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The evolution of content design skills

The Interface: Evolution of content design with Kristina Halvorson

How can we move the content design field forward? Patrick and Kristina Halvorson chat during this brand-new podcast episode. Listen in or get the transcript.

The Interface is a brand-new podcast exploring trends and hot topics for UX content people.

This audio is a recording of a LinkedIn Live event we held with Kristina Halvorson. As we head into the Button conference next month, we discuss:

  • The skills content designers need to survive in 2024
  • How to advocate and grow the industry (and yes, that doesn’t mean writing another blog about “why content design is important”)
  • How to move beyond “teaching” and into real substantive impact

Available to listen

Episode transcript

Patrick: [00:00:00] Hey, everybody. Patrick Stafford here. The following is the audio from a LinkedIn Live event we held with Kristina Halvorson from Brain Traffic. So hope you enjoy that today. Just a warning, we did have an audio issue during the middle of or rather the beginning of the event. And I’ve tried to cut that out. So you actually won’t hear us talking about the technical glitch, but you may hear the audio be a little bit different at the beginning. It’s a little bit quiet, but then it bumps up in volume directly afterward. So hopefully that’s not too annoying. But yeah, just wanted to let you know that. We discussed the evolution of content design skills and what skills content designers need ahead of 2024. Also, I do mention in the LinkedIn Live event, but I’ll mention here as well, if you want to head to the Button conference and you should want to head to the Button conference. You can get $100 off using UXCC100. So yeah, enjoy the chat. So thank you for for joining today. And I think there’s a lot we could talk about but I think it’s important to have a think and have a talk about what’s happened in the past year in content design because I think that after about 12 months of pain, for lack of a better word, things are starting to get just a little bit better.

Patrick: [00:01:30] So after a lot of layoffs in the past 18 months, I don’t know about you, but I just and I have no data to back me up here. But certainly, just from an anecdotal experience, I’m seeing more people getting hired. I’m seeing more job ads out there. I’m seeing more people saying that they’ve been promoted, posting on LinkedIn, saying that they’ve, you know, moved up. And just in speaking to hiring managers and team leads, I’m hearing that they have a little bit more money to spend on, you know, training their teams and hiring new people. So I think certainly things aren’t at the height of what they were in during Covid when hiring was everywhere. And certainly, the FAANGs were going a little bit nuts with how many content designers they were hiring. And there aren’t as many entry-level roles as there were. But I feel like things are getting a little bit better from a hiring perspective. I would love to hear, before we get into a chat about specific skills that I think people need to develop, I’m wondering, are you seeing the same thing? What are you hearing out there from hiring managers and everyone else?

Kristina: [00:02:44] Yeah. Well, I would definitely agree that it seems like the bloodbath has subsided somewhat. I mean, you know, I’m still hearing weekly about folks who are being laid off due to, you know, reorgs or, you know, money or whatever. I do want to say that I feel like just in terms of what we were reading, even just in the news, is that the tech clearing of the houses that we saw was really more about those organizations taking several steps back and saying, okay, we’ve been doing a lot of experimentation with small projects and a lot of different places and we’ve got to clean up and tighten our focus specifically because AI is coming. And so a lot of folks that were working on, you know, who had either gone through acquisitions or who had been working on newer projects or newer initiatives got let go. I’m not saying that that was obviously all that was happening. I do think that there was somewhat of an over-hiring during Covid. And I want to be clear, too, although because we’re a relatively insular community, you know, regardless of the amount that we talk about needing and wanting to collaborate, we’re a tight community. Right. And so in any community of practitioners tends to do this where it seems like ours in particular really got hit hard.

