The Interface: Will the wave of layoffs hit UX writers?

In this episode, the UX Content Collective crew discusses the current wave of tech layoffs and what this means for product and design teams. 

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

In this episode, the UX Content Collective crew discusses the current wave of tech layoffs and what this means for product and design teams.

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Episode transcript

Katie: [00:00:00] The proper pronunciation is Shuh-Man-Ski.

Patrick: [00:00:03] Bobbie, were you shocked at her pronunciation or the fact that I had never said it?

Bobbie: [00:00:07] I didn’t know I was pronouncing her name wrong the whole time we’ve known each other.

Patrick: [00:00:11] Alright.

Bobbie: [00:00:12] But it’s not.

Patrick: [00:00:25] Welcome everyone. Welcome to The Interface. This is a monthly podcast with the team at the UX Content Collective, friends, and colleagues talking about what’s happening in UX writing and content design. Every month, we’re going to be bringing you the most popular things that are happening in UX content and UX writing. We’re going to break those down, and then we’re going to chat about them and we’re going to talk about what’s happening in the industry. Let’s keep it short and sweet. We’ve got a great team here today. Let’s go around the table and introduce ourselves. Bobbie, let’s start with you.

Bobbie: [00:01:01] Hello. My name is Bobbie Wood. I am the CEO of UX Content Collective. I’ve been a content designer for longer than there has been a title called Content Designer, which is exciting.

Patrick: [00:01:14] That is a claim to fame right there. Gordon, introduce yourself to the people.

Gordon: [00:01:19] Hello, Patrick. My name is Gordon. I am the Head of Learning here at the UX Content Collective and I also write the UX Writer Jobs newsletter. So yeah, that’s me.

Patrick: [00:01:32] Wonderful. And Katie to introduce herself.

Katie: [00:01:36] Hello. This is so official. My first podcast introduction. I am the part-time marketing manager here at UX Content Collective and have been freelancing for a few years now. Very interested in how we can bring the UX Content Collective story to life online.

Patrick: [00:01:56] Excellent. And your name is pronounced SHA-MAN-SKI. Look, we’re not going to go on for hours and hours in this podcast. We’re going to be pretty short and sweet because we want to know we’re respectful of people’s time, and we want to make sure that you are spending time on things that are valuable. So each month, we’re going to bring you a breakdown of some of the most popular things happening in UX writing and content design. And we’ll follow that up into a deep dive with one or two particular topics that we think are particularly interesting or relevant. Alright. First up, we’ve got the upcoming Button Conference in October. It’s going to be both in-person and online, in person in Seattle, online everywhere. So if you’re interested, get yourself over to Seattle or to a computer. They just announced a bunch of great speakers, including some people from the UX Content Collective. So that’s very exciting. We’ve got a bunch of great blogs and podcasts and talks that have been released this month. So first up, the team at Spotify have released a blog about emotional design and how they’ve embodied their design with emotional narratives. That’s really interesting. All of these links will be in the show notes, so please check them out. Our own Bobbie Wood appeared with UserTesting.com on a podcast. Bobbie, what did you talk about in that podcast?

Bobbie: [00:03:15] Okay. So let me tell you, this was a wide-ranging discussion mostly about A.I. and whether or not AI will take our jobs as content designers. And the User Testing team did a really interesting thing where they asked a bunch of content designers for answers before the podcast, and then we were responding to them. So it was exciting. And the whole podcast starts out with, “What would you ask an alien if you could ask an alien a question?”

