We’ve noticed a trend that several design system teams now include content designers (In our forthcoming How We Document report, a third of all design system teams have at least one content person.). A content designer focuses on the design of content, not just copyediting or writing microcopy. Regarding design systems, content designers are responsible for guidelines and conventions for content within that system’s components and patterns.
An ideal scenario is having a content designer on your team from the start, but it’s often unrealistic for every team. However, it’s never too late to include a content designer on your team. Some key moments when you might want to add a content designer include:
- No one is reading your system’s documentation
- The documentation is taking too long to create
- Your design system is maturing
- You’re ready to scale your design system
We’ll discuss how content designers can help improve your design system and bolster your team. We’ll also cover how you can add content design help if you can’t immediately hire a content designer for your team.
What does a content designer do?
For design systems, we mentioned earlier that content designers are accountable for guidelines and conventions for content found in components and patterns. This work can be granular–identifying a select list of labels for calls to action (CTA) for consistency. And this can be broader–how to approach writing content for an empty state pattern, including what goes in the heading, recommendations for a description, and CTA label suggestions.
In some cases, content designers also write copy for design system documentation. Technically, this is more of a content/UX writer role, but we’ve often seen individuals tackle both aspects.
Benefits of having a content designer
Let’s explore the benefits of adding a content designer to your team.
Improve the quality of your design system’s documentation
A common frustration we hear about is how infrequently people visit design system documentation. This can be incredibly defeating when teams invest time in creating content (e.g., visuals, specs, usage guidelines, etc.). Documentation editors often focus on ensuring the information is written down, which is a great start. But not all designers have a knack for writing, and the legibility of the documentation can become deprioritized.
Think of a design system as a product; when a content designer is on board, they can identify ways to make the content more consumable for its users–designers, developers, other writers, and more. This can even make the documentation enjoyable to read!
Improve the speed of documentation
Content designers can increase the speed of documentation. While your team may have product or UX designers who can write well enough to get by, writing can create an additional cognitive load. Product/UX designers already have so much to do and decisions to make when contributing to documentation that the actual writing of documentation can feel burdensome. Because writing is natural to them, content designers can take the lead on the writing aspect of documentation to alleviate this burden on teammates.
Help mature the design system
Once you’ve designed and coded components, made patterns, and documented your design system, the next step is refining the content aspect of your components and patterns. If you’ve been doing this all along, that’s great! But if not, it’s a great time to invite a content designer to help take the design system to the next level.
On a granular level, content designers can evaluate components and patterns to identify areas to improve consistency. From an overarching perspective, they can establish voice and tone guidelines for your products. For more examples, check out how Deliveroo created a content design system.
Scale your design system
Content designers can establish content patterns for your system’s components and patterns. Content patterns are guidelines designers can repeatedly apply to UI components/patterns.
When they establish a set of guidelines for content for each component/pattern, designers can make confident decisions about what copy to include when using that particular component or pattern. This allows products to scale, maintain consistency, and provide more space for copyeditors to focus on challenging copy.
Adding a content designer to the team
Now that you have a better understanding of how content designers can level up the value of your design system, let’s talk about how they can be a part of your team. The ideal way is to create an opening and hire a content designer. Many teams don’t have this luxury, but there are a few ways to work around this.
Hire a contractor
Some content guidance is better than no content guidance. An alternative to a full-time employee is hiring a short-term contractor to help with your content priorities. When looking for a content designer, your ideal candidate will have some experience with design systems or UI copywriting. We highly recommend asking for samples of their previous work.
Look within the company
Some organizations might have content-writing teams that you can partner with. Try connecting with support documentation teams, learning and development teams, and brand/marketing teams. They might not have titles like “content designer.” Instead, people with adjacent skill sets might have titles like documentation writer, technical writer, content strategist, copywriter, or information experience (IX) designer.
Building these partnerships can help strengthen relationships and benefit both teams. For example, a technical writer can help improve your design system, and their team gets a sneak peek into what the product teams are working on.
Look within your design organization
Also, you can look within your design org to see if content design interests anyone. While this might not be overt, asking managers if they have designers with these interests is a good starting point. Sometimes, approaching people with a knack for writing might be an option. The design field evolves so much that they might not be aware of content design as an area they can grow in.
As you consider adding a content designer to your team, think about capturing any baseline metrics on your design system. Think about your major pain points without a content designer and find ways to measure the improvements. This is especially helpful if you can only manage part-time help (e.g., contractor, partnering with another department, etc.), so you can make a case for hiring a full-time person in the future.
We’d love to hear from you if you’ve found other benefits for content designers on design system teams or tried different approaches. Join us on zheroes, our Slack community, to talk shop.