GatherContent interview: Rachel McConnell

GatherContent interview: Rachel McConnell

5 minute read

GatherContent interview: Rachel McConnell

5 minute read

Rachel McConnell

Content Strategy Lead, Clearleft

GatherContent interview: Rachel McConnell

Robert Mills

Head of Content, GatherContent
Rachel McConnell is a content expert who has self-published a book, organised a conference, spoken at leading industry events, and is a proactive and prolific voice in the community. So there was no shortage of questions I could have asked. We chatted about content and UX, roles, content challenges and more.

What are you working on at the moment that excites you?

I'm curating a content conference – Content by design, which brings together some of my content heroes for a two day conference, so I'm very excited about that right now. We have such a great community and it's always nice to meet people that you've spoken to online in real life – I want to bring that to more people, and of course help people get practical tips and advice from the best. Conferences also give people the time they need to focus on personal growth and feel inspired...we don't often get that when we're stuck in the day to day.

You self-published a book about the need for content teams and how to build one. Can you tell us about the book?

When I write I rarely have other content designers in mind – I think about what I want to tell designers, or product managers, or other people I want to influence on the value of content. So I wrote the book because I wished it was the book I'd had to give my boss when I was trying to grow a content team. It was so hard to explain what the different nuances were between content roles and why I needed a content manager and a strategist and a content designer. It was also hard to get buy-in for more resource. We get stuck in this cycle of not being included early enough on projects, not being able to demonstrate value, so being under-resourced, so not being included early enough, and so it goes on. I had a load of stuff I just wanted to get out of my head in the hope it would help others have those conversations. I recently had a client pull my book out and start asking me questions about it, so I guess it's having some impact.

What's your take on content and UX: Are they separate disciplines or one and the same? Or perhaps you have another take?

My view is that UX is something we create, not something we 'do', and that content is an essential part of experience design. We use a lot of UX methodology to help inform content creation, however traditional UX practitioners and UX strategists bring a lot of additional skills to a project or product team that definitely add value. For example at Clearleft our UX strategists are great at helping shape product visions.

There can be overlap in what we do, but we all have complementary skillsets. I've worked in companies where we didn't have UX designers, but we had a UX team made up of design, content and research – that works as long as you all maintain a holistic view of the end to end user experience and product strategy, and don't spend too much time only 'zoomed in' on the detail.

You've really built a name for yourself through the fantastic articles you publish and from being so active in the content community. What advice can you give others looking to carve a career for themselves in content?

Aw thank you, I'm glad people find my content useful! My general advice would be not to think so much about the actual writing to start with. If you're already a good writer then it's actually all the other stuff you need to learn. We tend to overthink the writing itself. Spend time learning from designers and researchers about what they do and how we can work with them. You can do this by reading, joining Slack groups and going to meetups and events, but best of all by collaborating on projects. If you're not naturally included in the design process yet, make a nuisance of yourself and offer to help out in any way you can. Lots of designers aren't used to working with content designers yet so we have to earn their trust.

There are lots of job titles and overlaps in disciplines. How can an organisation best understand what roles they need and how to advertise them in terms of responsibilities?

Wow this is a huge question – I wrote a whole book on this! Seriously though, the easiest way to approach it is to look at your current content maturity. If you have no one responsible for content then you need someone who can deliver the work but also set you up operationally (for example with best practice, guidelines, process, and tools) – that's a content strategist. If you have all that set up and need more resource to create user-centred content then hire a content designer or UX writer. And if you just need someone technical to maintain and update content within a CMS, hire a content manager. Of course there's always overlap and nuances, so that's a very generalised view of the world, I actually created a little quiz about this.

Can you tell us a little more about CoDes, the event you co-founded with Chris Harding and Dominic Warren?

