and role. With a blank slate, you will learn more in one shot, widen your skillset, and then be able to incorporate learnings into your own practice. My experience will improve my understanding of the definition phase of projects, and has already given me a variety of tools to help make more content-informed decisions.

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