Rachel McConnell, RSA

I’m Rachel McConnell and I head up the digital content team at RSA. We’re a huge UK insurance company who provide insurance for brands such as M&S, Tesco, John Lewis, Nationwide and MORE TH>N.

How did you get into content design?

Good question! I originally trained as a journalist, then fell into advertising. From there I moved into brand and marketing roles before getting into social community management and ultimately content design. I’ve always had a love of writing so I’m really grateful I get to write every day!

What does a normal day look like?

Firstly I hit snooze, because I hate cold, dark mornings! Then I’ll eventually get myself and the kids ready, drop them at school and dash to the office for daily stand-ups. My work is varied. On bigger projects I might be prototyping with designers, user-testing copy, or reviewing a build. On smaller optimisation projects I could just spend a whole day coming up with error messaging, questions, or tweaking email copy. I also try to find time to check in with team members, and look at the content / UX slack channels to see what’s going on!

At the end of the working day I pick up the kids, take them to various clubs, cook some dinner and do the boring household chores! If I’m lucky I’ll squeeze in some time to work on my book, or watch some Netflix with my other half!

What are the top 3 apps you use?

Twitter, Dropbox Paper, and I can’t seem to wean myself off Instagram!

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

I’m inspired by a lot of things.

Brands with a really strong tone of voice who manage to inject some playfulness into their functional content inspire me — like Boden or Innocent. I’m also inspired by some of the talented designers I get to work with, and by content experts who are out there educating others on the importance of content in design, such as Sarah Richards. That’s inspiring me to go and speak at events too.

I love attending UX events to learn more about usability, and I’m looking forward to an IA workshop this month.

Are there any books or blogs you’d recommend?

My reading backlog is growing by the minute but I like Prototypr and dip into content staples like Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug and Nicely Said. I also like books that remind me to think creatively and instinctively, like the Do series, or Blink. I’m currently reading The Power of Moments.

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

I’m proud to have proved the value of content enough to be able to build my team up. Instead of being one person across 5 product teams we now have one in each. They’re also an amazing team doing some great work, and actually leading design through content — a step change I never thought we’d see.

Project-wise, I’m pretty proud that I single-handedly produced all the content for a huge transformation project and somehow managed to stay sane!

How do you approach getting stakeholders on board?

Earning trust is key to collaborating with stakeholders. Sometimes you’ll have to make compromises on content to keep people happy so know what you’re prepared to be flexible on, and which bits you’re not prepared to sacrifice. Be prepared to have a strong rationale for all of your decisions, and if the stakeholder trusts you they’ll be less likely to challenge them. Also, where possible bring them on your journey. Take them to user testing sessions so they can see first hand how users interact with the content.

When it comes to other disciplines — the key is to show the value you can add without stepping on their toes. Content and visual design should complement each other, not be rivals.

What are the biggest challenges you face as a content designer?

Working with people who just don’t understand what content design is, and how fundamental it is in providing a seamless user experience. The other challenge is being brought into projects far too late — you can never do an effective job without context, research and input into the UI design.

What’s your biggest content pet peeve?

When someone wants you to ‘create some words’ to compensate for a poor back-end process. It shouldn’t just be front-end designers who are responsible for the user experience.

Do you have any advice for aspiring content designers?

Learn to write for accessibility — simply and concisely. Make friends with designers who’d benefit from content help — side projects can help you build a portfolio. Plus, once a designer’s seen the benefits you can bring to their work they’ll be a good advocate. Go to events and network, and learn all you can from other types of designers.

Is there anything you want to promote?

My recent side project was creating a set of content prompt cards to help teams challenge their content. My current project is a book about creating content teams so I’m looking for contributors… get in touch if you’d like to help!

Where can people find you?

On Twitter, Medium… or in the pub!

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every word matters is curated by Dominic Warren.

Thanks again to Rachel McConnell for taking the time to answer these questions.