Kristina: [00:04:15] But if you take several steps back, overall in user experience and experience design, a lot, a lot, a lot of people lost their jobs. So it was just a really rough time all around. Having said that, I think that, you know, losing experienced designers and teams, whether it’s content or otherwise, organizations, will sort of limp along with engineering for a period of time and then go, Oh, no, wait, things suck like this. And so we’re starting to see some rehiring. And I will say just from someone who produces conferences, you know, we were supposed to do Button in Portland, Oregon, and we were super excited about it. And right around the beginning of July, ticket sales were literally probably 20% of what we thought they were going to be. And in asking around, nobody had budget. Everybody’s professional budget had just been gutted. So that was why we pivoted. And I will say at Brain Traffic, we never want to use the word pivoted again because we’ve done it a million times since March 2020. But we are seeing a flood of registrations now just in the last couple of weeks because people are starting to see professional budgets coming back. So all in all, I would agree with you. I think that hopeful things are happening. People are settling in. And yeah, it’s good.

Patrick: [00:05:40] Yeah, I think there’s there’s reasons to be optimistic. And I think one of … the interesting thing is that a lot of these layoffs coincided with the rise of artificial intelligence. And so I think people conflated those two things, even though they’re a little bit separate. No one was really laying anyone off because of artificial intelligence. And in fact, in the past few weeks, I’ve seen job ads for content designers working on artificial intelligence tools. But to back up a little bit and to bring it back to what we want to talk about today, you know, the topic for this discussion was around the evolution of content design skills, what skills people need to succeed in the future of content design. And the reason I wanted to talk about this is because I feel like we’ve reached a new stage of content design and UX writing. I tend to divide it into stages. The first I think is the early stage of UX writing and content design, which really covers everything up until about the early 2010s where you have a lot of people working in content strategy and content design, but there isn’t a lot of formal education training. And a lot of the time, first of all, content design wasn’t much of a title of anything. And then you have this stage in the 2010s where you have more people moving into the industry, a lot of entry-level content designers who are learning the craft, learning from those people who have been doing it from, you know, since the 1990s and before.

Patrick: [00:07:23] And you have companies, as I mentioned, the FAANGs, but also a lot of other organizations hiring content designers, bringing them on board. And now I think we’ve entered something of a new era where the the the level of skills required has jumped up a notch, the minimum experience and even the minimum competency in a number of different skills for content designers has jumped up just a little bit. I feel like in the past and when I say the past, I mean probably the past five years, it probably would have been easier for you to move from an adjacent role with very little experience in content design. And I feel like even though there probably will be a lot of opportunities for entry-level content designers the bar has been raised just a little bit due to the industry maturing, as any as any job field does. I’m wondering if you’re sensing the same thing and what your views are generally about where we are in content design right now and what’s expected of content designers?

Kristina: [00:08:43] I mean, what I was saying is that Facebook hired their first content strategist in 2009 and I think they were one of the first product companies to hire somebody with that title. And, you know, fast forward to 2019, 2020, and so many tech companies sort of rolled out, okay, we’re changing to content design. And then it just caught fire very, very quickly and a lot of people started making that change. So I think it’s important to point to when that field of practice was sort of codified under that title. And I also want to say that, you know, that was content design in Europe in particular, really means content design for services and across websites even. And so whereas here we really are talking about website content strategy. So even the titles of the fields of practice are conflated in different areas. And I just put up a post about this a couple of days ago. I think I already talked about that. I already joked about what a loser I am writing LinkedIn posts on Saturdays, but all of that to say I think that the opportunities and the skill sets and the considerations when you are a content person working across any kind of digital property or platform, I don’t think that the larger skills are all that different because a lot of it has to do with the questions that you know to ask and when to ask them during the process.

Kristina: [00:10:23] And I know that seems like an oversimplification of our roles as content professionals, but it is really what separates out what I would suggest as, you know, when we talk about, oh, it’s just the writing. The ongoing education that we have within the marketplace is how robust the process, the analysis and synthesis process is of all of this different information prior to ever starting to type in words on the keyboard. And I don’t want to go down that it’s more than it’s not just the writing because in some instances, guess what it is. Because plenty of projects or products have launched without a content designer or a UX writer. That’s just the engineers were doing or the designers were doing it. But when we come back around to talk about skill sets, I don’t know if the really basic ones have really evolved or needed to evolve that much. I think that the specialization has just been better articulated or codified than it was before. Now, having said that there are lots of tools that didn’t exist a couple of years ago that content designers and UX writers are expected to know. Figma of course being one of the primary ones, Airtable being another. And so that is something to consider, I guess.

