Introduction to content design

By Hannah Collins

12 February 2022

What is a content designer and what do they do exactly? Get the lowdown from an experienced Content Designer.

What is a content designer and what do they do? Hannah Collins gives us the lowdown on her role at Storm.

I have a hard time explaining my job to people.

Last week I was at the dentist, and in that lovely way dentists have of making small-talk while there are multiple sharp tools in your mouth, he asked, “What do you do?”

“I worg in website design… gontent stuff,” I gurgled in reply.

Even if you’re not a dentist, I’d wager “content stuff” is your assumption the first time you’re introduced to me. And I don’t blame you. The web design world is filled with jargon. Even within my industry, a lot of people assume that my job title is, at best, a trendy way of describing a content writer.

And it’s partly true. We are content specialists. You need to have strong writing skills to be a content designer – though it’s a particular style of writing and very different to marketing, PR, SEO, journalism or creative writing.

But the word ‘designer’ is the crucial part of my job title. It hints at the role we play in the design process, which is entirely different from what a content writer does and how they work.

What is content design?

The term ‘content design’ comes from the UK’s Government Digital Service (GDS).

Sarah Winters (née Richards) founded the discipline to formalise the techniques and ways of working her team developed at GDS.

Like user researchers and service designers, content designers look at the bigger picture to design whole solutions. Sarah Winters summarises this in her blog post, 'What is content design?.'

“Content design is a way of thinking. It’s about using data and evidence to give the audience what they need, at the time they need it and in a way they expect.”

The inclusion of ‘designer’ in the job title conveys the fact that content designers do not just write words – we design experiences.

What does a content designer do, exactly?

To return to the “content stuff” debacle, let me give you an example that highlights the differences between a content designer and a content writer.

Let’s say you want to redo your website.

A content writer might:

  • review your current website content for grammar and style errors
  • rewrite it based on their experience and expertise
  • review it with you to make sure it aligns with your brand tone of voice and key messages
  • publish the content

A content designer will:

  • work with a user researcher to understand the needs of people who use your website, for example reviewing analytics data and interviewing users
  • write statements that summarise the needs of your website users, and use these to create specific content that aligns with those needs
  • work with a designer and developer to define the structure, design patterns and functionality that support your website users to complete tasks
  • test the content, design and structure with your website users at multiple steps in the process
  • make changes based on what your website users said and did during testing
  • establish a process for your website users to give ongoing feedback, and for you to action that feedback

That example tells you 5 things.

Our work relies on research taking place

There are best practice standards in content design, much like graphic design or any other discipline. But without research, testing and feedback, it’s not content design.

We are collaborators

Content designers cannot function in a silo. We need to work closely with user researchers, designers and developers to do our job.

The user is at the heart of everything we do

We make sure that digital products and services are designed with users in mind and can be used by everyone. (And yes, sometimes that means considering a phone or paper-based service – digital does not work for everyone.)

Content design is never “finished”

Content gets out of date. User needs change. Content design is an ongoing process and part of my job is helping clients to plan for ongoing content maintenance.

Content design is a process (and that process can take time)

Content design takes longer than content writing because it involves users. But the end result will be a much more accurate reflection of what your users need – and that will save you time and money in the long run.

How we can help

Get in touch today to talk to us about how content design can support your project.