Why we run content design days — and why you should too

First things first — what is content day?

Although we call it content day, it’s actually a four to five hour slot each week that’s totally devoted to all things content design — content day is just a slightly catchier name.

So why do it?

As a team, we’ve gone from one person to eight people in the space of about ten months. It goes without saying that working with so many talented and brilliant people is incredible, but this kind of growth means we’ve needed to work out ways to make sure we’re all aligned.

We’re lucky in that we’re part of the larger Content, Research and Design team (CRD, for short), which has a strong team culture — and regular snack runs. However, we didn’t always have a culture for content. We had no specific habits or ways of working for new starters to follow, no style guide and no clear tone of voice. We also move extremely fast as a company, so we wouldn’t ever have had the space or the time to organically create these things. We had to be more deliberate.

That’s where content day comes in. It’s a chance to come together as a team and create the documentation, habits and ways of working that we need to build a world-class content design team. Things like a style guide, a vocabulary list, content design principles, best practices and consistent ways of working are just some of the outcomes from carving out this time for content.

It’s also just a great chance to get to know each other as people. I know from experience that rapid team growth can make it hard to get to know new starters and even current colleagues, and make it tricky to feel connected to the team as a whole. From the start we were very deliberate about building in the time and space for all this to develop.

So what does it look like? This is the format that we’re currently using — a huge thanks to the wonderful guidance of Sarah Richards, creator of Content Design London, that’s helped shape the way we do it!

For starters — content critique

Crits are a space for teams to come together, present work and receive relevant critique and feedback.

Way back when there were just two content designers at Deliveroo (so, December…) crit was pretty easy. There was enough time for us both to delve into the things we were working on. Now that there’s more of us, we’ve had to become much more structured to make sure we all get the most out of each crit.

We usually have four people presenting per crit, each using the 15 minutes to present something they want to get opinions, thoughts and feedback on.

The structure we follow is:

  1. Provide context
  2. Establish the kind of feedback needed
  3. Open critique

Roughly, the first five minutes is for 1 and 2. We’re all working in different areas, so a quick rundown of the user problem we’re working to solve and the project history means we’re all on the same page. It’s also important to mention any technical limitations that the content is designing around, or any research findings that are impacting decisions. This helps the team to give more actionable and useful feedback. Otherwise everyone will start critiquing things that are outside the influence of content design, which is not very useful.

The person presenting then makes it clear what stage the work is at — is it about to go live? Or is it early stage, formative work? This information is super important as it has a huge impact on the kind of feedback we give. Going in-depth about the UI or the overall conversational design from start to finish when the feature is about to go live in the next few hours isn’t productive, and feedback that you can’t act on can be infuriating. If this is the case, we’ll treat it more like a polish, suggesting tweaks or quick wins, often with very narrow focus on the wording itself. If it’s more formative work, the feedback and scope is much wider, from the journey in its entirety, to the concepts, conversation and flow overall.

The main course — workshop time

Part of being a newly formed team meant we needed to build some of the very basic, foundational things needed for great content design. Things like a style guide, a consistent process for translations and ways of working with our teams all needed to be hashed out.

During the first few months, we dedicated at least three hours per week to these things. It sounds like a lot, but realistically with all of our product deadlines and team commitments, if we didn’t carve out time for it, we wouldn’t have done it.

Now we have a working vocabulary list and clear guidelines for writing product copy, and we’re in a place where we’re able to delve deeper and work on things such as frameworks for error messaging or documentation on how we name our products. We also use the workshop time for things like retrospectives, discussing research findings or learning new skills. Team members can use the time to practice upcoming presentations or we’ll spend time looking at competitor apps, or even at our own apps in an unfamiliar operating system (try it — it’s a real eye-opener).

To finish — agenda items

Some of us are working on teams that haven’t had a dedicated content designer before, while others are dealing with challenges of speed, technical constraints or tool-related problems. Setting aside half an hour a week for people to chat about these things has been hugely helpful. Chances are that if one person is dealing with something challenging, someone else in the room was dealing with something similar only weeks before. However, as we all work in different teams, in different parts of the office, it’s not something that you’d know unless there’s a set time for that kind of chat.

The agenda portion of content day means we can all get advice, bounce ideas around and tackle things as a team.

And an added extra — lunch

We’re a food company. Having lunch together on content day is a given.

So this is how we run our content day. Interested in starting one with your team? Firstly, that’s amazing. Secondly, here are a few things we’ve learnt over the past few months that might help.

Advice for running content day

Make it a priority

We had to be super strict with our time and prioritise content day over all other meetings. We’re more relaxed about it now, but in those early days when we needed to come together and build the basics, it was vital that everyone was invested in how the team was being shaped.

Take turns

Planning each week can be quite time consuming, so we switch ownership. It also means people can try new things in the workshop time and it makes it clear that it’s a team effort.

Invite everyone

Our crits are open to all product managers, designers, researchers and anyone else in the business who’s interested in seeing what we’re working on. It’s a great way to spread the word about content design — plus we’ve had some great feedback and critique from people outside of the product space that’s meant we can keep building brilliant products.

Try to cause as little disruption as possible

We’re really lucky that we’re at a company that’s flexible enough for us to run content day. To make it easy for everyone to attend, we also make sure it’s on a Wednesday. As a company, most people have a ‘no meetings Wednesday’ rule, so it means we can run our content day without missing any vital product-focussed work. Work out when would be the least disruptive time for your team to get together and stick to that.

Make changes as you go

The format we have now isn’t the format we had when we started, and I doubt it’ll be the one we’re using in three months time. It’s adapted to fit the team needs as we’ve grown. Content day and the format was actually part of our retro, so we’re always improving on it. Do what works for the team at the time, make sure you’re always open to feedback and always be willing to make changes.

If you start your own content day, we’d love to hear about it. We’re also hiring, so if you’d like to join the team, get in touch!