I hear from a lot of people who are frustrated in their roles as in-house content designers, content strategists, or UX writers at product-led tech companies. The reasons are many, and at this point cliché. Being brought in way too late, being asked to ‘wordsmith’ things, not getting access to customers, not having input on the strategy, so on and so forth. I don’t have to tell you, I’m sure.
As a Thought Leader™, I have a professional obligation to oversimplify things in order to provide easy answers. So right now, I’m going to do exactly that. When content isn’t being treated as an equal partner to design and engineering on a product team, one of two things tends to be the case:
1) Product/org leadership wants to make content an equal partner with design and engineering in creating great experiences, but they don’t know how. If they knew how to do it, they would have done it already. So you’re going to have to manage up, build process, demonstrate your value, advocate for content design, and otherwise take ownership over making that partnership a reality.
2) Product/org leadership wants content to write the words, prioritize never-ever blocking design or engineering for even a second, and stop with all the questions already. They don’t value your professional perspective and never will, in part because your questions and perspective threatens their power and control. (They might not have arrived at this worldview consciously nor maliciously, but it’s still their perspective.)
I also find that people know which situation they’re in, if they’re being honest with themselves. It’s doable or it’s not. It’s fixable or it’s not. Or it might be fixable, in the future, if X Y or Z things change — things that are always going to be out of their control.
If you’re at your wit’s end, have watched every video and read every article on ‘articulating the value’ of content design, if you’re scheduling workshops no one comes to, raising questions no one wants to answer, and the shit just keeps rolling down that hill, consider: Will another workshop, another meeting, another presentation really start to fix it?
If you’re in the first situation, there’s hope, yes. I just finished a close read of Beth Dunn’s Cultivating Content Design, and I can’t think of a better playbook for an in-house content designer — or a few of them — to run in order to build a true discipline and gain organizational respect for content design. Some people like that work, and can use it to make their careers and break into leadership. But it’s perfectly okay to not want to do that work, and to start shopping around for a role at a mature product culture instead.
If you’re in the second situation, there’s still hope, because not every place is hopeless. But if they won’t change, you might have to: change teams, change departments, change organizations. Does that suck? Yes. The hard decisions always suck. But it feels so, so, so much better after you make them. Maybe not right away, but eventually, eventually.