Patrick: [00:03:47] Fantastic. Alright. Figma had some cool stuff out this month. They had a bunch of talks at the conference, FigJam, in particular. There was a great one from the UX writing team about how designers can work with UX writers in Figma. So definitely check that out. Also, Frontitude has released a list of the best Figma plug-ins for writers, so I would definitely check that out, too. And just a couple of last ones. Apple at the Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) has released a fantastic session on writing for user interfaces. This is something that Apple hasn’t really touched on before in a public way. It’s a 20-minute talk, so definitely check it out. It’s a talk designed for developers, but if you’re a UX writer or content designer or anyone in UX, really, you will get a lot out of it. And that’s it for this month. As always, if you want to check out any interesting links or what’s happening in UX content and content design, sign up for the newsletter. I’ll keep a link in the show notes. It comes out every week, and you’ll stay on top of what’s happening in the industry. Alright. On to our deep dive for the month. So as people might know, the global economy is experiencing a bit of a tumble. Share markets are going down, inflation is going up, and interest rates are going up. And in fact, as we’re recording this, a couple of hours ago, the Fed in the United States increased interest rates by 0.75 of a percent. I believe Australia is doing a similar thing, and we are seeing an incredible number of layoffs, particularly in the tech industry.

Patrick: [00:05:39] So I’m looking at this article from TechCrunch and there are a number of companies here laying people off. So this is just a small list. Carbon Health, they’ve laid off 250 people. Loom, the enterprise video tool, has laid off 14%. Coinbase has started a hiring freeze and even revoked some accepted offers from candidates, which is pretty, pretty incredible. A bunch of social apps IRL that laid off 25% of its team. There’s a crypto platform, Gemini, that has laid off 10% of its staff. And Elon Musk, I think this is probably the most notable one, has said that there will be a hiring freeze and job cuts affecting 10% of salaried employees. Now, this is just a small number, but it’s pretty clear that we’re entering a time when in the past ten years, like the tech industry has been booming, salaries have been increasing. It’s been pretty easy to get a job in tech if you are, you know, at least a little bit qualified and you know what you’re doing. And it seems that might be harder. So we want to discuss today, if you’re a UX writer or a content designer, should you be worried about this and what’s happening, and if it is going to affect you, how can you avoid it? Gordon, I want to start with you because you and I have talked about this a little bit. You and I have talked about what’s happening in the industry and where these layoffs seem to be happening. And I know you have some thoughts on that. Why don’t you start off by talking about, you know, where are we seeing this? Who’s being affected and what’s happening?

Gordon: [00:07:17] Yeah. I think what was kind of interesting from that list you shared of companies that are laying off was the two main kinds of industries that jump out: Crypto for a start. Right. It is very heavily affected by this, given the volatility within cryptocurrency. I think that makes a lot of sense. And secondly, it seems like a lot of tools that sort of boomed during the pandemic are now experiencing a bit of a pullback. I think my advice would be for anyone who’s job hunting at the moment, is like, I don’t know, I’ve always been kind of bearish on joining a crypto company. So I would take that with a grain of salt. If you’re looking at joining a cryptocurrency company, know what you’re getting into. But secondly, if a company has raised a ton of money in the last couple of years on a valuation that’s relying on continued growth because of a pandemic, like as companies, as countries start to come out of the last two years and I’m not saying that COVID has gone away. We know that it hasn’t. But we are moving to a phase now where companies are starting to look at hybrid ways of working. So there’ll be a pullback from 90-95% of people working remotely to 50-55% of people working remotely. Do your homework on companies that you’re joining. And if they’ve raised a ton of money in the last couple of years, like dig into what those projections are relying on because those are the types of companies that are going to lay off people in the next year or so because they’re not going to be able to hit the revenue targets that they may be told investors they were going to.

Patrick: [00:09:04] Yeah, it’s a good point. And Bobbie, I know that you have been in companies like Google and a number of others where things go in cycles. Right. You go through like a boom. And so you’re hiring lots of people and you bringing them on and then you’ll go into more of a downturn where people are being laid off. And so you’ve been a part of the industry for a while now. Can you talk about what it’s like inside these types of companies or any company really when you’re going through a downturn, particularly when you’re in a content team as opposed to some other areas that might be a little bit more insulated, like what does it feel like in that type of situation?

Bobbie: [00:09:45] You know, I guess this is kind of starting to turn into a humblebrag, but I’ve never been laid off, so I don’t have that experience. But I have seen a huge number of team members laid off. And it’s really emotionally disturbing for everyone involved, the people who are left in the team and then, of course, the people who have to go find new jobs. It’s hard, especially in a downturn. There are some companies, one in particular, that I guess I won’t name names, but.