CoDes is a meetup for content and design practitioners. We were keen to push the collaborative nature of the disciplines, rather than just have content designers talking to other content designers. I'm not saying those kind of meetups aren't valuable, but a lot of companies don't have content designers – the designers have to do it – so they need to learn more about content design and advocate for better content. We also have a responsibility to learn from designers and talk more to each other about how to collaborate better. We meet every couple of months in Brighton and might have talks about better facilitation techniques, or run a workshop on conversational design. It's a nice mix of general skills, and of course a chance to meet some great people! If anyone would like to speak at one of the meetups please get in touch.

What organisations do you admire in terms of their content strategy and/or UX?

I admire orgs that have nailed equal collaboration...it shows in their work but also in their culture. Intercom are doing this well right now, and GDS of course have done this for a while. In terms of user experience, I really admire companies like Ikea, Bulb and Boden who maintain the consistency of brand voice throughout their whole journey (without it being over-the-top). Ikea also bring their user-centred design processes to life in their product descriptions which is lovely and builds trust. Then of course you have some great content strategy work happening right now with content design systems, Shopify, Google and even the NHS are at it.

What is the most common content challenge you come up against when working with clients at Clearleft?

The most common content challenge I've found so far is the challenge many of us have at work – we tend to work in silos, with disconnnected content around the business that gets published once then forgotten about. Content debt is a huge challenge, no one wants the job of auditing and deleting old content! It's like having to clean a house that's been left for several years instead of being cleaned weekly.

Are there any skills or areas you're looking to improve and develop in 2020?

I have too many to develop and not enough time so maybe I should put time management as a development area! I'd like to speak at more events, as I have lots of talk ideas bubbling away. I also try to keep up my leadership skills as I don't currently have a team so mentoring and coaching is something I'd also love to do more of.

What are you working on at the moment that excites you?

I'm curating a content conference – Content by design, which brings together some of my content heroes for a two day conference, so I'm very excited about that right now. We have such a great community and it's always nice to meet people that you've spoken to online in real life – I want to bring that to more people, and of course help people get practical tips and advice from the best. Conferences also give people the time they need to focus on personal growth and feel inspired...we don't often get that when we're stuck in the day to day.

You self-published a book about the need for content teams and how to build one. Can you tell us about the book?

When I write I rarely have other content designers in mind – I think about what I want to tell designers, or product managers, or other people I want to influence on the value of content. So I wrote the book because I wished it was the book I'd had to give my boss when I was trying to grow a content team. It was so hard to explain what the different nuances were between content roles and why I needed a content manager and a strategist and a content designer. It was also hard to get buy-in for more resource. We get stuck in this cycle of not being included early enough on projects, not being able to demonstrate value, so being under-resourced, so not being included early enough, and so it goes on. I had a load of stuff I just wanted to get out of my head in the hope it would help others have those conversations. I recently had a client pull my book out and start asking me questions about it, so I guess it's having some impact.

What's your take on content and UX: Are they separate disciplines or one and the same? Or perhaps you have another take?

My view is that UX is something we create, not something we 'do', and that content is an essential part of experience design. We use a lot of UX methodology to help inform content creation, however traditional UX practitioners and UX strategists bring a lot of additional skills to a project or product team that definitely add value. For example at Clearleft our UX strategists are great at helping shape product visions.

There can be overlap in what we do, but we all have complementary skillsets. I've worked in companies where we didn't have UX designers, but we had a UX team made up of design, content and research – that works as long as you all maintain a holistic view of the end to end user experience and product strategy, and don't spend too much time only 'zoomed in' on the detail.

You've really built a name for yourself through the fantastic articles you publish and from being so active in the content community. What advice can you give others looking to carve a career for themselves in content?

Aw thank you, I'm glad people find my content useful! My general advice would be not to think so much about the actual writing to start with. If you're already a good writer then it's actually all the other stuff you need to learn. We tend to overthink the writing itself. Spend time learning from designers and researchers about what they do and how we can work with them. You can do this by reading, joining Slack groups and going to meetups and events, but best of all by collaborating on projects. If you're not naturally included in the design process yet, make a nuisance of yourself and offer to help out in any way you can. Lots of designers aren't used to working with content designers yet so we have to earn their trust.