Patrick: [00:11:50] Yeah, I think I agree with pretty much all of that. I think the discussion that’s been happening a little bit lately has been around some of the frustrations that content designers experience. And you know for a while now the discussion has been rightfully on the challenges that a lot of content designers have, which is not being included early enough. You know, certainly a lot of the idea of a lot of influence or lacking that influence. In our survey earlier this year, our 2023 industry and salary survey, we asked people, what are your biggest challenges? And by far, the biggest challenge was lack of impact and influence. And that I think is closely related to this discussion about what skills content designers need and the evolution of those skills. Because if those to some extent, I’ve sort of reached the point where I think, well, okay, if those are the same problems we’re having, if that’s the same issue we’re having, maybe the problem lies with us a little bit as well. You know, like maybe it’s not just about us going up against the powers that be. Maybe we need to change our approach here. Yeah, I sort of have reached that point. But curious what you think about that.

Kristina: [00:13:20] You and I have chatted about this a lot behind the scenes, and I’ve talked to a lot of people about this kind of behind-the-scenes. And it’s a delicate topic because it is painful and it is difficult and it is an upward battle—an upward climb, you know, but I would also like to say that this has this conversation has been happening for decades. I mean, when I first got involved with content strategy in a public way in 2008, it was the exact same conversation. Nobody calls me soon enough. Nobody listens to me in meetings. I’m spread across too many teams. I’m spread too thin. I want to be able to contribute strategically or from a design perspective, but I’m an order taker. I mean, it’s the same conversation and it’s been and before websites, it happened with technical communicators. And so and you know, it is admittedly a little maddening for me to see it recycled over and over again because it is a spinning of the wheels. And so it’s a very fine line between wanting shared validation and making sure that people do feel seen and do feel heard because it is difficult. I’ve had my share of burnout and periods of hopelessness and anger of why is it so difficult for content professionals to establish themselves as more than just wordsmiths. And don’t get me wrong, writers and wordsmiths at any level, amazing talent.

Kristina: [00:15:00] Right? Challenge is anybody can open up the laptop and start writing, and anybody who works in the workplace can open up a laptop and start writing. And so and that is the perception of a lot of leadership. It just is. And so, what I have seen folks who are able to move past that both within their own careers and within their organizations, are the folks who are able to like, hey, I’m going to say demonstrate value. And people hate it when I say that because they’re like, I am demonstrating value. But what I see over and over is that folks talk about what they can do. They talk about it quite a bit. They talk about if you would have called me sooner, I could have done this. Or let me show you the deck once again about what content design is and how it can help, you know, in parts of in parts of the work. I do think that the folks who have been able to not only demonstrate value but then also to work very very difficult to get the people to whom they are contributing the value to advocate for them throughout the organization, especially managing up. That’s what I see work over and over. What happens, I think, is that we get caught in this cycle of commiserating and burnout that we’re just like, I shouldn’t have to fix this. Like I shouldn’t. If they hired me, they shouldn’t expect me to fix it.

Kristina: [00:16:28] And you know what? You’re right. Also, you gotta fix it. I mean, those are the circumstances. I was talking to a friend the other day, and she was just like, you know, if you get to a point where you have been banging your head up against a wall forever and you’ve tried a million different approaches, it sort of is like you have a couple of options, right? You can look for another job, you can stop caring, or you can get a side project, right? And that’s kind of that’s kind of it. And that is a little harsh. But at the same time, it’s very true. When people talk about being a content professional, when they talk about it as a war or as a battle or we have to fight on the front lines or we have to fight for the good of the user or whatever. It’s not a war, it’s a job, right? And it’s a job that we share with our experienced designers all over the world. I just feel like there are so many more opportunities for listening and curiosity and true collaboration and primarily sharing the work, you know, that we just are that I just see a lot of folks in the, in the community not taking advantage of or waiting for other people to fix it.