Patrick: [00:10:21] Go on.

Bobbie: [00:10:22] At Intuit, there’s a frequent pattern of like hire, hire, hire, layoff, layoff, layoff. And a lot of companies sort of treat their workforces as being very flexible. And that is something that we’ve come to. We’ve gotten used to it in the modern age. You know, we all think of ourselves almost as freelancers. So we’re no longer company-men, to use the 1950s term. Where we think of ourselves as having value and we’re a resource, and we’re going to go out and sell ourselves as a resource to whatever company is bidding highest for our value that we’re offering. So I think that’s kind of the way to think about it. When a company lays you off, you know, lame on the company, they just lost you. And hopefully, you’re very connected to your value and you’re going to keep that in mind and take that to your next opportunity. So if you get laid off, I guess I would like to say to everybody, you can say, don’t take it personally. Which are just empty words. It’s like telling somebody experiencing grief, that it’ll get better. I’m sure it will. But you feel terrible right now. If you get laid off, just know that content design is a valuable skill. UX writing is a valuable skill. Fewer and fewer people can write…at all. And so if you’re a good writer, know that you’ve got value to take to any company.

Patrick: [00:11:52] Yeah, it’s good advice. One of the problems that a lot of content teams have is they become too focused on the content itself, I think, and not not enough focus on impact. You know, I speak to content designers and UX writers who think that their ultimate goal is to make content great and make content usable. And that is a goal. But they can be a little bit ignorant sometimes of the broader goals within an organization. So they’re not really attuned to, okay, what is the overall company OKRS or if you’re using any other sort of objective. And so when they’re pursuing projects or they’re pursuing things that they want to do, they are not really focused on impact. They’re focused more on what they think good content will be, and they’re not attaching it to broader company goals. And so if you’re not doing that, I feel like a lot of the time the company is not going to understand your value, and a lot of the time it’s really just about articulating it. Katie, what do you think about that?

Katie: [00:13:06] What’s really interesting about this conversation, especially talking about the crypto company, the insurance companies, some of these big tech companies going through rounds of layoffs. And what we’re seeing is that there’s huge bloat in hiring and budget and bringing resources in to kick off these projects, Gordon mentioned, tied to the pandemic. There are a lot of organizations that haven’t reached that level of maturity, and so they haven’t even hired their first content designer. So I think there’s a lot of opportunity within smaller organizations, within higher education, within startups that they’re not at that level of, like we have 50 designers, we need to lay off 20, they might have one. And that one person is extremely critical to team success. And so just understanding that, sure, these big tech companies are going through rounds of layoffs, but just understanding that, yes, you still have value that you can provide across the board to a wide range of organizations, nonprofits, and governments. So I think that just taking that with a little bit of a grain of salt, this will continue to happen.

Gordon: [00:14:13] Listen: Bad news sells. Right. And the headlines around layoffs for tech companies is part of sort of a wider, not backlash, but more critical analysis maybe of the value that tech companies bring. I think when you’re sort of trying to think about what this means for your career and your job as it is, try not to read too much of the news would maybe be my advice there. Deal with the job that you’re currently doing in the situation that you’re in and like at the micro level and try and ignore the macro factors unless it actually does apply to your role.

Patrick: [00:14:56] Yeah, absolutely. I think that the overall trend that I’m seeing is that, some people may sort of hate me for saying this, but for the last ten years, it’s kind of been easy, right? And not just in content design. I’d say everything in tech. There has been an abundance of boot camps and places to learn. And with so many people hiring, it has actually been a little bit easy, if you are competent, to go and study and then get into a job. I think one of the biggest trends, what biggest places I look for trends are on TikTok. And in the past couple of years, there have been a huge number of TikToks about: here’s how you can get into tech. Here’s what I did to get into tech, and now I’m earning, you know, $150K. I don’t know about anyone else, but there have been more and more TikToks talking about, oh, I had an offer and now it’s been rescinded or I got laid off. So I definitely think that trend is now happening. So I think you’re right, Bobbie, in that there’s always going to be a need for content designers, and there’s always going to be that job role. It’s just going to be a little bit harder. And so that means you have to do a few key things to really stand out. What do you think about that, Katie?

