Some thoughts on getting started in content design
I’m currently taking part in Upfront, a 6 week course helping women to build their confidence and leadership skills. Each part of the course brings new actions to complete, and today’s was to write three things about my career so far. They’re all about content design, hence the title of this post.
What is the one thing you wish you’d known about the field you work in?
That it existed! I was told as a 21 year old undergrad that my quiet, thoughtful nature made me a poor fit for most jobs. I was too introverted for journalism, too anxious for law, and too shy for anything creative or business-orientated. I loved writing and I wanted to do something with that skill that helped people, but apparently that career did not exist. A careers advisor suggested admin as I ‘wouldn’t have to talk to many people’. In hindsight, this seems wrong about both admin and me.
Fast-forward a decade, and I get to use my writing skills to help people almost every day. I write information that people need, that helps them get things done. I think about how to make sure everyone’s access to information is the same, and how to make sure no-one is excluded from it. The quiet exterior of my teens grew the curiosity, empathy and attention to detail that helps me in my job every day. It would have been great to know as a nervous grad that I would get to this point.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to a new graduate?
Community has been a fundamental part of my career. It’s especially important in something like content design, where you’re often part of a small team trying to bring something new (design) to something age-old (the flow of information between organisations and their users). I found my current role through a great network run by Content Design London, and I’ve benefitted from many more free and community-led content and digital events throughout my working life.
Community is a support system. People I’ve met through work have put me forward for opportunities, introduced me to new ideas and helped me massively with job applications. They’ve celebrated success with me, tackled problems with me, and we’ve talked about inspirations and frustrations until the early hours. They’ve cooked me dinner, taken me to the pub, and I’ve probably cried on some of them at least once. So more than anything else, I’d advise you to find those people.
For someone who wants to work in your field — where should they start?
There’s a lot of great reading material on content design, so I’d start with that. Content Design by Sarah Winters is a great first step. It’s clear, comprehensive and easy to read, as you might expect from someone who brought content design to the UK government. I refer back to it all the time and have shared it with many colleagues. Two other great books are Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson, and the Content Strategy Toolkit by Meghan Casey.
The way I found those books originally was by going to free content events, or to content sessions at other conferences I attended. So I’d recommend those too, as that’s how I really got started. Content Teatime is a lovely and insightful event, and there are lots of other free content meet-ups on the #contentdesign hashtag on Twitter. The aforementioned Content Design London network (Content Club) is great too, but for that there’s a small monthly fee.
You can find out more about Upfront here.