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Camille Ricketts, Notion

My name’s Camille Ricketts and I run marketing at Notion, the all-in-one workspace for notes, docs, databases, wikis, and more. Prior to Notion, I ran marketing at First Round Capital, where I pioneered First Round Review, a site that shared extremely tactical advice from operators at major tech companies. I’ve always been a writer and storyteller, which I suppose is how I got into marketing.

How did you get into UX writing?

I’m not necessarily a UX writer, though it’s among the things I do. I was a journalist for many years, where I learned a strong sense of narrative, and how to clearly explain complex concepts. I also learned how to write very fast on deadline :) I started doing content marketing for Tesla, then Kiva and then First Round, where I observed full-stack marketing for startups very close up, and saw the parallels between content/storytelling and UX/product writing. That’s how I branched in that direction.

What does your UX writing process look like?

I work very closely with our product and engineering teams to understand what every part of a product needs to accomplish, who the audience is, what their level of understanding is, and how they’re motivated. It takes a healthy dose of psychologizing what users want and where they’re coming from to determine what they need to understand, what they can figure out themselves, and what they want from us. I’ll take a pass at the UX writing based on all these inputs, and then get feedback from product and engineering that I work into subsequent passes until we get it right.

What does a normal day look like?

I work on all kinds of things and wear many different hats at Notion. We’re working with thematic sprints in marketing so we can concentrate our focus on one major and high leverage goal at a time. For instance, I just shipped our brand new Help Center (notion.so/help), which required a lot of dedicated focus over a 2 to 3 week period. Prior to that, we worked on shipping our new email onboarding flow, and before that we shipped 50+ new templates segmented based on user persona — i.e. engineers, designers, personal users, etc. No day is the same. We’re attacking all our marketing needs in sequence, and then running tests against them with equal rigor.

What are the top 3 apps you use?

Notion plays a massive role in my life, and honestly it did before I even took the job. It’s one of the reasons I wanted it. I was keeping all my personal notes and tasks and journal entries in Notion. Other than that, I adore Superhuman for email. It’s changed my relationship with email forever and now I’ll never be able to go back. In third place is probably Slack, since I’m on there all day with my colleagues, or Pocket Casts, which is my primary source of information and entertaining. I’m a total podcast junkie. I listen to them when I fall asleep, get ready for work in the morning, commute, etc.

Where do you go and what do you do for inspiration?

I take a lot of inspiration from other SaaS companies I admire — like Superhuman, Figma, Abstract, Intercom. I subscribed to all of them to see what types of emails they sent, what types of videos they published etc. But honestly, I take a lot of inspiration from our in-house illustrator Roman Muradov. He’s a genius who has done work for the New Yorker, et al. He also teaches. He has such an eye for what stands out in our current ecosystem — what feels new and fresh and authentic. He keeps me honest to the Notion ethos, and our conviction that we shouldn’t try to be like everyone else.

Are there any books or blogs you’d recommend?

Highly recommend 99u for a good survey sense of the exciting trends and tactics going on in design. I also listen to a lot of podcasts, like Drift’s Seeking Wisdom podcast, and Seth Godin. I like big thinkers who are a bit removed from the everyday trenches of marketing. They offer big ideas and bring on interesting guests. The folks at Mission.org Marketing Trends do the same.

What’s the best thing about your job?

I get to work with insanely smart people. I took this job because of co-founder Ivan Zhao. His bar for design is inspiring and aspirational. I was so motivated and fueled by the fact that he chose me to be one of the first storytellers for this brand, given his high standards. I get to come to play every day at the very highest level of marketing — something removed from the everyday tactics and more moved by what’s new, fresh, and untried.

What have you worked on that you’re most proud of?

Starting First Round Review was the highlight of my career to date. I’m astonished by how many people ended up reading and subscribing to this thing that I wrote with just one other person. I loved that every day I would put information out in the world that would make others feel supported and empowered toward their goals. That said, that job led me to Notion where I’m being challenged on a whole new level and scale. I’m learning so much I never learned how to do before, so I am insanely, and perhaps most proud of myself for taking this chance on my intellect and skill set. It seems profoundly brave in retrospect, and I’m happy I did it.

How do you approach getting stakeholders and other teams on board?

I benefit a lot from being on a very small team. We’re just 23 right now, so there’s no communication overhead and we have very tight feedback loops. I can literally walk over to to our Head of Product, or turn around and talk to our Head of Growth. We’re all on Slack every day helping each other and responding very quickly. We have a strong culture of documentation and RFC (requests for comment), so much of what I do to gain buy in is write down my thinking and supporting detail, solicit feedback, and then respond quickly.

What are the biggest challenges you face as a UX writer?

I’d say that my biggest challenge is moving fast based on limited data. We want to do so much in a very small amount of time. All our deadlines are compressed and we want to learn as much as we possible can as fast as we can. So I’d say operating on limited data — making the best guess possible in that environment — and then figuring out how to pivot experiments based on early signals is our biggest challenge. We want to get to be as good as we can be as fast as we can be. That’s not easy.

What’s your biggest content pet peeve?

Boring, table-stakes startup content. I see so many companies put out this rote material — predictable customer stories with stock photography. No one is going to engage with that. Content needs to either be unpredictably moving, or extremely high utility. The former is hard to achieve, so that leaves the latter within reach for most brands who fall short of it. At Notion, my goal and desire will be to create content that is exceptionally high utility in a way that provides far more value (knowledge, ideas, motivation) to the consumer than to us, in a way that is unexpected and delightful.

What principles do you try to stick to when writing?

I try to remember how hard, yet how consistent it is to get into flow state. It requires 20 minutes of constant and resilient focus to get to a place where the work becomes more fluid and I get locked into steady productivity. That’s more about process. As far as standards for writing, I want everything I put out there to be intrinsically valuable for its audience. Does it solve an urgent problem for them? Does it soothe anxiety that I know they have? Does it make them more productive in ways they deem important? I want to deliver that to them. If what I write doesn’t, it doesn’t meet my bar.

Do you have any advice for aspiring UX writers?

Put yourself in as many positions as you can where you have to have laser focus — you have to be reliable, consistent, resilient. Focus is something that very few people have. It’s an incredible competitive advantage that anyone can cultivate if they practice. Great UX writing stems from this. You have to be able to focus for a good, generous chunk of time to consider all the amazing possibilities, all the routes you could take, all the word choices to make. Create opportunities for yourself to learn this degree of focus.

Is there anything you want to promote?

We are indeed hiring! We’re looking for an Enterprise Growth expert, which might be a fancy way to say someone who can help us build operations to spread Notion into more enterprises. We’re always looking for brilliant designers, and engineers too.

Where can people find and follow you?

First and foremost, anyone who reads this should check out notion.so. If you’re interested to hear more from me, I’m at @camillericketts on Twitter.

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Want more? Follow every word matters for more interviews and insight into content design and UX writing.

every word matters is curated by Dominic Warren.

Thanks again to Camille Ricketts for taking the time to answer these questions.

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Interviews with UX writers, content designers and other writers in tech.

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