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Future student online experiences

Future student online experiences

Sharing the work of the Prospective Student Web Content Team

8 takeaways from Utterly Content 2023

I attended (and spoke at) Utterly Content earlier this year, an online conference for content professionals around the world. In this post, I recap my top takeaways from some of the talks I watched.

Utterly Content conference website

1. Structure content crits with the rose, thorn, bud method

Speaker: Olivia Hall, Content Designer at the Department for Work and Pensions

Olivia’s talk introduced me to a structured way to conduct content crits that I’d like to try out in future.

The method uses the concept of roses, thorns and buds:

  • roses are positive comments to make about the content you review (‘I like…’)
  • thorns are constructive comments (‘I think that…’)
  • buds are suggestions of opportunities to make the content better (‘I wish…’)

Olivia also shared a helpful agenda for content crits that will be great to refer back to when our team plans our next one:

  • Give a bit of background on the desired outcome or goal of the session
  • State the purpose of the content and user need it’s addressing
  • Introduce the rose, thorn, bud method
    • Content designer pitches their content
    • Content designer stops to answer clarifying questions
    • Participants leave their feedback on sticky notes (15 to 20 minutes, different colour for each type of comment)
  • Read and comment on the content
  • Discuss content crit notes

2. Better methods for assessing writing skills in recruitment

Speaker: Kristiina Kallasmaa, Content Designer Manager at Pipedrive

Kristiina’s talk went over how to design more ethical writing tests for recruitment.

There’s a lot of valid criticism of current recruitment methods that see candidates putting in a lot of their free time to demonstrate their writing skills to employers, which can often result in people doing unpaid work for a company.

As someone who hires content designers with a writing task, this talk gave me food for thought about how I’d like to approach this task in future to make it more fair for candidates.

Some points Kristiina raised were:

  • create a short task but with a long deadline (a week or two)
  • narrow in on a focus for the task
  • have a checklist of 8 to 10 items of what you’re evaluating the task on

3. Avoid ‘should’ questions and turn them into ‘how’ questions

Speaker: David Dylan Thomas, CEO and Founder at David Dylan Thomas, LLC

David’s keynote was on the content design of civil discourse and how to turn conflict into collaboration.

The slide that stuck out most to me was when David said to avoid ‘should’ questions by understanding what the goal of a proposed solution is and turn your original question into a ‘how’ question around that goal.

He gave an example of what he meant by this: imagine you saw an elderly person driving a car. To create better discourse on this topic, you’d turn a question like ‘Should this person be driving a car?’ to ‘How do we do a better job of moving people?’

4. The different tracks for a content career

Speaker: Yael Ben-David, UX Writer

Yael gave an professional development talk about planning the right support for a content career.

What I found helpful was how Yael framed the different tracks you can go on in a content career:

  • independent contributor
  • manager
  • specialist

So much of career advancement is framed around becoming a manager, so I appreciated Yael’s take on how you can instead choose to grow as a practitioner to a senior level, or decide to switch and specialise in a particular area.

5. There are too many stages in content design recruitment

Speaker: Sami Harvey, Content Design Manager at Eventbrite

Sami spoke about the different stages of recruitment in content design roles and focused on what not to do when applying for these jobs.

Sami seemed to focus on recruitment in private sector tech jobs as the process she described is quite different to how we recruit. Long story short: there are way too many stages of recruitment for these private sector jobs.

Just the interview process alone can involve:

  • meeting a recruiter
  • meeting the hiring manger
  • homework
  • a portfolio presentation in front of a panel
  • a panel or 1:1 interview
  • a follow-up interview

This process is way too time-intensive and definitely needs to change, but I appreciated this talk making me aware of how things are elsewhere.

6. We need to design for the messy situations real life throws at us

Panel with speakers: Dana Rock (Head of Experience Design at Pickle Jar Communications), Dayana Kibilds (Strategy Director at Ologie), Vidhika Bansal (UX Group Manager at Intuit)

Dana hosted a panel on designing for real life, which delved into how we design for the messy and complicated parts of everyday life we don’t always consider when someone is interacting with our content.

Vidhika gave an example of how when you’re sick and get medication, the instructions are usually long masses of text in tiny print – not exactly the most easy-to-read when you are most likely always going to be interacting with that content while unwell.

The panel also discussed designing for safety, including how to design for bad actors – people that might intentionally misuse your content or product.

The discussion made me reflect on how these topics relate to the content my team works on and the types of things we might want to think about in future to best design for real life.

7. Adapt principles for calls to action to your context

Speaker: Robert Perry, Head of Research at Pickle Jar Communications

Robert shared five principles for creating calls to action:

  • placement: put a call to action in an obvious place and one that makes sense
  • benefit: be specific about what the benefit is from following the call to action and speak to pain points
  • design: choose colours and styles that you can see and work in context
  • clarity: don’t overwhelm users with too many call to action choices and consider using language that reduces friction in deciding to follow a call to action (for example, ‘buy’ or ‘submit’ is more of a commitment than ‘get’ or ‘check out’)
  • brevity: don’t ask for too much information and only ask for must-have data

After each principle, Robert posed some thought-provoking questions to work out if following these principles aligns with who your brand wants to be or what works best for your organisation.

For example:

  • If you put your call to action right at the top of a page before explaining the benefit, do you want to be perceived as a brand that wants someone to jump to an action before reading the full context?
  • Are you an organisation that drives a hard sell through a call to action?
  • Are the colours and styles you are using appropriate for your brand?
  • Are calls to action with verbs that sound like more of a commitment actually more understandable than alternatives that reduce friction?
  • Do we want to be seen as a brand that asks lots of questions?

8. Ways you can try to learn your customers’ vocabulary

Speaker: Jael Schultz, Content Architect at American Express

Jael shared a number of methods to help learn your customers’ vocabulary, including:

  • digging through customer language in feedback forms or reviews
  • definition exercises (based on the name of this section, say what you would expect to find in this area of the site)
  • poke poke poke (give as many alternative names as you can to something)
  • labelling exercises (create a label for this group of information)

My talk on lessons learned as a manager

I also gave a breakout talk called ‘I don’t know what I’m doing and that’s okay’, which dug into my lessons learned in my first year of being a content design manager.

I wrote this talk because I wanted to recap my experiences and reflections making the shift from practitioner to leader. Since becoming a manager, I’m constantly facing new challenges I don’t always know how to tackle. But I’ve learned to be okay with that feeling and understand that I’ll work out what I need to do.

A slide from my presentation I don't know what I'm doing and that's okay. The slide title is "Being a boss comes with unexpected power" and has a picture of Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith saying "You underestimate my power".

I share a story in my talk about the time I learned I have this unexpected power as a manager. (And use this as an excuse to throw in a Star Wars reference.)

Watch my talk at UX Scotland

If you’re interested in seeing this talk, come along to UX Scotland where I’ll be giving it again.

Book with my discount code 10LaurenT or directly at the link below for a 10% discount.

Book a place at UX Scotland with 10% discount

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