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Product Content Strategy - expert insights from Button Conference speakers

Product Content Strategy - expert insights from Button Conference speakers

10 minute read

Product Content Strategy - expert insights from Button Conference speakers

10 minute read

Product Content Strategy - expert insights from Button Conference speakers

Robert Mills

Head of Content, GatherContent
There's a new conference in town, well, online. Button is from the team behind Confab and will focus on all things product content strategy, content design and UX writing. I caught up with the team at Brain Traffic to find out more and the event and we've also got some early insights from some of the speakers, along with a special discount code for the GatherContent audience.

At Brain Traffic, we’ve always considered our content strategy conference Confab to be “The Big Tent of Content”—if you care about making content useful and usable for people everywhere, no matter your specialisation or industry, then Confab is for you.

A few years ago, we noticed that requests for sessions about content for digital products were really on the rise. After speaking with dozens of leaders in the space, we decided two things:

  1. Although there are multiple meet-up and social media groups around the world for the topics of UX writing, content design, and product content strategy, there isn’t really a “home base” for product content people to come together from all over.
  2. Conversations around these topics often happen in silos from one another (e.g. one group talks UX writing, another talks content strategy). We think it’s critically important that conversations about content that lives throughout a product ecosystem are held in context of one another as often as possible.

And that’s how Button was born. On October 21–23, over 50 speakers will come together to “level up” the conversation about how we consider, create, and care for digital product content. What principles apply? What tools can we share? How do teams collaborate in your company? What’s your favourite taco?

To give you a glimpse into the topics we’ll tackle at Button, we asked a few of our speakers to share some early insights. We hope you’ll join us to keep the conversations going. (Use GATHER15 for 15% off your Button ticket).

Promotional image for Button Conference stating the conference name, the fact it is happening online and the dates.

Insights from Button speakers

The featured Button speakers include:

  • Tarah Dykeman, UX Researcher and Content Strategist, University of Colorado, Boulder
  • Mario Ferrer, Senior UX Writer, Skyscanner
  • Katie Cohen, Senior Content Strategist, Tank
  • Jane Ruffino, Content Designer and UX Writer, Character & Södertörn University
  • Shannon Leahy, Experience Design Lead, Capital One
  • Madeline Grdina, Manager, User Experience Office, Indiana University

What’s an important skill for content professionals in product design to master?

Mario Ferrer, Skyscanner:

Learning the basics of the design tool your team uses. I'm not saying to become an expert at it, but if you know your way around the tool and are capable of creating your own mockups it makes it easier to collaborate with your teams.

Katie Cohen, Tank:

Learn how to defend your work. When you can ground your choices in research, best practices, or accessibility considerations, you show that you can contribute a lot more than just the words.

Jane Ruffino, Character & Södertörn University:

It’s probably corny, but things like listening, making the invisible visible, doing peer education on the fly, and the art of radical noticing are all things I rely on more than any tool or process. We also need to know how to bluff our way through tools that weren’t made for writers, but that’s a subsistence skill, not the value we bring to product design.

Shannon Leahy, Capital One:

It’s a combination of teaching and networking. By teaching people your thought process and unpacking your rationale for content decisions, you help empower other people to think like a content designer, to embrace working content first. With networking, it’s about expanding your point of view and learning from peers and partners across teams, departments, disciplines. Because, at the end of the day, we’ve all got to work together to make something that actually helps people.

Madeline Grdina, Indiana University:

I can’t overstate how important user research has been for us at Indiana University. In my experience, stakeholders can be really skeptical about the value of user input, so it’s easy to dismiss this step and fill in the blanks with assumptions. That’s why “user advocacy” is often step one in any of our projects. What are the pain points for the user? How are they supplementing their experience with other products? And what exactly are they trying to accomplish? It’s much more difficult to dismiss usage statistics from Pew or reflections from users on their personal experiences. And those are the details that often set the foundation for design.

Tarah Dykeman, University of Colorado, Boulder:

Collaboration! You’ll create better, more refined, content by working with your users, designers, researchers, and stakeholders on an ongoing basis. By hearing multiple perspectives, you can really hone in on what is most important and how to best communicate this to your users.

How can content professionals in product design contribute to ethical design practices?

Mario Ferrer, Skyscanner:

There's a lot you can do from where you stand (even if it doesn't seem so). Figure out what your company is doing in terms of accessibility, diversity, and inclusion and let them know that you want to help out. If there';s nothing done, then you can help start it. There are amazing resources available that you can learn from and try to apply within your team.

