The virtues of a content crit

There’s quite a lot online about design crits (short for ‘critiques’), but not much about content crits. They’ve been such a big part of agile content design for me that I found it pretty surprising.

Visual and interaction design crits (from what I’ve read) seem to be about stakeholders and getting people on board early. Content crits are much more about getting your content designers together to wring an early draft into the best version of itself — or sometimes, to make sure it’s scrapped before anyone’s spent too long in its midsts.

How I’ve used them

They’ve been the centre of my universe while working with the Government Digital Service, HMRC and Citizens Advice. As soon as I got stuck, I grabbed some fellow content designers and shoved my work in front of them onto the nearest big screen.

I’ve found crits as useful for any format of content, be it a:

What you need

You’ll need:

  • a big screen — it’ll help you see all of the content’s flaws
  • Chromecast (or something similar) — to get it from your laptop to the big screen
  • about 5 content designers, for balance (none of them should be too close to the content)
  • the content designer who wrote the piece to do a 2-minute intro (nothing too leading, mind)
  • a particularly sharp personality to stop discussions veering off-track or going on for too long
  • a time-box — half an hour should do it
  • a work culture where you can gather people round at 2 minutes’ notice and have them fully focused for the duration of the crit

What you should focus on

If you’re going to a crit, you should be focusing on the big things as much as the small. It’s not really about typos, it’s more about things like whether:

  • the content adds any value
  • it’s in proposition of whatever product it’s part of
  • it stems from an evidenced user need
  • it contains any fluff that can be scrapped
  • whether it’s gone beyond the acceptance criteria it was designed to meet
  • there are major issues (crits aren’t about praising the best bits)

Don’t be disheartened if your piece is ripped to shreds. Fail fast, fail often and fail everywhere, as the saying goes.

How it’ll help your work culture

I may be on my own here but I saw a lot of good in that New York Times piece on Amazon’s work culture. I could relate so much of it back to the agile manifesto (just perhaps not the bit about people doing the best job they could’ve done at the time).

Content crits also stop people working in silos, and stop people getting deep in to a subject without asking for help. I’ve seen plenty of workplaces where people are too embarrassed to ask for help, and this way of working goes completely against that grain.

Content you’re taking to a crit shouldn’t be fit for purpose. It’s arrogant to think that you can design a piece of perfect content on your own. Other people will see things you’re too deep in to spot yourself, and the product as a result will come out weaker.

What a content crit isn’t

A content crit isn’t a replacement for good user research. GDS have just published a great blogpost on the importance of research as a content designer.

A crit also isn’t a dictatorship. It’s a great chance for every content designer to sharpen their skills — everyone’s voice is equal.

After a content crit, the content should still go through a second pair of eyes. Rigorous checks make the best content.

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