Photo by Josh Tasman

One Question to Ask a Content Designer (and Everyone Else) When Starting a UX Project

By Sara Zailskas Walsh

At the start of each UX project, my fellow UX designers and I assemble and figure out how we’re going to tackle our work. Skills, availability, deadlines, and scope all play into how we’ll organize as a cross-functional UX team. I’m a content designer, so I start each project without the assumption that each teammate has worked with a content designer or content strategist (I’ll use the terms interchangeably for this article) before.

UX designers who value a cross-functional team and must incorporate all the UX activities and disciplines — from user research to content design to visual design, and all the phases of the design process to boot — definitely have a challenge on their hands. It can feel even more overwhelming if they’ve never worked with a certain type of UX specialist before, such as a content designer.

There are many ways to tackle getting organized. But one simple way to build relationships and start the conversation about collaboration with your new partners is to ask:

“What do you need to do good work?”

I’ve found that both hearing and sharing the answer to that question can be a valuable alternative to suggesting, in my case, content-related activities we might do or describing how I as a content designer work, which are valid but might lead the conversation down a theoretical path or prematurely focus attention on who’s owning what. And of course, I’m listening to what my partner tells me too so we can coordinate.

Content strategists design conversations using many of the same inputs as other UX designers. Here’s the perspective I share as a content designer to explain what I need to do good work:

  • I need a deep understanding of each moment in the user’s journey so I can begin to plan not only for what content to include, but how to write appropriately for the emotions the customer experiences in each moment.
  • I need to know about any technical implications on content so I can consider and understand how content will behave in each step.
  • I need to understand the purpose of each step in a user experience flow and see the patterns in the experience. This helps me make sure the content in the design aligns on a macro- and micro-level.
  • I need to understand the gaps in our product experience — even if we’re not fulfilling them within the scope of the project — so I can consider content recommendations we might not otherwise think to include.
  • I need to totally embody our design principles and strategy.
  • I need to work through the same problems as other UX designers do so we’re in lock step to iterate if (or realistically, when) we suddenly need to switch gears.
  • I need to understand how the words and terms we’re currently using are performing so we can keep using what’s working and improve on what’s not.
  • I need to know what language customers use when they talk about whatever we’re designing. Knowing how other companies in our ecosystem talk about the thing we’re working on is important too.
  • I need to understand any limitations on what we can or can’t say (think legal issues) so I can plan for content and write appropriately while still meeting customers’ needs.
  • I need a deep understanding of all the nuances in the product experience, because every word counts.
  • I need tools of influence — relationship building, meeting people in the middle, autonomy to dive deep, and access to our partners — to bring teammates and stakeholders along on the content journey.

This list isn’t exhaustive, but all it takes is sharing a few examples to help communicate what you need to do your best work. I’m starting a new project soon and am aiming to gather the answers to this question from each of my new partners so I can better understand them as people and designers; find commonalities with what I need; and understand how we complement each other as a team.

Parting Words

The next time you regroup for a project, consider asking your partners what they each need to do good work, and reflect on what you need to do your best work. It’s a refreshing conversation that can help you plan, will let your partners feel heard, will let you feel heard by sharing your needs, will increase empathy and understanding among teammates, and will show you’re committed to setting your team up for success.

After 1.5 years working in San Francisco, Sara Zailskas Walsh, a Capital One content designer, is warming up to kale. Send her a note!

Into this stuff? Our Content Design team is hiring : ) And check out all of ONE Design’s open design positions here.