Sep 17, 2021 5:41 AM - edited Sep 27, 2021 4:06 AM
👋 Hey Community! I’m Jonathon Colman (he/him, @jcolman) and I’m a Senior Design Manager at HubSpot where I lead our global content design discipline. Before joining HubSpot, I led content design teams at Facebook, Intercom, and REI.
But hey, waitaminit — what the heck is “content design” anyway?
Content designers solve product user experience (UX) problems using language. They write the words you see in product experiences to make sure everything is simple and clear, useful and usable. This includes things like calls to action, navigation, error messages, chat bots, even product names!
But content design isn’t just about writing, just like UX design isn’t just about making things look pretty. We often say that UX design is focused on determining how things should work for customers, so content design is focused on determining what things should mean to them. And to figure that out, we have to work deep beneath the surface of products.
I’m excited to discuss content design and answer any questions you might have because we’re hiring content designers at HubSpot right now. And since content design is a newer discipline in product teams, many folks don’t understand what content design is or what content designers do. So this is a great opportunity to learn about writing user experiences and bring content design practices to your own product teams.
From September 20–24, I’ll answer your questions about designing content for products! Not sure what to ask? Here are a few sample questions to get you started:
I'm looking forward to connecting with you!
Sep 20, 2021 3:53 PM
I would imagine it's tempting for a development team to say, "This already says exactly what it does." How do you demonstrate the value of content design for something that seems, on the surface, self-explanatory?
Sep 20, 2021 4:29 PM - edited Sep 22, 2021 3:51 PM
Great question, @TravisP! This is certianly something that content designers face regularly and that technical communicators faced long before them. The bottom line is that product teams often struggle to understand that they are not their own audience—and they never can be. Concepts that might seem simple and straightforward to the team may not resonate at all with users or customers.
Partnering with UX researchers and data scientists can help content designers make the case to their product team (and, likely, their leadership) that they're not building for themselves.
Sep 20, 2021 4:01 PM
Hey Jon, thank you for this AMA! Here's my question: When being asked about the future of content design on the "Product Bakery Podcast", you talked about the discipline probably becoming more automated by technologies like artificial intelligence. The role of content designers might then focus more on systems design and concept design and guiding this technology. To what degree do you think the Beth Bot might be a step in that direction? Do you and Beth Dunn have any plans or visions for this product and how it might evolve in the future?
Sep 20, 2021 4:38 PM
Howdy Steffen! First of all, for folks who may not know what BethBot is, it's an internal service that helps everyone at Hubspot write using our voice, tone, terminology, and style. You can learn more about BethBot in this interview that Beth Dunn (HubSpot's first content designer) did with our friends over at GatherContent.
I'm not aware of any immediate plans for updating BethBot, but even in its current state, it's already having a massive impact on freeing up the time of content designers—and others! I'm happy for services like BethBot to take on the simpler writing work that content designers (and engineers, and PMs, and marketers, and tech writers...) do in favor of giving them time back to focus on more strategic issuess and opportunities. That's part of how teams scale and solve harder problems for the people they serve.
Sep 20, 2021 5:57 PM
Hey @jcolman great timing on this as we actually just had a colleague of yours who's a Content Designer publish a co-marketed blog with our company (see here) so very relevant!
I'm curious, what is your typical process for researching content design? How do you come up with a topic, content type and goal that makes it relevant to the business? I imagine pretty heavy on the SEO/keyword research and goal alignment, but what else goes into making sure your content is set up to perform from the get-go?
Sep 21, 2021 2:20 AM
Hey @natejoens! I saw Dayne's post about strategies for closing the sale on the Structurely blog and it's so good! And it's a great showcase for one of the core strengths of content designers: becoming so immersed in audience/market and product that they can communicate clearly about complex, nuanced topics of interest to professionals working in the field.
Your question gets at the difference between what I think of as content marketing (a marketing discipline focused on things like SEO, keyword research, content performance, and so on) and content design, a product discipline which is focused on user experience, interaction design, and UX writing. Content design as we practice it at HubSpot is a specialization of product design rather than a marketing discipline.