Patrick: [00:17:53] As you said, this discussion has been happening for a long time and in many ways, the challenges are the same. But also, do you think we have reached a point where things need to change? Because, you know, speaking of the Button conference, one of the messages that you’ve been putting out there regarding this year’s Button conference is to move from advocacy to impact. That’s one of the themes. I think a lot of content professionals have the skills you’re talking about when it comes to, you know, the core content areas. But when it comes to moving from … I think they can go … they’re very good at, you know, advocating internally for content design and content strategy. And, you know, they’re good at telling people what it is that they do. They’re good at telling people why it’s important. But the next step is difficult, as you said, sort of getting people to advocate for them.

Kristina: [00:19:10] It’s 100% about showing the work. And I’m going to write about this another time. I was joking that I’ve got like eight LinkedIn posts that I’m just waiting to post for another time. Real impassioned. I was talking to … I mean, he is a super renowned designer with hundreds of thousands of followers on LinkedIn. Like, you know him, you love him, you respect him. And I was talking to him recently and I was like, so what do you think about where content design is at? And he just point blank was just like, I don’t ever see them showing their work. I don’t see anything online about what they do. I don’t see case studies. I don’t see explanations of methodology. I don’t see, you know, conversations about, you know, he said or if it exists is behind a paywall. And he said there’s just such a huge body of work that’s been built up over the years around user experience design. Or he kind of pointed to the accessibility design community, you know, that was a huge edge case. And they pulled together as a community and really started cranking out material. And that’s part of it too, is that I think if you look up content design resources or learn about content design, you get paid courses and you get articles on what is content design.

Kristina: [00:20:38] And so I think that there is just a huge … and part of it too is there’s not a central place to put it right. There’s no central repository. And so it’s scattered across, you know, Substacks and LinkedIn posts and so on. And LinkedIn itself is not conducive to sharing the work. LinkedIn is 100% about insights and hot takes and, you know, whatever. And so, and so if there is an opportunity for the larger field of practice and content design, that opportunity is for people to start writing about the work, to start, you know, publishing, doing podcasts about the work, talking to people about how things function in the workplace. Jason Fox is an extraordinary contributor. He started cranking out these 90-second videos about here’s a trick I have as a content designer in Figma. There’s another person, I’m going to mispronounce his name, I think his first name is Hassan. He’s putting together these long posts with here’s every single free resource that I can find on UX writing. We need thousands of people doing that and we don’t have it.

Patrick: [00:21:55] Yeah, I think it’s easy to go online and especially on platforms like TikTok or something like that, where you can see developers showing off their projects and what they’re working on and what they’re doing. So for a while now we’ve been publishing blog posts at UXCC and we’ve asked people, you know, please pitch us your blogs, we will pay you for these blogs. And I still get pitches on why content design is important.

Kristina: [00:22:23] More than half of more than half of the pitches we got for Button this year were for that. More than half.

Patrick: [00:22:30] Yeah. And I think what we need to see is more in-depth case studies on I can’t remember who the individual who published it but the team at Wix did a did a blog post a couple of years ago about an audit of their error messages. And that was a couple of years ago. And it’s still the go-to example I have for people doing an audit of that type of work. And I keep waiting for pitches from people who go in-depth about something they did at work. In fact, I had a discussion with someone who pitched a blog saying I moved from law to content design. And how what I studied in the legal profession influenced how I do content design, but no one really wants to read about that. And then they also pitched a blog that was around five things about content design. And I just thought everyone has it backward about what they think is interesting. The more unique and the more specific, the more interesting it will be to a wider audience. It seems paradoxical, but that’s what the truth is.

Kristina: [00:23:52] So we’ve been producing conferences since 2011 and I think probably in 2018, I decided I would start offering speaker coaching to everyone where I would look at their decks and talk to them about the audience and what to expect. I’ve now coached like hundreds of people with their decks. Almost every time what I have to tell people is you have got to go deeper. You have got to go nerdier. The more detailed, gross, under the hood, what you think is super boring to everybody else you can get at, the more thrilled your audience is going to be. And that is the number one thing. Even when we recruit for our blogs, people are just like, oh, somebody’s already written about this, or oh, nobody cares about this, or I figured everybody already knew this. And like, no, no, no, no, they don’t, They don’t. Coming back all the way around to my point about why do content folks tend to lack influence in the workplace, I think that among our peers and the folks that we are really wanting and needing to collaborate with, in order for a field of practice to establish legitimacy, there’s got to be stuff online. We’ve got books that have been written, but you need to be able to show more than just what is content design.