Katie: [00:16:25] Yes, but I will say, Patrick, what you said around, you know, there are a lot of those, I almost feel like it’s kind of like entrepreneur porn almost, where people are like, hey, look I did these five things and now I’m a tech CEO. You can do it, too! Download my Excel spreadsheet in the comments. And so I think there are a lot of people trying to monetize their knowledge on TikTok and beyond. But I think that hustle culture is also very strong on TikTok. What we can also see, though, is that it’s not just a one-and-done solution like following advice from somebody online. These are the three things you need to do to get a job. Nobody can promise that. So I think what you mentioned about hard work, know your value, put in the work, and hopefully you’ll see something pay off… pending no recession is substantially cutting down roles. But I think that yeah, it’s easy to watch the social media reels and think that it’s just like a glamorized, super easy process, but just wanted to kind of highlight that. Keep TikToking, but there’s more out there for sure.

Bobbie: [00:17:37] Patrick, I would also second what you said. Gordon, kudos to the don’t watch the news. Good for mental health across the board. But Patrick, just responding to what you said earlier about making your value, like helping people to understand your core value. As anybody in UX design, you know, designers, researchers, writers, you know, motion designers, prototypes, we are making the core product better and that is only good for business across the board. So, Katie, I love what you said about if you’re the only UX writer, you’re kind of a unicorn in the company and they’re crazy to even think of getting rid of you. We hear a lot of times that anybody can write microcopy. And for our audience, of course, everyone’s probably throwing things at their computer right now like, no, it’s not true because we all know it’s not. We’ve seen the writing that comes through from people who think they all can write, so just know your value, and be ready to talk about how it’s core to the product.

Patrick: [00:18:48] Totally. Absolutely. So I think, like to sort of bring this to a close. Because we’re talking in sort of vague terms like, you know, like show your value and produce value and so on. I want to talk about a few specific things that content designers and UX writers can do, because this is something that you can do, like on an everyday basis. And to me, the first thing that comes to mind is whenever you’re presenting changes or testing or anything that you’re doing, make sure that you show your impact in terms of dollars or a metric that your company cares about. So maybe your company cares about reducing support times, or maybe they really care about top-line revenue, or maybe they really care about a particular feature completion, right? Whatever your company cares about, make sure that you also care about that. Don’t just say, I’m going to make sure that the copy is consistent and that we’re using sentence case or title case everywhere. And we’re following a style guide. That’s great and that’s good practice, but just make sure you’re really aligned with what your company cares about. And any time you’re working on projects, think about how your project or your actions are leading to improving that metric. I know that sounds really boring, but it’s also one of the biggest ways that a company is going to see your value and understand your value. If you can talk in the same language as your organization, they’re more likely to see you as someone who they need to keep around because you’re ultimately delivering on what the organization wants. Bobbie, is that a bit too corporate? Is that a bit too boring, or is that good advice?

Bobbie: [00:20:33] Patrick, you sound like you’re quoting me. I would say the exact same thing. I really would, because when it comes down to it, I think that companies are selling a product. They have goals. And when it comes time to lay people off, they’re going to look at who is sort of, I don’t know, dispensable, dispensable. What is that word?

Patrick: [00:20:58] Yeah, dispensable.

Bobbie: [00:21:00] Dispensable. Yeah. So if you look at who in a company is dispensable, who they’re going to cut first, it’s going to be somebody they don’t connect to that core value. Yeah, it does sound corporate, but if our paychecks are coming from technology companies and corporate companies, then we need to use that language.

Patrick: [00:21:19] Yeah, totally agree. Gordon, I think you have a particularly cool insight here because you’ve been doing the jobs newsletter for a couple of years now, a few years now. So you’ve probably seen a number of job ads and what people are looking for. And I feel like in an environment like this, one key thing people can do is look at type of job ads that are out there, compare what skills companies are looking for against their own skill set, and then try and think, okay, this is what companies need right now. Am I missing any of these? Do I need to sort of like learn some of these key skills? I mean, I’m sure you’ve seen what companies are looking for change in the past 12 to 24 months.

