What Content Design Brings to the Copywriting Party

Written by Charles Burdett, founder of Workshop Tactics.

One day, I was slowly losing my mind in a two-hour meeting

Which happened to also be right at the end of a long day. Egos were flying around the room, and no one could settle on a decision. It wasn't even clear what the debate was about any more.

There was a woman who had been attentively listening

She hadn't said a word all meeting. I could see why. No one could get a word in edgeways. But what happened next surprised me.

In between the words flying around the room the woman quietly and confidently spoke.

The whole room went quiet.

The woman continued to speak without interruption

As she summarised all of the points of view, everyone began nodding. She explained what each party needed and how and when that could be done.

After agreeing to forward on a follow-up email, the meeting ended. 

What made everyone shut up and listen? How was this woman's voice capable of silencing an entire room of raucous  egos?

She listened.

She intently listened to everyone and understood their needs

By the time it came for her to talk, she only said what needed to be said. It was without ego, and its purpose was to serve the needs of those she was listening to.

This woman is the embodiment of content design

Content designers endeavour to understand the needs of the people they are writing for. 

They write content that helps people get the information they need, at the right time, in the right place, in the right format.

What’s the difference between content design and copywriting?

Sarah Richards, founder of Content Design London (who created the Content Design discipline at GOV.UK) describes the difference between copywriting and content design:

"...copywriting is inwards, out; content design is outwards, in."

Content designers:

Spend lots more time learning about user problems
For example, observing someone using a website. They might find the user didn’t understand what something meant, or struggled to find the answer they were looking for.

Live in a feedback loop of designing content and testing it
This way of working ensures copy serves the needs of users. Even down to the detail of the copy in a button. Does it set a clear expectation in the user’s mind of what happens when they click it? The only way to find out is to test it.

Apply design principles to solve user's problems
By considering both the visual and literal impact of wording, and the problems that drive visitors to a site, content designers deliver impactful copy that serves. Writing clear, jargon-free copy so that anyone can digest it, is thinking like a content designer.

Sometimes, content design means a user doesn’t even need to click

50% of Google searches don't result in a click. Why? One reason is good content design. 

Google is providing answers better than anyone else can. You want the answer to your question immediately, and Google gives it to you. Train times, football scores, the weather - it's right there, at the right time, in the right place.

It's not just Google, though

Some of the best content design exists in meta descriptions of websites. How often have you skim-read the descriptions of Google results trying to find an answer in the first 50 words? I bet you do it all the time.

Websites that answer your question in this way are giving you what you need, at the time you need it.

Why would they do that, if it means you're less likely to click?

The truth is, you’re not less likely to click. By being helpful and serving the needs of customers, businesses will likely see more traffic because they’ve become a trustworthy and useful source of information.

Content design listens first

Great copywriters are already content designers. They are designing content that solves user’s needs. 

The label of content design reframes the discipline of copywriting from ‘writing content for people’, to ‘designing content with people’.

Like the woman who sat quietly and listened, content designers listen to their user's needs and create content that serves those needs in the right way, at the right time and in the right place.

So before you raise the metaphorical megaphone to speak, put it to your ear first and learn what needs to be said.

Are you a copywriter who already brings content design to the party? 

Want to learn more? 

Great content design starts with great workshops.

Read my next article to learn how workshop facilitation builds the foundations of successful and simplistic copy.

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