Weeknotes: 26th January

The unofficial theme of this week has been the difference between content roles, and wiggly career paths.

I was on a panel at UXUp’s careers event (Sidenote: it was great to be included in this as a content person. Thanks to Luke Hay for inviting me). I spoke about my meandering career path, as well as different ways to be self-employed. (In brief: You don’t have to do 6-month contracts where you’re essentially a member of staff. You can take on multiple projects at once, consult, sell products and services, etc.) I also spoke to multiple people who wanted a definition of content design, and clarification of how it’s different from copywriting, content strategy, UX. This topic came up in other conversations this week, too, about ways to bring content design skills into charity teams.

I channel Sarah Winter’s excellent Content Design book and explain that content design means asking ‘What content meets this need?’ rather than ‘What should I write?’. I also talk about what people do when they do content design:

  • Start with user research
  • Stakeholder engagement and management ​​
  • Problem-solve by bringing user needs and the organisation’s goals together
  • Make information useful, useable, readable, accessible, actionable ​
  • Test content
  • Ensure content quality, not quantity

(Again, all heavily influenced by Sarah Winters.)

I think we need to be more pragmatic and see content design as a skillset and a mindset, and not necessarily a person or a role. I would love for all the charities I work with to hire content designers, but that’s not realistic. Teaching the skillset and adopting the mindset absolutely is.

I’m a content generalist. I do content strategy, content design, occasional copywriting-adjacent stuff, research, ops, and more. I used to feel weird about it, like I was an imposter. But now I tend to think about it as bringing a range of skills that my clients need to find solutions. My niche is my experience working with nonprofits that provide the people who use their services with information. (I’ve GOT to find a catchier way of saying that.)

I also thought about my generalism this week, because I’m working on sharpening some of my research skills. I’ve been pulling together a research framework and methodology for a client. My frameworks have been a bit fluid up to this point; I know what I’m going to do, but I don’t write it down, and leave a lot of room for improvisation.

I want my research to be robust, so I’m going into a lot more depth with the frameworks and methodologies from now on. For this one, I’ve written a proper hypothesis, described exactly what data I’m going to collect, how I will analyse it, what tools I will use, how I’ll synthesise it etc. I also learned the proper names for the things I was already doing, like statisticial analysis, thematic analysis, triangulation, etc. And I learned how to calculate a proper sample size. It was hard because it was new, but I think it’s going to make the rest of the process run more smoothly and quickly.

Reading list

This post by Deborah Carver — in which she asks How can we better elevate content strategy at the business level so that our roles, our passions, our work, and our brains are not considered replaceable? — got me thinking this week.

Wellbeing update

After talking about wellbeing last week, I thought I’d try making it a standing update in my weeknotes posts:

  • I went to yoga
  • I socialised
  • I meditated/did breathwork a couple of times
  • I went into work late so I could spend time hugging my dog this morning
  • I played with my scanner to distort this ad from a 1972 edition of The Magazine of Visual Communication
A distorted faded advert with a pair of legs and letters that read 'PANT HOS how to have'
A 1970s advert with bright pink legs that reads 'Panti hose. How to have your legs noticed.'

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