What is Content Design?

Content design is the process of designing and creating UX copy for a digital product to enable the best user experience.

4 min read

The fundamentals of content design

Creating effective user experiences in apps, websites, and other digital products happens when lots of people come together as a team. Most product teams include a product manager, researchers, developers, engineers, designers, and writers, but different organizations and teams have their own way of doing things.

Depending on the company, the writer(s) on the team may be known as UX writers, content strategists, or—a term that’s grown in popularity in the past couple of years—content designers. The term content design (and therefore the title content designer) has come to be seen as a better representation of what these writers do—because, in essence, they design user experiences via content

They don’t just write the words—they also weigh in regarding the layout and format of screens and flows in terms of content. While content designers primarily communicate with words, they need to be design thinkers who consider the company's goals and interpret what they will mean for the end-user. 

These writers significantly are central to the final user experience because they focus on clear communication with the user, including identifying and preventing potential problems users may face. It's their job to determine the best words (and layout of said words) to use to get users the information they need when they need it.

You may think of content design as content strategy, but strategists tend to map out a plan and leave it with the team to enact, while content designers are involved in every step along the way.

Why is content design important?

Good content design empowers users to navigate through an app or platform independently, including getting adequate information to be able to move forward and finding answers to their questions even before they ask them “out loud.” 

Users who have a smooth experience are more likely to recommend products to their colleagues or friends, enabling product-led growth, a strategy that has become important for many companies. Ultimately, effective content design can, on one hand, reduce support tickets, saving companies resources and money, and, on the other hand, create sustainable, organic growth with fewer resources. 

Bad content design can, of course, have the opposite effect. If users can’t figure out what to do next or what will happen if they proceed, they’ll become frustrated and even abandon the product entirely in favor of another brand.

Users are looking for products that are convenient and reliable and that give them value without “costing” too much—that is, they expect products to work well without demanding a lot of thought or extra time. Content designers focus on user needs, help anticipate problems, and find solutions that result in an excellent user experience—and they do all of that through words that are well thought out and properly laid out. 

What's the difference between content design, UX design, and UX writing?

More companies are incorporating the role of content designers into product teams, and it's causing some confusion! 

You might think of UX design and UX writing as separate entities in neat little boxes:

UX Design

  • Primarily focuses on product layout and user interface
  • Working with wireframes and prototypes

UX Writing

  • Primarily focuses on providing the text to help users navigate the product successfully
  • Working with text in word processing software, like Google Docs

In reality, the roles vary between organizations and teams, depending on the company's philosophy and available resources. Sometimes UX designers do the (or some) writing, and as the tech industry evolves, UX writers participate more in the early design stages.

Content designers fall more in line with UX writers, but their title accurately reflects the fact that, as mentioned before, the words are part of the design—the ability to not only write them clearly and concisely but also lay them out in a way that’s scannable and easy to understand is central to a content designer’s role. 

Aaron Raizen from UX Writing Hub recently analyzed job postings to see how companies distinguished between UX Writers and Content Designers. Overall, he found the lines to be quite blurred. In fact, job post titles often include both terms, written as UX writers/content designers or vice versa.

For the most part, recruiters were looking for similar skills for both roles, including:

  • Knowledge of design tools 
  • Willingness to lead and interact on the product design team
  • Decisions based on user research
  • Emphasis on writing skills

Digging a little deeper, he found some content design job postings focused more on visual, graphic, and multimedia design rather than product writing. These recruiters relied on a more historical definition of content design that referred to CSS, HTML, and product layout.

Whether you call it UX writing or content design, the field is relatively new, so it makes sense that the associate job titles aren’t completely solidified one way or another and continue to evolve. It seems like we’ll continue to see a growing trend in the use of the title content designer as more companies recognize and emphasize the importance of design in the role and its responsibilities. 

A day in the life of a content designer

As a content designer, you might be involved with multiple design teams at any given time. So, your daily activities will vary with the number of projects and their stages of development. 

Activities may include:

  • Listening to your team members to learn more about the design process and how designers think
  • Collaborating in-person or virtually with individuals on specific problems 
  • Brainstorming with teams to map out the customer journey
  • Deciding which research is needed 
  • Doing the necessary research, which may include studying online sources, interviewing customers, or talking to team members
  • Discussing language consistency in other departments, like product marketing
  • Identifying and challenging assumptions people have about product use
  • Working with Legal to ensure content conforms to standards
  • Being part of (lots of!) standup meetings
  • Creating and owning the style guide or content design system  
  • Collecting feedback 
  • Plenty of drafting, writing, and rewriting (after EVERY meeting)

Content designers do much more than write copy to replace Lorem ipsums. If you enjoy variety, social interaction, critical thinking, and problem-solving, it may be the perfect role for you.

In reality, none of the design team should be working in a vacuum. When all the players come together, the user experience will make more sense and be more effective. Content designers are the ultimate collaborators, working with everyone to find the best solutions for the user. 

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