What is content design?

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Content design or even the job of content designer are terms that are popping up more regularly. But what is content design, and what do content designers do?

Content Designer Colton Cox joined me on The Business Storytelling Show to explain.

As Sarah Winters says in her book “Content Design,” it’s not about the publishing strategy. That’s content strategy. Neither is content design about design – as in logos, etc. – but it’s about the content that sits within the design.

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As of this writing in January 2023, over 3,600 content design job openings are listed in the United States on LinkedIn.

content design jobs in the United States in 2023

Making content work

Some teams, when they create digital experiences, they design it first. Some even use lorem ipsum as a placeholder for where some copy should go later. But that doesn’t keep the entire user experience in mind. So how do we know that the content will work or fit, or when we aren’t specific, how do we even know what should go in there?

Colton explained that content designers need to understand their business’ customers, the journey map, and how the target audience communicates. They know how to speak the customers’ language.

Colton explained that the earlier all the different pieces could be brought together, the better. That all comes back to the following:

  • The goal
  • Clarity of user path
  • User experience

At times, it’s a good idea to test things. For example, ask a target consumer to use the digital product and see if the current design and content make sense. Are they doing what the team intended them to do?

“Have the product owner sit in the back and see,” Colton said, citing an example. “And what happened is they saw a lot of holes in the user experience. Oh, we didn’t explain this too well. Or we could tweak the language here.”

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To make it all work, Colton said the setup and environment need to be collaborative, and the content designer needs to have a seat at the table.

Picking the right words for the right space

Content design combines good web design and copywriting, which are two of the three aspects John Weiler mentioned in his book as the keys to online business success.

How do you become a content designer?

To be a good content designer, it’s essential to understand the customer, which can be accomplished by talking to them. These roles understand customers’ Jobs to be Done, pain points, and communication preferences.

Content designers might come from the research side, with a writing or design background, or from the content strategy field, which is what Colton did.

But no matter their background, they must understand the customer. And that’s done by talking to the customers, hearing them, and understanding what they are saying, Colton said.

“You are not using your technical skills as much as you are using your soft skills,” Colton said. “You are using empathy; you are being an active listener and trying to pay close attention to the context.”

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Where a content designer sits in an organization depends on the organization, who is in the role, and the company’s needs. But, as Colton said, they must be close to the product.

“That allows them to get a stronger sense of the context to be successful in that role,” Colton said.

Colton did add that content design is still a newer discipline, so it might be hard to find coursework on the topic. Sarah Winters’ book is a good resource to get started. In addition, build your skills in the areas of:

  • Ways to understand customers
  • Writing and copy development
  • Design basics
  • Collaboration

And to figure out whether or not content design is for you, consider reading my book “Is marketing a good career,” in which I share a process of determining what role – if any – is best for people that are considering entering the marketing field.

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