Gordon: [00:22:05] Yeah. This is going to sound like a shameless plug for the courses that we’re developing. But I think the things I’ve started to see more of are companies wanting people understanding accessibility and localization and translation needs. They are courses we’re developing because we’ve seen that trend change over the last couple of years. I think the other thing I would just sort of sound a note of caution on around sort of the impact this will have on jobs is I haven’t yet seen…I mean, I know we’re still kind of early days in this, but I haven’t yet seen a huge downturn in the number of jobs that are being posted, like the number of jobs that are out there is still just as large to choose from each time we run the jobs newsletter and companies are still hiring for a number of roles. It hasn’t been the stark drop-off that we saw at the start of the pandemic, where we kind of stopped running the jobs newsletter for a couple of months because they’re just like, no one was really hiring. And it hasn’t been that sort of stark drop-off in terms of hiring freezing. I would say there doesn’t seem to have been a sort of a shut-off across the board in terms of hiring at the moment. That’s obviously something we’ll keep an eye on.

Patrick: [00:23:28] And then the final thing I think people can really do is make sure that you’re looking at your own work and what you’re doing versus trying to make a name for yourself in the industry. Sometimes when we see a lot of conferences like Button going on or there’s a Web Direction Summit in Australia later this year, that’s focusing on content strategy and content design. You know, speaking at these conferences can be awesome and writing blog posts can be great, and appearing on a podcast can be fun. But at the end of the day, your biggest value when you’re laid off or looking for a job is the work that you’ve already done. There are plenty of excellent content designers who you will never see on a stage at a conference, but their portfolios are full of the best work you’ve ever seen. So I would just say, like during this time, it can be tempting to make a name for yourself and think, okay, well, if people know my name then surely I’ll have more opportunities once I’m laid off. But that’s not necessarily always the case, because when you’re in an interview, Bobbie I’m sure you agree with this. Once you’re in an interview, you can definitely tell the people who have done the work and can prove themselves versus people who are sort of just talking the talk. Maybe that’s a little bit harsh, but yeah, for sure.

Bobbie: [00:25:04] The other thing I would say is if you’re unlucky enough to be laid off or feel like your job’s at risk, the most important things you can do is build up a deck of examples of where you’ve had impact. And the biggest thing that I would say to everybody is if you’re getting laid off or you’re interviewing someone who’s been laid off, remember that their feeling of what they accomplished and their proof of what they accomplished speaks much more loudly than the fact that they were laid off in the first place. So if you are coming in as a candidate, you know, you did good work. You know, you made impact. Be ready to articulate that and be proud. Hold your head high, share your values, share your work, and don’t let that layoff put you down. You’re still great at what you do. And so walk in interviews with that attitude and ready to show all your stuff.

Patrick: [00:26:03] Absolutely. In fact, I’d say that is the type of stuff that people should be putting in, like a blog post if they want to write it up or a case study. You know, that’s the type of stuff that will really help you stand out as opposed to just writing a blog post for the sake of it because you feel like you need to get your name out there. The best pieces of writing or anything like that come from your own lived experience and case studies showing impact. So if you can make a name for yourself as someone who delivers impact and returns, then you’re going to do great.

Katie: [00:26:40] Yeah, I was just going to say, too, I think I read a blog post recently, I think it was Erin Schroeder, who talked about just wanting to write all this content and publish all of this content. And being so much content and the overwhelm that comes with that. And I think when you’re going through a period of career transition or a layoff, just understanding that protecting your energy is also productive. If you need that time to unplug or recharge or whatever you need to do to make ends meet, like if you can’t write that blog post and publish it, that’s all good. It’s okay not to read every single blog post that’s written in our community as well. This is coming from the person who runs the UX Content Collective blog, but I think it just comes to a point where when you are in that survival mode or trying to find your next role, this understanding that it is about protecting your energy, do what you gotta do.

Patrick: [00:27:38] So, everyone, thanks for joining us today for the first episode of our new podcast. As always, check us out at uxcontent.com and we will see you next month.

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