Jane Ruffino, Character & Södertörn University:

Our ethical impact can only go as far up the chain as the ethical people go, but I believe in harm reduction because it’s what’s within our power today. One thing we can do is name the elephants. When a design can do harm, it’s sometimes possible to avoid the unethical elephant in the room with some nice icons or interactions. Not so with copy. Speaking the quiet part of a dark pattern out loud (as if to a user) can help a responsibility-minded product team take a second look, and keep us from being stuck trying to find nice words for "this button will empty your bank account."

Shannon Leahy, Capitol One:

Ask questions. Ask why you need to collect that data point and how it will be used. Ask if you're solving an actual problem for your users, or if you're just chasing something for the sake of your company. Ask who was or wasn’t part of your research participant pool. Ask how you might inadvertently hurt or exclude marginalised communities. It might feel uncomfortable, but we’ve got to be willing to dig deep and examine our teams and our work through different lenses.

Tarah Dykeman, University of Colorado, Boulder:

One way is to advocate for your users. It’s crucial to consider your different kinds of users and their different contexts when using a product. Make sure that none of your users are at a disadvantage or miss out on important information based on the content that you’re proposing.

What’s super exciting to you about what’s happening in product content strategy right now?

Mario Ferrer, Skyscanner:

More and more companies are hiring for the role outside the USA, there are books I can reference and podcasts and posts that go beyond "what is product content strategy?" Big design conferences include the field in their lineup and we're starting to have our own conferences!

Katie Cohen, Tank:

I love the fact that we now have so many people who call themselves "UX writers" -- and also that there are job openings for them. It's thrilling to see companies recognise that this is a key role to fill.

Jane Ruffino, Character & Södertörn University:

I love that the people who are considered leaders are, well, kind. I don’t believe work is life, but when it comes to career, I’m definitely here to make friends, and the people I admire most model that as a leadership quality. There’s a lot of genuine integrity around, and there is very much a shared goal to talk openly about and act on justice and inclusion, as more than buzzwords. I hope we can do more of that as we continue to shape the future of the field.

Shannon Leahy, Capital One:

How different teams are evolving and leveling up their content practices and influence. I’m really digging Jonathon Colman sharing how they’ve shaped content design at Intercom, and I’m about to dig into Shopify’s and Facebook’s stories about renaming their content strategy teams to content design teams.

What was the moment you realised you belonged in product design?

Mario Ferrer, Skyscanner:

When Sergi, the principal designer that I used to work with told me: "It's not about a single message on a screen. It's about the full flow. People are not here to marvel at your writing, they're here to understand and move on. Don't fall in love with your words, use them to provide a solution to their needs."

Katie Cohen, Tank:

Probably when I started to collaborate with product UX designers and we realised how much we benefited from each other. And when I started to have opinions during the product development process -- that helped make the case that content strategy is just as important at the early stages.

Jane Ruffino, Character & Södertörn University:

I have the thing where when people say I have impostor syndrome, I say, no, you assume I’m actually good and I appreciate that, but you’re wrong. By allowing me to hide behind some kind of syndrome, you’re only helping me avoid the terrible truths about myself. Belong? I just...I’ll see myself out. If you relate to that, we’re probably already friends, or we should be (hi!).

Shannon Leahy, Capital One:

A few years ago, I was working at an agency that specialised in creating employee training and apps for sales teams. While both instructional design and app development were new to me, it was the app side of things that fired up my passion and curiosity like nothing had before.

Who’s your hero in this field and why?

Mario Ferrer, Skyscanner:

Can I have 2? I'd say La Richards (Sarah Richards) and La Podmajersky, (Torrey Podmajersky), they both wrote books that have become cornerstones for the field and they're also extremely generous when it comes to sharing what they know with the rest of us.

Jane Ruffino, Character & Södertörn University:

If you’re the person in your community or company who is still trying to ready the product content soil, crying into your pet every time someone asks if you can just “go through the app and write all the buttons,” while people with defined titles and clear roles and design orgs seem to have these thriving UX-content gardens (not that they have it easy, either), and you know this is all important but you feel so alone because you don’t have a mentor or enough peers, and you’re worried you’re doing this all wrong, you’re my hero. I see you. We’ve all got your back. You’re doing awesome. Promise.

Shannon Leahy, Capital One:

Margot Bloomstein! Early in my career, I was practicing content strategy and content design without realising there was a name and a community for it. I saw Margot at edUI Conference in 2011 and had my epiphany—this is the path that’s meant for me.

Madeline Grdina, Indiana University:

Dana Chisnell and Cyd Harrell are huge inspirations for me. 2020 has underscored the importance of having a government that works for its constituents, and Dana and Cyd do that work. Both work in civic design, and they’ve made huge influences on online voting systems, election sites, and materials like ballots and field guides. I admire how much they focus on the people at the end of those designs.

