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Moving into content design

An image of someone reading a magazine about content design. On the page it says ‘Content design makes things so much easier for the user to complete’.

We want to make our content design teams more diverse, because diverse teams are successful teams. But, we know that one of the barriers to recruiting content designers is that people don’t know what it is. This means we recruit people who think in the same ways, or people who already do content design. We know that we can exclude lots of people who would have the skills to do content design, but they don’t know what it is yet.

You do not have to have done content design before or worked in government to be a content designer at GDS. What matters is that you have experience with the skills needed and care about making things better for our users, whatever your current role is.

If that sounds like you, we want to help you understand more about what a content designer does and how your skills and experience in a different role could help you make the move.

What content designers do

Content designers help people get the information they need, in the way they need it. We work to translate difficult concepts into something that’s easy for people to understand.

A lot of the interactions people have with government are things they don’t really want to be doing: they might want the end result, but they don’t particularly want to go through the process. For example, getting divorced or applying for student finance. Content designers are here to make these processes as simple and as easy as possible.

There are around 100 content designers at GDS. Some of us work on pages on GOV.UK to help the general public or small businesses do what they need to do, for example, creating guidance on how to claim Child Benefit or what to do if you cannot pay your tax bill.

In the day-to-day this work means you’ll work mainly with other content designers and spend time working with departments to understand what users need to know and the best way of helping them understand it. This could involve pair writing with policy people in departments or mapping journeys through government services and content on GOV.UK. At the moment a lot of the work revolves around communicating really important information to do with coronavirus and Brexit.

Some content designers work on products on GOV.UK, or on other teams like GOV.UK Pay and GOV.UK Notify. This work involves working as part of a multidisciplinary team with other designers, user researchers, and developers. You might be doing things like prototyping services, writing microcopy for user interfaces and helpful error messages, or working on forms. You will be involved in research and use this evidence to make changes to the services or products.

Making the move into content design

It can be difficult to know how the skills and experience you’ve built up can help you make the jump. Content design isn’t just about writing, it's about showing how you can use evidence to meet user needs.

After talking to a number of people who have made or are trying to make that change we think there are other useful things to focus on as well as being able to communicate clearly.

You can find out more about the different types of content designer and what they do, but always make sure you read the job description carefully and give evidence of how you meet the requirements when you apply. But if you have the following skills you should think about applying when roles are available!

Using evidence to make decisions about content

To put the user at the heart of content design we need evidence and insight of their needs, behaviour, and what matters to them. That evidence can come in many forms, including analytics and traffic data, user feedback, research sessions, and call centre data. However you get it, demonstrating the way you’ve been able to use evidence to inform the decisions you’ve made is a big part of showing how you can be a content designer.

Being able to change minds (including your own)

Content design, especially in government, isn’t just about convincing your immediate colleagues about the quality and value of your work. We work with policy and communications teams who might not understand how we’ve reached some of the decisions for a particular piece of content, product, or service. This means you need to be able to talk and listen to many different disciplines.

You should be comfortable trying things out and showing people some different options. You don’t need to get things perfect each time, but being able to try things out and ask for feedback is an important part of doing content design. Being able to show your working out (and how you used evidence) will not only get people to buy into what you’ve done, but help you to go back and re-evaluate some of your own ideas.

Making inclusivity a default

Building digital services in government means building for everyone. On top of the accessibility standards that many people rely upon, we have to think about digital literacy, language comprehension, and whether someone is using a mobile device or a desktop computer when they come to GOV.UK. You should care about making complicated things simple so that everyone can understand them, and be able to give examples of when you’ve done this before.

If you’re able to show how, in whatever you’ve done, you’ve been able to identify all the different types of users and all the different factors you needed to take into account when addressing their needs, that experience translates well into content design.

So if you think this sounds like you, sign up to find out when our next 4-week ‘Introduction to Content Design’ begins on FutureLearn.

Also, take a listen to our podcast on content design.

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  1. Comment by Jimmy Billingham posted on

    Great blog guys! This will be a really good entry-point for people new to content design - and useful to have it to refer people to.

  2. Comment by Gavin Morris posted on

    I definitely can recommend doing the course...even as simply a refresher...

  3. Comment by Chris Smith posted on

    Great article! I've just moved into content design from a user experience design background and I love it.

    The link to the podcast throws a 503 error, keen to subscribe to that.

  4. Comment by CB posted on

    Simply the worst web site I have ever had the misfortune to interact with.