I’m Rebekah, Head of Content Design at Hippo Digital. Since starting with Hippo last summer we have taken on a lot of content designers. It was a team of 2, and now we are a team of 10.
I thought it might be useful to share some advice, based on what I’ve learned over the past few months.
Do your research
I’m sometimes surprised when people apply for a content design role, that they haven’t looked into what content design is. If you want to work as a content designer it’s important to do some research.
It is absolutely fine to have not had the job title Content Designer before. Content people are called all kind of things, and our job titles are usually beyond our control. What matters is your skills and your attitude.
When I’m reading CVs or interviewing people I’m not necessarily looking for people who have been a content designer before and know everything about the role. I’m looking for people who know why they want that role and what they can bring to the role — they have done their research and they are passionate about being a content designer.
I’ve included a list of recommended reading at the bottom of this article.
Assess your skills
Content designers have usually worked as some kind of content person before. This could be a copywriter, web editor, content manager, content strategist, comms person — I could go on but you get the gist. At any level, a content designer should show all the foundations of good writing — spelling, grammar, proofreading, etc.
There are lots of other skills that you need to have, or be keen to learn.
Content design is evidenced based so being comfortable with data and research is important. A logical mind is a huge plus.
Not all teams that have content designers work Agile, but a lot of them do. Experience of working Agile before is not a deal breaker, but having a collaborative and open attitude is a must. Content designers aren’t precious about their work and need to share work early and often.
Coming from a background of user centered design is not usually essential, but you need to be a problem solver who puts the user first.
A big part of a content designer’s job is to help your team to communicate clearly, which often means being a negotiator within your team and with other people in the organisation. You need to be good with people and enjoy overcoming differences. Resilience is important.
Classroom training could be helpful to hone your skills and give you confidence. There are great courses available through Content Design London (courses are available outside of London).
The GDS experience myth
At Hippo Digital most of our current clients are government departments. When we are looking for people on a contract basis it can make it easier if people have worked in government before — they know what to expect, the ways of working, the frustrations. When we are recruiting it can be a ‘nice to have’ depending on the client and the role, but it is rarely essential.
Recently there was a conversation on twitter about recruiters only looking for ‘GDS experience’. It had never occurred to me that candidates thought that this meant actual GDS towers. It is incredibly annoying when people use ‘GDS’ instead of ‘government’ (‘GDS assessment’, ‘GDS standards’) but I’d accepted it as an annoyance — I hadn’t realised it was putting off good candidates in their droves. It is not essential for permanent staff who are bringing a range of different skills to our organisation and who will receive coaching and development.
When taking on content designers for a government based role we do expect people to have done their research. Having an understanding of how content design works in government and an enthusiasm for working on something worthwhile goes a very long way.
Content design your CV
This is the first piece of your content design a potential employer will see, so make sure it’s a piece of content design that you are proud of.
Common problems I’ve seen are:
- effort spent on design and graphics but not on the content
- small fonts or fancy fonts
- not being accessible
- confusing layout and timelines
Like any other content design project you need to think about your audience and what they need. Ensure it’s accessible. Try looking at your CV on your phone and see how well it works — your audience may well be reading it on theirs.
Content Design — Sarah Richards (this is really essential reading)
The Design of Everyday Things — Don Norman
Content Strategy for the web — Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach
Don’t make me think — Steve Krug
Getting started in content strategy — Natalie Shaw
Natalie has included a great reading list within this blog post.
A little advice for a new content designer — Lorena Sutherland
Advice for content designers working on services — Melanie Cannon
How we design content in government — Melanie Cannon
Help on gov.uk
Most of the things you need to know are all out in the open on gov.uk.