At Brain Traffic, we’ve always considered our content strategy conference Confab to be “The Big Tent of Content”—if you care about making content useful and usable for people everywhere, no matter your specialisation or industry, then Confab is for you.

A few years ago, we noticed that requests for sessions about content for digital products were really on the rise. After speaking with dozens of leaders in the space, we decided two things:

  1. Although there are multiple meet-up and social media groups around the world for the topics of UX writing, content design, and product content strategy, there isn’t really a “home base” for product content people to come together from all over.
  2. Conversations around these topics often happen in silos from one another (e.g. one group talks UX writing, another talks content strategy). We think it’s critically important that conversations about content that lives throughout a product ecosystem are held in context of one another as often as possible.

And that’s how Button was born. On October 21–23, over 50 speakers will come together to “level up” the conversation about how we consider, create, and care for digital product content. What principles apply? What tools can we share? How do teams collaborate in your company? What’s your favourite taco?

To give you a glimpse into the topics we’ll tackle at Button, we asked a few of our speakers to share some early insights. We hope you’ll join us to keep the conversations going. (Use GATHER15 for 15% off your Button ticket).

Promotional image for Button Conference stating the conference name, the fact it is happening online and the dates.

Insights from Button speakers

The featured Button speakers include:

  • Tarah Dykeman, UX Researcher and Content Strategist, University of Colorado, Boulder
  • Mario Ferrer, Senior UX Writer, Skyscanner
  • Katie Cohen, Senior Content Strategist, Tank
  • Jane Ruffino, Content Designer and UX Writer, Character & Södertörn University
  • Shannon Leahy, Experience Design Lead, Capital One
  • Madeline Grdina, Manager, User Experience Office, Indiana University

What’s an important skill for content professionals in product design to master?

Mario Ferrer, Skyscanner:

Learning the basics of the design tool your team uses. I'm not saying to become an expert at it, but if you know your way around the tool and are capable of creating your own mockups it makes it easier to collaborate with your teams.

Katie Cohen, Tank:

Learn how to defend your work. When you can ground your choices in research, best practices, or accessibility considerations, you show that you can contribute a lot more than just the words.

Jane Ruffino, Character & Södertörn University:

It’s probably corny, but things like listening, making the invisible visible, doing peer education on the fly, and the art of radical noticing are all things I rely on more than any tool or process. We also need to know how to bluff our way through tools that weren’t made for writers, but that’s a subsistence skill, not the value we bring to product design.

Shannon Leahy, Capital One:

It’s a combination of teaching and networking. By teaching people your thought process and unpacking your rationale for content decisions, you help empower other people to think like a content designer, to embrace working content first. With networking, it’s about expanding your point of view and learning from peers and partners across teams, departments, disciplines. Because, at the end of the day, we’ve all got to work together to make something that actually helps people.

Madeline Grdina, Indiana University:

I can’t overstate how important user research has been for us at Indiana University. In my experience, stakeholders can be really skeptical about the value of user input, so it’s easy to dismiss this step and fill in the blanks with assumptions. That’s why “user advocacy” is often step one in any of our projects. What are the pain points for the user? How are they supplementing their experience with other products? And what exactly are they trying to accomplish? It’s much more difficult to dismiss usage statistics from Pew or reflections from users on their personal experiences. And those are the details that often set the foundation for design.

Tarah Dykeman, University of Colorado, Boulder:

Collaboration! You’ll create better, more refined, content by working with your users, designers, researchers, and stakeholders on an ongoing basis. By hearing multiple perspectives, you can really hone in on what is most important and how to best communicate this to your users.

How can content professionals in product design contribute to ethical design practices?

Mario Ferrer, Skyscanner:

There's a lot you can do from where you stand (even if it doesn't seem so). Figure out what your company is doing in terms of accessibility, diversity, and inclusion and let them know that you want to help out. If there';s nothing done, then you can help start it. There are amazing resources available that you can learn from and try to apply within your team.

Jane Ruffino, Character & Södertörn University:

Our ethical impact can only go as far up the chain as the ethical people go, but I believe in harm reduction because it’s what’s within our power today. One thing we can do is name the elephants. When a design can do harm, it’s sometimes possible to avoid the unethical elephant in the room with some nice icons or interactions. Not so with copy. Speaking the quiet part of a dark pattern out loud (as if to a user) can help a responsibility-minded product team take a second look, and keep us from being stuck trying to find nice words for "this button will empty your bank account."

