“We can all write, why do we need a content designer?”

Reflections of a service designer on what a difference having a content designer on the team can make.

I’ve been working on a way for people to make enquiries to our family tracing service. We were lucky to have a content designer (Lizzie Bruce) work with us for a little over a week.

Screenshot of a red cross website where you can Get Help finding your family
Screenshot of a red cross website where you can Get Help finding your family

I used to work in an organisation where content designers and writers were very much part of the team, the same isn’t so at the Red Cross. It gave me a moment to reflect on the difference they can make.

Content designers are the critical friend a service (designer) needs

Everyone’s heard the rule, if you really understand something, you can explain it clearly to someone else. For a content designer to do their job, they have to really understand how the service works. If they can’t write it clearly, there’s a good chance it doesn’t work.

This makes content designers a great ally in service design. They can question the things that may feel right in a diagram, but when forced to get granular and write clearly, flaws emerge. You can’t get a more thorough design crit than with a content designer.

Having an ‘authority’ on usable language, helps solve content squabbles with stakeholders.

Our family tracing service is part a historical network that has a lot of jargonistic ways of saying things. We don’t want to disrespect the movement we belong to, so words become very important.

Before working with Lizzie, anytime new designs were presented, so much time was spent splitting hairs on the words. Each word acting as a little red flag in the eyes of our stakeholders.

The content designer is the authority on usable language, shifting the pressure off me. I was able to leave Lizzie and our main stakeholder to have 1–2–1 sessions hashing out the language until they were both happy. The content designer respects the stakeholders knowledge and expertise, while the stakeholder respects the content designer’s expertise — a healthy tension that got months of content squabbles solved in an afternoon.

Paying for a content designer shows we think words matter

Words do matter, but we often say more to cover our bases, rather than say less to make things better for our service users. I often try and encourage our services to use simpler language at every opportunity. But having someone in the room, dedicated to the craft of writing clearly, legitimises the time spent on getting the words right.

The lessons learnt by our team about the difference the right words make, will spread to other teams. This gives the 7 days content design support a legacy not just in the service we’ve built, but the fact our team will go to other meetings, with other teams, and say ‘could we write that in a more user-friendly way?’.

Content designers have an ability to bring the ‘aha’ moment to a room of people struggling to agree on the words, translating overworked sentences into ones that have a shot at meaning something to our users. It’s felt good to be reunited!

Digital and innovation at British Red Cross

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