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On the Value of Content Design: Proving or Providing?

You can’t climb a non-existent fence.

This essay originally appeared in Issue 040 of my UX Writing Events newsletter.

An understandably popular question in the UX space is how to “prove” the value and ROI of UX writing and content design. Melanie Seibert started an excellent Twitter thread of data points to address that question. It’s a good thread! Having these kinds of data points available can help flavor a larger narrative about the importance of our work.

If I may, though, two words of caution: 

1) You’ll never convince everyone (or even most people) that something is a good idea before you’ve done it.

It doesn’t matter how compelling your evidence is. 

Take the moon landing, for instance:

Throughout the 1960s polls showed that a majority of Americans did not believe the Apollo program was worth the cost. But afterAmericans made it to the moon, most of the earlier skepticism was forgotten, and as Apollo receded into history people had an increasingly favorable view of it. 

Granted, establishing an enterprise-wide content strategy is slightly less difficult than landing on the moon, but it’s still a big, difficult, ambitious thing. And sometimes, the more you talk about how big and difficult and ambitious a thing is, the less enthusiasm there will be to do the big difficult ambitious thing, even if you can rattle off a dozen or so reasons that “prove” why it’s a good idea.

As historic of a moment as the moon landing was, a full decade later only 47 percent of Americans polled felt it was worth the cost. That increased to 77 percent (which still seems low!) another decade later, in 1989.

2) Many supposed “barriers” to changing the way your organization deals with content may be imagined or self-imposed.

Over and over in my workshops and consultations, I find that the barriers to convincing people that content strategy and content design are valuable are myriad. But the barriers to actually practicing content strategy or content design? To starting to do things a little differently, a little more organized, one project at a time? Those barriers are often quite minimal, or possibly non-existent. Before you put the big ambitious pitch together to finally, dramatically win over those stubborn stakeholders who don’t believe as deeply as you do how important words and writing are, ask yourself why you’re making the pitch at all.

Sometimes the easiest way to prove value is to simply start providing value. 

Photo by Mitchell Luo on Unsplash