Why is the product design ratio so skewed?
The other day I was scrolling through Twitter and saw this:
Thank you, Rachel, for tweeting everything the UX writing community wants to scream.
To say it hit home would be an understatement. I paused, tapped retweet, and haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
I’ve written a lot about being the only UX writer at my company. It’s pretty typical not to have a robust content team with solid processes and rituals. And it’s rare to have dedicated feature team writers — even rarer to have them involved in the right ways. So, this got me thinking:
Why is the product design ratio so skewed?
Doing It All
Typical product team structure: 1 writer catering to all feature teams
Ask any UX writer what they write and you’ll probably hear “well, everything…”. Their day-to-day involves all kinds of content creation, from in-app microcopy, multi-screen onboarding, UX strategy, taxonomy, and occasionally product marketing. Some of us even own tone and voice guidelines, design systems, usability testing, and content QA.
I’ve even been tapped to proofread all-company meeting presentations and job postings. Basically, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a writer in tech who isn’t tasked with anything remotely involving words.
I look at product designers who are content to focus on their feature area and not much else. If there’s not a dedicated designer, it’s a huge red flag. The same for PMs and engineers. Even UX researchers are becoming embedded and influencing product decisions without a second thought.
Why is it different for writers?
Why are we expected to know about, fix, and maintain everything content-related?
Why is it for every 5 designers, there’s 1 writer trying to self-manage across an entire user experience? Why are we given that level of autonomy and responsibility but still have to advocate for the value we bring?
Yes, I know, “everyone can write”. But not everyone is a writer. So perhaps instead of focusing on the “why”, we should start asking “how”.
The Ideal State
As a team of one for almost a year now, I’ve had to wear a lot of hats. I welcomed the challenge and have done a lot of great things to steer content in the right direction. But I realized pretty early on that my job would have a lot more impact if I had a clone (or 3). Not only would having multiple writers build trust and confidence in our craft (power in numbers), it would also streamline the workload and help in creating higher quality content, faster.
Better product team structure: A team of writers that become SMEs for their feature
When each feature team has a dedicated writer, they gain a writer who can focus on becoming a subject matter expert. It’s UX writing 101. We need context in order to create an experience that resonates with our users. And fully understanding that context demands our time and attention in ways that only being a dedicated member of a feature team can offer.
To put it in perspective, think about a person in your life who you know everything about — all their quirks and worries, all their nuances. You probably spend most of your time with them and are very familiar with their day-to-day activities, relationships, and problems.
Then think about 5 more people and all their individual, unique attributes. In order to keep up with everyone, you have to divide your time. You end up missing key moments and opportunities because you can’t be everywhere at once. That’s what writing for multiple feature areas is like. You play the game of sacrificing quality for quantity when, really, it should be the other way around.
More Writers, Please
As I’ve watched my own product team grow, I’ve always wondered how a new hire is justified. A lot of it is skill-based (mobile, animation, visual design) but it seems it’s mostly about filling niches for specific business needs.
A good place to start, then, is figuring out what content skills are most in-demand in your product org. It’s extremely tempting to say “all of them!!!!” but try to be as specific as possible. Ask yourself:
Where are you spending too much time?
Where are you spending too little time?
Which teams need you most? Not at all?
What content skills is your team lacking or not that confident in?
What are your blockers and why?
If you had a clone of yourself, what would you give them to work on?
Once I had answers to these questions, I felt more confident approaching the powers that be about hiring more writers. In a way, it helped me realize what I enjoyed about my job and what I didn’t. What things I was great at and not so much.
Eventually, all the gaps and opportunities I was looking for came into focus.
As Rachel mentions in her tweet, there’s no such thing as a catch-all subject matter expert. It’s unrealistic for 1 writer to do the job of 5 and we need to change that.
If we want companies to use us to our fullest potential (and their greatest advantage), they need to better understand our strengths and expertise. But we need to know how to apply them to company goals. Only then will we be able to build the content teams we deserve.
This post was originally published on Medium.