Patrick: [00:25:25] Yeah. And I think the challenge there is that. So, you know, it’s titled this discussion The Evolution of Content Design Skills. And as you mentioned, there are some new skills that people need, you know, learning new tools and learning how to adapt in different environments, but really it’s less about new skills and it’s more about how to use those skills. People are professionals and they do great work. They need to they need to write about it. They need to tell us, you know, what they’re doing. As you as you just said, content design has a little bit of a reputation for being a little bit, lacking substance, I suppose. And I’m not surprised because I think we need to do better as an industry about connecting what we do to actual impact. I think to bring it back to like specific skills, I think a really specific skill that more content designers need to develop is setting themselves up in a way where their work will show impact within their organizations and actually connect and actually making their work measurable. So one of the issues that I hear from a lot of people is, oh, you know, I’m doing this work, but I don’t know how to measure it.

Patrick: [00:27:02] And frankly, that’s something that you have to do. You know, you have to come up with a way to measure it, whether it’s making sure with a PM that you have the ability to go back and measure or survey or whether you have content-specific testing methods through the entire phase of design to measure how something changes on its way to implementation, showing, you know, before and after even things like the impact of five-second tests and so on. These types of skills are required. And I think simply saying, well, I don’t have the ability to measure what I’m doing, I think is a little bit of a tired excuse. We now are at the point where it’s, well, no one else is going to do it for you. So you have to work with others to set yourself up for success. So figure out a way to measure exactly what it is that you’re doing. It’s a little bit harsh, but I also think no one’s coming to your rescue, so you have to do it.

Kristina: [00:28:11] Well, I think that those are all I mean, you’re right. Everything you just said is dead on. And I want to acknowledge that part of the challenge, no small part of the challenge. I mean, we do at Brain Traffic, we largely do content strategy projects for websites and the enterprise, and particularly in the world of website content strategy, they’re like, how are we going to measure improvement? So it’s the same thing, it’s the same conversation. And the implied skill there is being curious and being brave enough to go find the person that can measure what you need, right? Because I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve asked somebody, okay, well, if that’s your KPI, like how can we connect content work that we’re doing three stages away in the user journey from that KPI, which is the one that actually maps to bottom line business results. And they’re just like, oh, we can’t our systems don’t do that. Well, give me three days and an org chart and I can find the person that can measure that for you and people just don’t know it. And so I think that, you know, persistence and tenacity and that’s tough when you’re tired, when you’re burned out, when you feel marginalized in the workplace, when you feel like nobody’s listening to you, like getting up and sitting at your computer and be like, all right, today I’m going to find the person who can. That is hard and it’s required. It’s part of the work. There are some organizations where they’re like, whatever you need, you’re the content person.

Kristina: [00:29:46] And we understand, you know, that without the words, nobody can use our apps. Right? But ultimately, honing those skills of curiosity, of making others feel valued and heard … those are the interpersonal skills that are required if you’re going to get the information you need that, to your point, is going to be able to demonstrate impact. I really do think that one of the things that gets in our way in going and finding that information and taking that initiative and connecting those dots for ourselves is that we feel like either A) people don’t have the time or we don’t want to bother them, or they’re going to wonder, what is this person asking me for? Or B) that we shouldn’t have to, that somebody should be bringing us that information. And the first piece to a person, if you demonstrate curiosity in their work, they are going to be excited to talk to you, period. If you go in and say, tell me more about that and why do you do that and when did we start doing that and what insights did you glean from that? I am telling you they’re going to want to help you however you can. If you sit back and you’re just like, well, you all hired me, I should not have to go and do this extra work. You’re never going to advance in your career. I don’t know a single lead content strategist who has just been like, oh, I’m here. You know, do the work, pave the way for me as a content designer. It’s not going to happen.