There are lots of job titles and overlaps in disciplines. How can an organisation best understand what roles they need and how to advertise them in terms of responsibilities?

Wow this is a huge question – I wrote a whole book on this! Seriously though, the easiest way to approach it is to look at your current content maturity. If you have no one responsible for content then you need someone who can deliver the work but also set you up operationally (for example with best practice, guidelines, process, and tools) – that's a content strategist. If you have all that set up and need more resource to create user-centred content then hire a content designer or UX writer. And if you just need someone technical to maintain and update content within a CMS, hire a content manager. Of course there's always overlap and nuances, so that's a very generalised view of the world, I actually created a little quiz about this.

Can you tell us a little more about CoDes, the event you co-founded with Chris Harding and Dominic Warren?

CoDes is a meetup for content and design practitioners. We were keen to push the collaborative nature of the disciplines, rather than just have content designers talking to other content designers. I'm not saying those kind of meetups aren't valuable, but a lot of companies don't have content designers – the designers have to do it – so they need to learn more about content design and advocate for better content. We also have a responsibility to learn from designers and talk more to each other about how to collaborate better. We meet every couple of months in Brighton and might have talks about better facilitation techniques, or run a workshop on conversational design. It's a nice mix of general skills, and of course a chance to meet some great people! If anyone would like to speak at one of the meetups please get in touch.

What organisations do you admire in terms of their content strategy and/or UX?

I admire orgs that have nailed equal collaboration...it shows in their work but also in their culture. Intercom are doing this well right now, and GDS of course have done this for a while. In terms of user experience, I really admire companies like Ikea, Bulb and Boden who maintain the consistency of brand voice throughout their whole journey (without it being over-the-top). Ikea also bring their user-centred design processes to life in their product descriptions which is lovely and builds trust. Then of course you have some great content strategy work happening right now with content design systems, Shopify, Google and even the NHS are at it.

What is the most common content challenge you come up against when working with clients at Clearleft?

The most common content challenge I've found so far is the challenge many of us have at work – we tend to work in silos, with disconnnected content around the business that gets published once then forgotten about. Content debt is a huge challenge, no one wants the job of auditing and deleting old content! It's like having to clean a house that's been left for several years instead of being cleaned weekly.

Are there any skills or areas you're looking to improve and develop in 2020?

I have too many to develop and not enough time so maybe I should put time management as a development area! I'd like to speak at more events, as I have lots of talk ideas bubbling away. I also try to keep up my leadership skills as I don't currently have a team so mentoring and coaching is something I'd also love to do more of.

Rachel McConnell

Content Strategy Lead, Clearleft

Rachel is a content designer, strategist and consultant who's also used to building and leading content teams. She's worked with brands such as Deliveroo, M&S, John Lewis, Nationwide, and Virgin Holidays to determine strategy and design content, and also trains UX professionals in UX writing. She's currently the content strategy lead for Clearleft, a design agency based in Brighton.

Webinar Recording

Growing content maturity from the ground up

How to recognise your organisation's content maturity and help increase it.

August 30, 2018

7:34 am

Register now

Webinar Recording

Growing content maturity from the ground up

How to recognise your organisation's content maturity and help increase it.

August 30, 2018

7:34 am

Watch now
No items found.

About the author

Robert Mills

Rob is Head of Content at GatherContent. He is responsible for managing all of the organisation's content output and for their content operations. Rob also works on audience research projects and strategic initiatives to ensure their content meets both business goals and user needs.

He is a journalism graduate and has previously worked as Studio Manager and Head of Content for a design agency and as an Audience Research Executive for the BBC. He’s a published author and has written for industry publications including Net Magazine, Smashing Magazine, UX Matters, UX Booth and Content Marketing Institute. On occasion Rob speaks about content strategy and content operations at leading industry events or on podcasts.

Related posts you might like