Different companies and orgs work differently, but at HubSpot, our content designers focus on building product and UX rather than content marketing. We always admire great content marketing, but it's not what our content design team is held accountable for. HubSpot has teams of content marketers that focus on nothing but marketing strategy and tactics, so our content designers instead focus on building product that solves problems for people and their businesses that are trying to grow and scale.
You can learn even more about what our content designers do in this blog post!
Sep 21, 2021 9:44 AM
How does conversational writing and content design connect? I love writing conversationally and hopefully that skill gets folks to engage and converse (it does) — I wonder how content design would play into that work? Thanks!
Sep 21, 2021 12:22 PM
Hey @danmoyle, thanks for a great question!
For folks who aren't familiar with conversational design, there's a great book about it appropriately titled Conversational Design written by Erika Hall. I'd urge you to check it out! Beyond being a great introduction to the topic of conversational design, it's also one of the best-written tech or design books of the past decade.
I see conversational design as being a valuable tool in the belt of content designers who are working on platforms or systems that involve conversations, particularly those that are live/real-time or involve actors or agents taking turns replying to each other over time.
So here's one way content designers can practice conversational design. One of the concepts Erika talks about in her book is Grice's Maxims of conversation, which set the foundation of theory for how our conversations work—not just online or in systems, but in real life.
Content designers and others have used these maxims to build conversational platforms and products that feel more natural and human. Over time, we've found that systems relying on these maxims are easier to use and result in better outcomes for users, customers, and businesses. If you pick apart a conversational flow in just about any chatbot, you can quickly see them at work!
There's plenty more to explore and understand about conversation design, particularly once you get into designing for voice (or VUI: voice user interfaces!). A good resource for learning more about designing for voice is Voice Content and Usability by Preston So.
Sep 21, 2021 3:34 PM
Sep 22, 2021 6:03 AM - edited Sep 22, 2021 7:48 AM
Hey @DavidDennison, what a fun question! Here's something everyone should know: You can't fix a broken product with content. To see what I mean by that, take a look at the point of sale terminal from Wegmans:
Notice anything? The workers at the store have added a bunch of stickers practically begging the customer to hit "Skip" first before doing anything else. That indicates to me that something's broken with entering your phone number or scanning a card or app. So here the product is broken and a local store is trying to create a workaround for it. It may help their customers in the short term, but it won't fix the product in the long term.
Here's another example:
This is a photo of instructions that were attached to a wall next to a complicated light switch in a conference room for a well-known global tech company. The light switch was very fancy and expensive, but it had an unfamiliar interface design for doing common tasks like turning the lights on/off or dimming their brightness. So an employee at the company took a photo of the switch and wrote up these notes to show people how it worked.
I'm sure this documentation helped people figure out the light switch, but here's the thing: you shouldn't need any documentation at all to turn the lights on and off! Technically, the product works, but the interface design veers so far away from the fundamentals that people can't figure out how to use it. So while the content helps people, the product experience is still broken.
The thing I want people to take away is that many of the problems that people face when using products are actually product and design problems—words alone can't fix them. And this is why content designers need to do more than just write the words. They need to be involved with product development from the beginning to actually solve product and design problems.
Sep 22, 2021 7:27 AM
Sep 22, 2021 10:34 AM
I think that one key question is: How do you measure the quality or success of content in your product? It is fundamental that any content designer knows how to integrate each piece of content on the buyer's journey process. In that way, they can establish a clear goal for the content that they had been produce and how this can help the client move across each stage.
Sep 22, 2021 3:22 PM
Great question, @AlvarRF! When it comes to success, the core things we always ask ourselves are:
I think your question is more focused on the second point, and the answer will always depend on the problem to solve and what sort of content experience we're focused on. That said, generally speaking, Analytics can often tell us a lot about whether or not the content in a given experience was successful. For example: Did conversion go up or down for people who viewed this content? Do new cohorts who experience this content retain longer than old ones who didn't experience it?But there's a key limitation with this sort of data, which is that it can tell us what happened (for example: someone did or didn't convert), but it can't really tell us why.
So for that, we often turn to research with users and customers. Talking directly with people about content experiences helps us understand things like:
Sep 22, 2021 1:36 PM
Sep 22, 2021 3:46 PM - edited Sep 23, 2021 5:30 AM
Hey @milcapeguero, thank you so much for asking about this, as it's a common question that people have about content design.
