Harry Ashbridge explains why he thinks consistency is our biggest challenge
I interviewed Content by Design speaker Harry Ashbridge, Head of Writing and Customer Experience at Monzo about writing, tech, and what he’d tell his younger self.
How did you get into digital content?
Might be controversial but I don’t think of myself as being in digital content! I’m a writer, and I think the fundamentals of good writing apply everywhere. Just happens to be that at the moment most writing exists digitally.
I ended up writing for a living in a roundabout way: I got a masters in history and thought the world was my oyster. Turns out no-one cares if you have a masters in history, so I ended up proofreading training materials for a company which did banking qualifications. Eventually I was running a small publications team, but not having a very nice time.
Then I saw an ad for a company called The Writer which said “We’re out to rid the world of the tyranny of linguistic mediocrity”. I didn’t really know what that meant, but I liked the sound of it. I got a job there as an editor, and worked my way up to writer, trainer and eventually looking after the customer experience function.
The Writer specialised in big tone of voice projects, training and general writing consultancy. I had a great 6 years there, and then jumped ship to start a writing team at Monzo a few years ago.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing those in content disciplines right now?
Consistency. Most companies can write well some of the time, but practically none write well all the time. If 15% of your content is beautiful and clear and elegant, but the other 85% is corporate, bland and confusing then what will customers believe is the real you? (Spoiler: it’s not the good stuff. We’re primed to see the worst in businesses.)
In my industry, banking, the big players spend hundreds of millions on ad campaigns, but their customer satisfaction scores are in the toilet. They care about the wrong words.
It’s not just about perceptions of the brand either. Every bit of writing has a purpose, and better writing will improve any metric you care about. I’ve seen better writing make and save companies millions.
How do you see the future of content and UX writing evolving?
People are finally seeing writing as an essential role. I see great strides from content folk on the design side, and hear the welcome death knell for ‘just put some copy in that box’. But words are your company’s main product, and most still don’t get the care and attention they deserve (internally or with customers).
I’m hopeful that companies will recognise that since everyone spends most of their day writing, helping people recognise and develop that skill has a big impact. Hiring more writers without creating a culture where everybody appreciates the importance of words will only get us so far.
What in tech, are people not talking enough about right now?
Tech companies talk a lot about doing good, but haven’t really followed through. They’ve proven very good at making a lot of money for a few people, but growth as an end in itself will consume the planet and already is. I find the obsession with valuations for start-ups especially depressing, as if how much VC funds think you’re worth is any indicator of the good you can do for the world.
Who are your content or design heroes?
I remember being blown away when I saw ‘Up-Goer Five’. It’s web-comic xkcd creator Randall Munroe’s explanation of how the Saturn V rocket works, using only the 1,000 most common words in English. (The Saturn V is the huge booster rocket which took the lunar module to the moon in 1969.)
It’s just such a clever concept. Generally everything he does to distill difficult ideas into something clear and interesting is great. That’s the kind of writing I aspire to.
What would you tell yourself if you could travel back in time 15 years?
Oh Lordy. Eat more vegetables and get more sleep.
Content by Design takes place on 6th and 7th July. Tickets are on sale now.
This event is brought to you by Clearleft. Clearleft is a strategic design & innovation consultancy based in Brighton UK. Our team of industry-leading strategists, design thinkers, technologists and innovators work alongside global brands to help design leaders get the most from their products, services & teams.