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The role of a content designer in a product team

Elisabeth, a content designer, working with a colleague in PDS

Our website product teams have people doing a variety of different roles. This is to give us a good mix of people with the right skills. Product teams need to research, design, build, and deliver the different products, services, and pages that will eventually make up

Let’s take a look at the part content designers play.

Working in different teams

We currently have five content designers working across product teams. They’re responsible for content related to the product and contribute to its design by:

  • developing content strategies based on user needs
  • writing clear, accurate, and accessible content in plain English
  • reviewing content to make sure it’s accurate, relevant, accessible, and written in line with the PDS style guide and web writing guide
  • communicating the principles of content design to the product team and other teams across Parliament
  • advocating for users of by challenging anything that doesn’t support their needs
  • working closely with colleagues from other expert disciplines (for example, user researchers, designers, developers, analysts)
  • working with other content designers to make sure Parliament's content is consistent across products

Content designers need to be flexible

We recently blogged about the iterative approach we’re taking to designing In the post we explain what we mean when we say a product is in the discovery, alpha, beta and live phases.

In each phase, the thing we’re working on might look and feel very different. This is because research shows the need for changes or improvements following user feedback.

The same goes for the work of a content designer. Their responsibilities look different depending on how far along we are in developing a product or service.

Questioning and challenging in discovery

During the discovery phase, a content designer asks who the users are and questions whether they need the thing the team is proposing to build. They research other existing content that may meet the needs, or partially meet the needs, of those users.

They then observe user research and help to write a set of user stories and acceptance criteria. The user needs are then prioritised by the team to help us when we’re building prototypes.

From there they start designing content for the minimum viable user journey. This should meet requirements for accessibility and it's then agreed how to measure the success of that content.

At this stage, a content designer - with their knowledge of search engine optimisation (SEO) and URL best practice - also helps make one of the most difficult decisions: what to call a service.

Identifying problems and reducing risks in alpha

Content designers work with the team to set goals for the alpha. They design content for prototypes of the pages or service.

They then take part in usability testing of those prototypes to identify problems (for example, how easy it is to use or whether the user can find what they need first time) and decide how they'll solve them.

Although we've just released the brand new hybrid bills service, most of the products we’re working on are better versions of existing services or pages.

Regardless of whether we’re re-designing or starting from scratch, the content designer uses the alpha phase to work with subject matter experts. This is helpful to understand the service’s content and its position in relation to the other online products and services.

This means they can start to write new user stories that relate to the overall user experience of, rather than being tied to individual features.

Focus on improvements in beta

During the beta phase, a content designer reviews all content relating to the pages or service to check that it can be used in full by users.

They improve the pages or service by testing it based on the user stories they created in the alpha phase. They make decisions on content improvements based on data that shows what good looks like. They look again at accessibility and improve the pages or service based on the result.

And, because we’re open and transparent, our content designers share any content lessons learned or reasoning for design decisions on this blog, as well as during team retrospectives.

And who knows what happens in live?

We don’t have a content-heavy product that’s fully live yet. This means it’s tricky to say exactly what the role of a content designer in a product team is during this phase. We think it’ll mean handing over the product's content to the department or team in Parliament that will have responsibility for its ongoing maintenance and improvement.

Oh, and it’ll also mean moving on to the next product, taking the lessons they've learned into a new team. After all, building a website in an iterative way means that we're never really finished.

Read more about the work we're doing to improve

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