Nicole Fenton, Nicely Said and Vox

Dominic Warren
Feb 15, 2018 · 5 min read

I’m a writer, researcher, strategist, and the coauthor of Nicely Said. Most recently, I was the head of content design at 18F, a digital design and technology consultancy within the U.S. government. Next week, I’m joining the product team at Vox.

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How did you get into content design?

I decided to get into tech and work for Apple. I started as a call center and email support rep, and then moved into developing training, process flows, and web content. From there, I became the communications lead and worked on product launches and a global checkout redesign. I got so into the design side of things that I eventually decided to leave to be a full-time content strategist. That was in 2010.

Since then, I’ve worked on all sorts of projects for design and tech agencies, startups, Facebook, my own clients, and the federal government. But I still use those skills in customer service, writing, and process improvement everyday.

What does a normal day look like?

From there, I’m usually in meetings and working sessions. I work remotely, so I spend a lot of time chatting with folks over video. I might be talking with peers, stakeholders, or users — it just depends on the day. Every now and then, I’ll go onsite to host a design workshop or meet with users in person.

Until last week, I was also managing a team of content designers, so I had 1:1 calls with them, participated in supervisory meetings, and worked on project scoping and staffing decisions. Lots of communication.

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

Professionally, I find a lot of inspiration in the design process itself. I love working with designers and engineers, listening to users and stakeholders, and figuring out how to make things better. When I’m stuck on a particular design problem, I tend to do a lot of desk research to see what’s worked in other situations. I also like to reach out and ask peers for input. Working with deliberate, smart people is a huge privilege and it helps keeps me going.

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

In 2016, I got to work on the FBI Crime Data Explorer. I am a crime victim myself, so bringing my content and life experiences to the writing process was really fulfilling. As part of the research we did, we talked to journalists, criminologists, data experts, law enforcement agencies, and people at the FBI. It was super fascinating. You can learn more about that project on the project wiki, in my talk about Open Data Content Strategy, and on the Responsive Web Design Podcast.

I’m also proud of the work I did with my clients before coming back to salary jobs. Being able to work as an independent consultant on and off in my career has been super fulfilling.

How do you approach getting stakeholders on board?

I think there’s a fine line between manipulating people and presenting information in terms they can relate to. That’s part of the research process and learning to be a good consultant. Don’t surprise your stakeholders; don’t do a big reveal. Bring people along in the research process and share what you’re learning so they can see where you’re coming from and contribute. If you can, get them to participate in audits, interviews, and synthesis, too!

As content designers, we only have so much control over the direction a business or product team decides to take. Set aside time to build and maintain working relationships — and keep those connections alive with ongoing communication.

What’s your biggest content pet peeve?

Do you have any advice for aspiring content designers?

Dive in. You don’t have to be an expert to do content design work. Pay attention to what you notice as a reader. Hone your listening skills and ask lots of questions. Familiarize yourself with tools designers and engineers use regularly, and don’t be afraid to sit next to them regularly.

Get involved. The content community is super active online, and there are all sorts of conferences you can attend. Look for meetups in your area or reach out on Twitter!

Where can people find and follow you?

If you liked this article, let us know by giving it a clap 👏 It’ll also help others find it.

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 Nicole Fenton for taking the time to answer these questions.

every word matters

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