My biggest ‘aha’ moments from Content Design by Sarah Richards

Good content design allows people to do or find out what they need to […] simply and quickly using the most appropriate content format available.

And they’d know. The GDS is where Sarah Richards, queen of content design, created and developed the discipline. And recently she published a book on the subject.

Yes, I’m mildly obsessed with sticky tabs, what of it

We don’t need more content. We need smarter content.

A casual scroll through Twitter quickly alerts you to how much utterly crap content is out there. Often, it’s a case of quantity over quality — gotta stick to that aggressive publishing schedule, right? 🙄

Plain language isn’t dumbing down. It’s opening up.

Most people share a common vocabulary of around 15,000 terms. Because people are used to recognising these terms regularly, their eyes are able to easily skip the terms when they encounter them, saving time in the process.

Don’t forget the discovery phase

The discovery (or research) phase of a content project is when you ask questions and get the answers you need to move forward. In addition to helping you understand the problem, there are plenty of other ways your discovery phase can set you up for success.

  • Bring the people with the power along on the journey. Sarah finds that the best way of getting people to sign off on content with minimum fuss is to get them involved during discovery, so they understand what you’re doing and why.
  • Learn from salespeople, support staff, and other experts outside your team. You’ve probably already observed people’s online behaviour, but a cross-section of experts can give you insight into offline behaviour you haven’t seen, and share both anecdotes and hard evidence on the things they’re asked over and over.
  • Get aligned. Everyone can see the same data, so everyone ends up with the same understanding of the problem. You know your discovery is over when all the participants agree on your next steps.

Use discovery to bring people with you — Sarah Richards

Pair writing helps you get the best out of both brains

Sometimes I struggle to write about super-technical topics. In the past, when creating content about, say, an API, I’ve had the most success when working directly with a developer. They bring the subject matter know-how, and I bring the clear communication skills. The outcome is better than either of us could have managed on our own.

Enforce the rules for constructive crits

A ‘crit’ is a content critique. It’s where a group of people get together to comment on a piece of content that’s been drafted by one or more of the people in the group. And sometimes crits can get ugly. It’s not easy sitting there and listening while other people rip your hard work apart.

  • Be respectful
  • Only discuss the content, not the person who created it
  • Only give constructive criticism
  • No one has to defend a decision



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Rachael Mullins

Rachael Mullins

Content Designer @Zendesk. Better on Instagram. She/her.