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As we look at the world of marketing, it can often seem like content marketers work in a bubble. They usually deliver prose down the production line after a design has been landed on, or fill in the gaps as needed.
But is that how content marketing should work?
From my perspective, that’s a hard no. Content marketing is all about collaboration, and the term “content design” ensures that this is understood. But, we will get into that later.
But, if you are TL;DR kinda person, we’ll keep it short and to the point.
Content design is the discipline of using data, research, and UX and then collaborating with the entire team—whether designers, social media marketers, or other people in the data—to ensure they cover the audience’s needs from a holistic perspective. A content designer’s goal is to make sure that a brand’s message is communicated as effectively as possible across all platforms.
At least, that’s the macro view.
Sarah Winters (Richards) is largely credited for creating the term “content design” due to a need in the content community. Her book, “Content Design” explains that this discipline focuses directly on user needs and how to serve them best, whether via word, infographics, visuals, video, charts, or any other content medium.
Her work has been received well by the marketing population who was hungry to educate clients and teams that their work was a part of overall UX content design and not just a supplement to it. It is accepted by professionals who know that content drives users and therefore needs to be thought of strategically and implemented with design-forward thinking.
Our marketing messages have always been what tells users who you are and what action you want them to take. So, why have we, as a professional group, historically started with a web theme or custom design and then packed a message in it that fits within it to meet our users’ needs? The process is all wrong. In this chicken and egg situation, the one that comes first should be the messaging, and let’s just call it the egg.
Think about it. Architects don’t design buildings to please themselves and their creativity but rather to serve a purpose. They start with the why before diving into the how.
They begin with intent. What will this building be used for? Will there be living quarters? What type of person(s) will be using the space? What is their lifestyle? Should there be street access to the doors? All of those things matter.
In the same way, content designers are working with an entire team of people or a suite of disciplines to find out what messaging users want to see, where they likely want to find it, how it should flow on your digital or even print medium, and what the call-to-action is. Then, and only when these things are decided should the brilliance of the web dev teams, designers, and more get to work to implement it.
You know the saying, “A rising tide lifts all boats?” Designers and writers who work together in this tactical and skillful way will find a workflow that functions for all and creates better results for their clients or in-house teams, thus producing better work.
Content marketers and strategists obsessed with research, user-first approaches, finding problems and fixing them may think this sounds familiar. (And are probably Enneagram 5, 6, or 7—but this is not a place for that discussion. Hi, I am a 5.) Perhaps they have always been operating in this way.
But, if that is you, you are an anomaly. A unicorn of our kind—welcome.
When the term content marketing took off, it got convoluted into a role where the content came second. Now, thanks to Sarah Richards and other marketing pioneers, content design is employed throughout the entire content marketing process. From brand voice, initial copywriting, web design, infographics, email messaging, cart page optimizations, and all other strategy pieces. Content marketers not only think as content strategists but also design the entire process around the user first—with words.
Oh, and if you think the implementation is all you do, we have news for you. Your work never ends.
A great content designer is—as stated above—research obsessed.
And, since content marketing is often (and, in my opinion, should be) carried out over a long period of time, holes in the design can gradually be filled, sanded, and buffed to perfection. Or, at least that’s what the aim should be.
I am so glad you asked. The takeaway is this.
Whether or not you are a marketer with a role of “content designer” or an expert in another marketing discipline who works with copywriters that fill in the gaps for you. Consider the user first, and follow that up with words. After that comes everything else.
Build your structure with all of the information you need beforehand. Work with the entire team holistically to reach and even exceed client objectives. Think about words, structure, and then track how it’s doing via UAT. This will create a system that works together to create a stronger, more user-friendly experience.
You’ve got this. We’ve got this. And this rising tide is going to lift the creative industry as a whole. Are you on board?
If you are a brand looking for help in the content design process, we are here. Please reach out for a conversation. We cannot wait to get to know you!