Patrick: [00:31:27] Yeah, exactly. I think what you mentioned about persistence and tenacity is key. And as you mentioned, it is incredibly frustrating when you just come up against wall after wall after wall. But there’s something to be said for strategic persistence. You know, the idea that you are persisting and you are going to people and you’re I wouldn’t say pressuring, but you’re pushing and you’re asking and you’re asking with the expectation that, you know, there is a small chance of something getting done. But then in three months when someone asks, why isn’t there any impact, you can then point back to all of the work you’ve been doing and say, well, I’ve been attempting to do this, I’ve been speaking to so-and-so, I’ve been asking to do this. I’ve been asking to measure this, look at all this documentation that I’ve put together. Look at these emails I’ve been sending. And you know, I am doing this on my behalf. So if you’re not doing it necessarily to get to the end goal, just do it for yourself. Give yourself some cover to to show that you are actually … it’s almost like the as per my previous email thing you know. Have that documentation there so that you can show people I have been doing this right.

Kristina: [00:32:49] The most passive-aggressive thing you can say in an email, as I said previously. I want to, if I can, because I’m thinking about this. We’ve been talking about the importance of being able to establish presence in the workplace, the importance of being able to kind of navigate relationships and get the information that you need. I want to come back around to say that I know we’re here to talk about the evolution of content design skills. And I don’t think it’s an accident that we are talking about establishing and demonstrating value in the workplace. I do also kind of want to take several steps back and just talk about literally what do you need to be able to do the deliverables and do your job and how has that evolved over time? I would suggest that it hasn’t evolved that much other than the tools that have become available. And I will speak specifically to Figma in that I do feel like Figma was a giant game changer for content designers because it allowed them to, quote, I’m not even going to say get a seat at the table. It allowed them in the room with product designers in a way that they just simply hadn’t been before. And so, I feel like that degree and immediacy of collaboration has been key.

Kristina: [00:34:05] Again, I’m coming back to, I guess, soft skills. Well, not soft skills, but just like the ability to collaborate with others. I think that the opportunity to really participate more actively in research and research methodology. Even like you said, just a five-second test, knowing what that is and how to conduct it, I think is more important than ever. I think that understanding the principles and being able to even participate in crafting principles around accessibility of product and inclusivity of language is really important. I think that, and this has always been the case for content people, I think that being able to speak coherently and with some degree of being informed about all of the different areas of product development and design and ideally around sort of like the larger product content strategy ecosystem I think is really critical. I just wanted to take a step back and just say that although a lot of the stuff that we’re talking about is about surviving and thriving as a content designer, right? But when we’re talking about actually training in the field, those are some of the things I think that have actually evolved and pretty rapidly over the last couple of years because of the number of online collaborative spaces that we’ve developed over time.

Patrick: [00:35:31] I agree with all of that. And I also think, look, I know AI is the hot button topic at the minute. And there’s a lot of hype. Some of it deserved, some of it not. But I also think this is a key area where content designers need to really skill up and not in the sense that they need to go into GPT and learn how to prompt well. That’s important and I think there are a lot of misconceptions about how to use AI well in order to scale your work. But I also think in the sense of AI operations, content designers have a massive role to play there. The idea that your organization will be using AI to automate processes, but also automate their impact. And so there are a lot of tools available right now. There are obviously large ones like Writer and then there are other tools like ChatGPT just brought in this enterprise version. But the idea that you can act as a guardian of guidelines and rules and substance for using AI to automate a lot of the content creation in your organization and using the tools that are available to build custom solutions for your organization using AI.

Patrick: [00:37:08] Content designers have a huge role to play there. It is a natural language tool. And so I think even just understanding. It’s amazing to me how many people I speak to who think that the generative AI models are a consciousness. They think that these AI models are thinking and they don’t really understand how they work or the idea behind tokenization. So being able to go deep on those things I think is important because if the people you’re working with in your organization know that you understand how they work and what they can do and what they can’t do, they are going to trust you in working with them. And it’s natural language. It’s our area. It’s a content area. I’m pretty passionate about that at the minute because I think even if you’re not going out there and working with your organization to build an AI tool, it’s just so important that you have an understanding of what’s going on there and how to separate the hype from the substance really.

