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Add meaning with content design

Content designers are a game changer. We’re highly trained to explore and understand the way people communicate wherever they are in life – environmentally, situationally, and emotionally. Our studies in storytelling and listening to others nurtured us. Accordingly, we now absorb knowledge, scrutinize insights, and then create a design with meaning.

People don’t only use things to do something and move on. Sure, they want it to work well, but it must make sense to them, too. For digital products, which is what I work on, content design is just as important to have, in force, as software engineers or web developers. Engineers and product designers simply don’t present meaning all the time. While engineers calculated a road’s width and depth and weight, and designers smoothed the concrete and painted the lines, the content designers presented meaning. They used signage about places, exits, bridges, sharp turns, steep hills, trains, and more!

It’s a bit of an over-simplified analogy, but it’ll do, right?

We don’t always do the same content design. There’s long-form writing, microcopy, and lots of settings. Some content designers specialize in analytics or data visualization, videos or animations, or educational content. Most of the time, we’re doing a mixture. And, just like there’s beautiful complexity in human communication, we create without words, as well. We might pick the right color – in the right cultural context – to communicate a message or sentiment. Or rearrange the order or layout of a page. We can explore meaning in iconography, illustration, and sounds. Autumn Kotsiuba just published Wordless UX Writing, which gives more thoughtful examples!

Meaning is not always in the happy things. Things go wrong. Software is not completely under the control of developers – they can’t tighten up all the loose ends, and the result is millions of error messages. Let’s not forget AI generators. AI itself is ripe with limitations, erroneous information, and nascent communication abilities. We can share meaning – what’s going wrong, why it matters, how it can be helped.

We should have more meaning-makers – more people who design content – as products grow, become more and more complicated, and compete with each other for customers. I want to see content designers as design leaders. To see teams of content designers. To hear people who call themselves leaders speak about getting excited to add meaning for their customers. And finally, I want this endeavor to make meaning, to inspire, awaken, and enliven others – and myself.