Shannon Leahy, Capitol One:

Ask questions. Ask why you need to collect that data point and how it will be used. Ask if you're solving an actual problem for your users, or if you're just chasing something for the sake of your company. Ask who was or wasn’t part of your research participant pool. Ask how you might inadvertently hurt or exclude marginalised communities. It might feel uncomfortable, but we’ve got to be willing to dig deep and examine our teams and our work through different lenses.

Tarah Dykeman, University of Colorado, Boulder:

One way is to advocate for your users. It’s crucial to consider your different kinds of users and their different contexts when using a product. Make sure that none of your users are at a disadvantage or miss out on important information based on the content that you’re proposing.

What’s super exciting to you about what’s happening in product content strategy right now?

Mario Ferrer, Skyscanner:

More and more companies are hiring for the role outside the USA, there are books I can reference and podcasts and posts that go beyond "what is product content strategy?" Big design conferences include the field in their lineup and we're starting to have our own conferences!

Katie Cohen, Tank:

I love the fact that we now have so many people who call themselves "UX writers" -- and also that there are job openings for them. It's thrilling to see companies recognise that this is a key role to fill.

Jane Ruffino, Character & Södertörn University:

I love that the people who are considered leaders are, well, kind. I don’t believe work is life, but when it comes to career, I’m definitely here to make friends, and the people I admire most model that as a leadership quality. There’s a lot of genuine integrity around, and there is very much a shared goal to talk openly about and act on justice and inclusion, as more than buzzwords. I hope we can do more of that as we continue to shape the future of the field.

Shannon Leahy, Capital One:

How different teams are evolving and leveling up their content practices and influence. I’m really digging Jonathon Colman sharing how they’ve shaped content design at Intercom, and I’m about to dig into Shopify’s and Facebook’s stories about renaming their content strategy teams to content design teams.

What was the moment you realised you belonged in product design?

Mario Ferrer, Skyscanner:

When Sergi, the principal designer that I used to work with told me: "It's not about a single message on a screen. It's about the full flow. People are not here to marvel at your writing, they're here to understand and move on. Don't fall in love with your words, use them to provide a solution to their needs."

Katie Cohen, Tank:

Probably when I started to collaborate with product UX designers and we realised how much we benefited from each other. And when I started to have opinions during the product development process -- that helped make the case that content strategy is just as important at the early stages.

Jane Ruffino, Character & Södertörn University:

I have the thing where when people say I have impostor syndrome, I say, no, you assume I’m actually good and I appreciate that, but you’re wrong. By allowing me to hide behind some kind of syndrome, you’re only helping me avoid the terrible truths about myself. Belong? I just...I’ll see myself out. If you relate to that, we’re probably already friends, or we should be (hi!).

Shannon Leahy, Capital One:

A few years ago, I was working at an agency that specialised in creating employee training and apps for sales teams. While both instructional design and app development were new to me, it was the app side of things that fired up my passion and curiosity like nothing had before.

Who’s your hero in this field and why?

Mario Ferrer, Skyscanner:

Can I have 2? I'd say La Richards (Sarah Richards) and La Podmajersky, (Torrey Podmajersky), they both wrote books that have become cornerstones for the field and they're also extremely generous when it comes to sharing what they know with the rest of us.

Jane Ruffino, Character & Södertörn University:

If you’re the person in your community or company who is still trying to ready the product content soil, crying into your pet every time someone asks if you can just “go through the app and write all the buttons,” while people with defined titles and clear roles and design orgs seem to have these thriving UX-content gardens (not that they have it easy, either), and you know this is all important but you feel so alone because you don’t have a mentor or enough peers, and you’re worried you’re doing this all wrong, you’re my hero. I see you. We’ve all got your back. You’re doing awesome. Promise.

Shannon Leahy, Capital One:

Margot Bloomstein! Early in my career, I was practicing content strategy and content design without realising there was a name and a community for it. I saw Margot at edUI Conference in 2011 and had my epiphany—this is the path that’s meant for me.

Madeline Grdina, Indiana University:

Dana Chisnell and Cyd Harrell are huge inspirations for me. 2020 has underscored the importance of having a government that works for its constituents, and Dana and Cyd do that work. Both work in civic design, and they’ve made huge influences on online voting systems, election sites, and materials like ballots and field guides. I admire how much they focus on the people at the end of those designs.

Webinar Recording

Lightning fast content design 101

Find what your users want from you without leaving your kitchen table.

March 9, 2017

6:52 am

Register now

Webinar Recording

Lightning fast content design 101

Find what your users want from you without leaving your kitchen table.

March 9, 2017

6:52 am

Watch now
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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.

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