If anybody did business cards anymore (Ah...simpler times.), we’d have to do a reprint right now. Our copywriters, content strategists and content creators now have a new job title: Content Designer, and boy, are we happy to finally start calling our work what it is.
Edgar Allan is a digital design shop. We create brand strategy, we design and write things, and we make the internet; the latter mostly with no-code tools like Webflow. About six years ago, we redesigned our design process so we could stop forcing ourselves to make digital things with tools made for print – print layout software, presenting websites in flat comps, praying while handing our visual work off to a developer. Instead, we started designing systems, creating mutable digital layouts, and then going directly into the browser so we could stand up instant prototypes and show our work natively. We also adopted a super-efficient presentation layer development expertise. Bottom line, it’s so much easier to explain to a client “Your website will work this way” if they’re literally holding a tablet and scrolling through it. Also, clients are largely pretty stoked to know that once design is finished, it’s a matter of days or weeks before the whole site is live, and it’s going to look pretty dang pixel perfect, no virtual avalanche of QA tickets needed.
Since then, that type of process has caught on like wildfire. In 2014, we were pretty alone in the design-in-the browser world. But today, no-code tools are everywhere indesign and software development, democratizing processes that once were locked in, well…I’d say an ivory tower but it was more like a developer’s monitor-filled cave.
Writers however were still left of out the loop. Which is bonkers to me, because a website is usually more than 50% words. Designers, bless them, are sometimes great at writing, but mostly, they’ve got other stuff to focus on. So, the fact that our writers were spending their time crafting beautiful stories and tight communication inside of word documents that bore no resemblance to the sites our visual folks were building just feet away, made no actual sense. It also made no sense that the people whose brains were tuned to create story were typically locked out of the process until a designer had put pen to paper. By then, a lot of decisions have been made and are hard to un-make. At that point, UX (sometimes in the company of content strategy, to be fair), has decided that a site has this navigation or that box that leads to some information (among a myriad of other structural things). But writers were often left at the end of the chain filling boxes, not affecting the way information was presented or the way a brand’s story should be told.
The whole process just wasn’t working out. So, we changed how we worked, and how we thought about what a writer is and does.
First, our redesigned design process gave us the tools to collaborate better. Today, we work in Figma with an “everybody in the pool” mentality that has designers pushing elements around at the same time content designers are editing headlines. We all do a little scratch-pad writing in word still, but the real stuff? The good stuff? That happens in layout, where we can see clearly how one thing leads to another in the overall story of a site’s interaction.
And it won’t stop there. This is another blog, but beyond simply being at the table in the thick of the creative process, our content designers are now entering the ring even earlier to work with UX to map a site’s experience story from day one.
Mostly though, all of this required a shift in how we all see what our work really is.
Here’s how I view my job as a Content Designer:
As a writer, part of my charge is to tell a great story.
Part of it is to be an expert communicator of simple and complex information – things that help a user or consumer get what they need and do it in a way that sounds right for the product and the brand.
In the digital world however, a big part of my job is to also be a three-dimensional map maker, with the thread of narrative over an entire experience in my view.
Content creators have always been designers. We design the flow of a story from intro to climax to denouement. We design the shape and texture of words through choice and placement. We design characters through their voices. And it goes on and on.
We just thought it was time to formally start giving our writers credit for all the design they do.