Kristina: [00:38:16] Well, to be fair, there are not a lot of organizations that have learned how to do that yet. I mean, you talk to anybody working on Bard at Google and they’re just like, I don’t know, I’m just making this up as I go along. I have a podcast too, and I guess this is LinkedIn Live, but you also have a podcast. You’re so busy. And I was able to interview Morgan Marie Quinn from Google who’s working on AI. She’s leading a team of content designers who are working on AI, and she is just like, I don’t know, we’re figuring it out as we go. And that’s really true. A whole other area is prompt engineering, right? We have to train these large language models, and so how are we doing that? Content designers are perfectly suited to go in there and help train on, nope, that information is wrong. Or oh, this is the direction we want to take this. What I was going to suggest is two things. One, start looking up job descriptions that are … if you have any remote interest in this, start looking up job descriptions that are like content designer and AI prompt engineer AI content like just any permeation and see what the qualifications are that they’re looking for. If you think that is something that you’re interested in moving into, don’t be afraid of diving into some of these podcasts or newsletters just to start to familiarize yourself with the world of AI.

Kristina: [00:39:53] Literally it was not until two months ago that I was like, oh, I guess I have to learn about this because I’m old and tired. But I even was just sort of waiting for the hype to chill so that I could start to sort out who was doing meaningful work and saying words that actually meant something. Even understanding the relationship between AI and generative search, for example. That’s all important stuff. And whether or not this is stuff that you’re like, I’m going to make a move into this career, I need to know this or it’s going to eat my job, which, by the way, I don’t think it will. If you’ve got an extra 20 minutes of brain space every couple of days, be curious about that, because it is only going to serve you in your organization. And also, candidly, this is a perfect opportunity to fake it till you make it. Again, aging myself, but I started out as a copywriter for websites many years ago. I just started doing content strategy before I even knew what it was called. And people would be like, oh, can you help with this and this? And I’d be like, yep, yes, I can. And then you just wing it and you just it just happens. So be brave, my friends.

Patrick: [00:41:08] There have been a few key times in my career where people have asked me, can you do this? And I go, yep. And I have maybe a 60% confidence level that I’ll be able to do it.

Kristina: [00:41:23] If they ask you if you can do it, chances are good that they can’t. So you just make it up. Just be like, yep, this is what this looks like.

Patrick: [00:41:31] I use the Wells Fargo example, but they’re looking for senior content designers, specifically for artificial intelligence. I’ve seen similar job ads at Shopify and there was another one recently, Amazon looking for a content designer to work on an AI model. This is, I think, the key area that content designers need to think about and learning some skills as it relates to even, just as you said, understanding just how they work, even just a little bit, 20 minutes, you know, learning a little bit because that’s 20 minutes more than a lot of other people will spend.

Kristina: [00:42:09] Well, again, you know, one of the turning points for me as a content strategist was once I was able to have informed conversations with information architects, user experience designers, content engineers, technical communicators, content marketers … I can’t dig deep into those specializations, but I know what questions to ask, I understand what they do. I understand the value of what they do. I understand the obstacles that they run into, and I understand how it’s connected to my work. That has just been straight-up curiosity and asking people questions. And it is one of my strengths as a strategist. And so being brave about being curious about what other folks are doing or even just asking, can I just sit in on this meeting so that I can learn the language that people are speaking around AI or whatever is just so key because people don’t advance in their careers unless they are able to talk about stuff outside of their own area of specialization, specifically in content, because it takes so many people to get content right. So many people within any tiny product.

Patrick: [00:43:29] I think some of the best conversations or best advances in my own knowledge or skills have been from just sitting across someone for 20 minutes and just asking them questions and then just asking them to expand on things. Not being afraid to ask what you might consider to be the stupidest questions about the most basic level about a particular topic. And if you have someone in your organization who’s working on machine learning or AI, just being able to sit down with them and just even ask them just what is AI, you know, at its most basic level, like, please explain to me. The fact that you’re able to be curious about that will speak a lot.