First of all, we love and greatly admire good copywriting! It's an essential part of product and partner marketing, documentation, community engagement, growth, communications/PR, and so much more. Strong, persuasive copywriting is important for building brand awareness, communicating value propositions, and retaining customers and users over time.
But content design is different than copywriting because it's not just about the words and is practiced much more deeply in product. The most effective content designers are ones who also play a role in product strategy and vision, interaction design, systems thinking, metadata, and other areas of product and design. These content designers may not write anything in products at all—or might even remove words from product experiences!—and make them better and easier to use because of it. If anything, they have far more overlap with product designers than with any sort of copywriters.
To paraphrase a quote from Rachel Lovinger, an early content strategy industry leader who's now a group director at Publicis Sapient: Content design is to copywriting as information architecture is to design.
Sep 22, 2021 3:49 PM
Sep 23, 2021 3:49 AM
Great question @milcapeguero, copywriting is an aspect of content design. So if content design was a cake🎂 copywriting could be the baking powder or the icing on the cake depending on what kind of content you want to design👩🍳 Hope this helps.
Sep 24, 2021 12:00 AM - edited Sep 24, 2021 12:01 AM
Sep 22, 2021 7:25 PM
Hi! Could you show us an excellent example of content design in practice? I love UX and understood that this was a part of it. In thinking about it, I can see where it needs to be its own strand. Eye opening for sure.
Sep 23, 2021 5:23 AM
Great question, @TBartolet. One good example is the way that Shopify encode their content design guidelines and practices into their product design system, Polaris. Here's a screen capture that shows how they guide their teams to use content and design to help their customers complete tasks quickly and with more confidence:
One of my favorite examples of content design in product comes from Andy Welfle, who's a co-author of the book Writing is Designing: Words and the User Experience. Here we see a push notification from the Lyft app that informs the user that their Lyft driver is either deaf or hard of hearing:
This is a great example of content design that's human-centered with inclusivity in mind. As Andy writes, "...the percentage of Lyft drivers with a hearing difference must be pretty low. This is a great example of Lyft practicing inclusion to make the experience for those drivers better. Rather than being flustered about answering a phone call they couldn’t hear, they could pull over, text back, and communicate in a way more comfortable for them."
Sep 23, 2021 1:46 AM
Sep 23, 2021 5:03 AM - edited Sep 23, 2021 5:31 AM
👋 Dumela, @CSibanda! Le kae?
I love that you're on this journey into content marketing! And yes, HubSpot Academy's content marketing certification course is a great way to learn the fundamentals.
Unfortunately, content marketing isn't my area of focus, so I don't have much insight into its future. But perhaps other members of our community can help out. Join our Content Marketing Study Group to meet other folks , get your questions answered, and share your ideas!
Sep 23, 2021 12:35 PM - edited Sep 23, 2021 12:39 PM
Howdy, @ctwtn! I think the first content design hire you'd want to make onto a startup product team should be someone who can grow and scale as your startup grows and scales.
So while they'll be focused on product content in their day-to-day work, you should be looking for someone who:
People like this may call themselves content designers, UX writers, or content strategists. I'd look for someone who has previous experience working in product startups and has been embedded with product teams. Ideally, you'd also look for someone who's familiar with product and design concepts and practices even if it's not their main focus.
Sep 25, 2021 1:51 AM
Im happy to join such a thriving community of positive contributors. Can you please tell us with an example if content design follows product development projects that are derived from overall goals of the organisation? If so, how does the workflow initiate in this case?
Sep 25, 2021 3:31 AM
@Raheel_Malik Thanks, we're so happy to have you!
Yes, in mature and healthy product orgs, content design work originates from product strategy and vision, customer feedback and input, research insights, the competitive landscape, and other sources that are strongly tied to the overall goals of the organization.
In orgs like this where content designers are set up for success, they usually initiate the work directly themselves because they're directly embedded with a product manager in a team. Alternatively, the work might be initiated by a design manager/leader who then provides a content designer to take on the work. In either case, the content design work to be done would be based on some tenet of company or product strategy.
Unfortunately, because things like company/product strategy are almost always kept under wraps and we only see the finished, launched product, it's hard to provide an example for this. That said, I'd welcome examples from others in the community!