Kristina: [00:44:16] I think the last hurdle there is I think many of us work in organizations where there’s a culture of fear around looking stupid or around people discovering that you don’t know something. And what I have seen over and over is that the brave soul who says, can you say that again? Or can you explain that in a different way? Or if you can say, I mean, even if it is just I’m sorry, what does that acronym mean? I mean, literally that basic that starts to crack open new opportunities for collaboration and insight and overcoming that. I mean, it is one thing to say fake it till you make it in terms of being confident about things that you can figure out. But in terms of showing curiosity to really understand and see other people in their professions. I know that we have talked a lot about content design skills outside of hands in the dirt work, but this is where careers advance. It’s here.

Patrick: [00:45:18] Before we wrap up because we’re rapidly approaching the end of an hour, one other point I want to make is that one skill that I’ve seen people develop, and it’s something that I’ve had to develop, is being able to prioritize what as a content designer, you find interesting and cool to work on versus what the organization cares about in which you’re working. Organizations will tend to have, depending on where you work, there will be organizational goals. There will be departmental goals, team goals, and so on. The ability to connect what you’re doing to each one of those goals and being able to articulate how the work you’re doing supports each of those goals is critical because if you go into a meeting with someone at a high level, you need to be able to explain exactly how the UI you’re working on relates to this organizational goal, this OKR. If you’re able to do that, it advances your career a lot.

Kristina: [00:46:35] I agree with that. And I also want to say, based on my own experience, that a lot of people don’t have those. Like not only do they not have them, but their leaders don’t have them or they’re in development. I see that over and over and over again, and that can be very difficult. You’re like, I want to tie this to a KPI. I want to tie this to an OKR. I want to show how this ladders up to even our functional business area strategy, but it’s not accessible to me. And in that instance, my advice is to figure out what your manager’s manager is all hot and bothered about and figure out how to map something that you’re doing to that because leadership are squirrels. I mean, if you are in leadership, I’m sorry, I love you, but you know what I’m talking about. They get whiplash depending on what’s the board’s priority, what is the CEO’s priority, what is their boss’s boss’s priority? And so you can demonstrate impact even if you don’t have what Patrick is talking about. It is just a matter of being savvy enough to listen and hear what people’s hot topics of the day are and then going and figuring out how you can show the work that you’re doing is having an impact on that. It’s a sales pitch.

Patrick: [00:47:50] Exactly. And funnily enough, I’ll be speaking about that at Button. Which brings us back to the start of the conversation, because we’ve actually reached the end of our hour together, which went incredibly quickly. I feel like we could talk about this forever and ever. There’s so much we could talk about. So. Kristina thank you so much for joining.

Kristina: [00:48:14] Can I say one more thing? I want to tell everybody on this work, please get out of the echo chamber on this call. Please get out of the echo chamber. Please start following information architects, start following enterprise content strategists, start following content engineers. Follow product managers. Follow visual designers. Follow people who are specialists in localizations and accessibility and inclusive language. Get out of the content design and UX writing echo chamber. Because if we can’t expand our purview, it’s going to hold the field back. So get out there and learn. Do it.

Patrick: [00:48:53] We should write something about that.

Kristina: [00:48:58] We’re all going to write something about that. We are all going to hang up and we’re going to write about it. Everybody, all 140 of us.

Patrick: [00:49:05] Alright. Kristina, thank you so much for joining. Um, yeah, really appreciate you joining today. Everyone, I hope to see you at Button next month. Again, if you have not bought your ticket, get $100 off using UXCC100. There’s a huge range of amazing talks that are going to be happening. I’m actually really excited to hear a lot of them so yeah. Hope to see you there. Thanks again, Kristina. Thank you, Katie, for organizing. And if anyone has any follow-up questions or comments, please hit us up on the event post on our company page on LinkedIn.

Kristina: [00:49:46] And LinkedIn with me. Absolutely. Thanks, Patrick.

Kristina: [00:49:51] Thanks, everybody.

Patrick: [00:49:53] Thanks, everyone. Bye bye.

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