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Blog Post

January 1, 2024

2023 In Review

by

Paula Land

We had another amazing year at Content Strategy Seattle. Thanks again to all our amazing presenters in 2023 and we invite everyone to...

Blog Post

August 3, 2023

Seattle Happy Hour

by

Courtney Doane

For the July Content Strategy Seattle meetup, we gathered in person at a sweet little space called The Lab at Ada’s Bookstore.

Blog Post

June 29, 2023

Leading with Influence: Insights from Michael Metts

by

Courtney Doane

We had the privilege of hosting Michael Metts, an experienced leader who joined us to share his thoughts on leadership and influence.

Blog Post

June 1, 2023

Gaining Influence on your teams: building collaboration from the ground up

by

Courtney Doane

While giving the pitch of “why content design is great,” can be helpful, Ariel van Spronsen, offered guidance for a more structured way...

Blog Post

April 25, 2023

Content research: Building your visibility and impact

by

Courtney Doane

We all know content is vital, but how often do we actually measure it? Read on for a recap of our April Meetup!

Blog Post

March 27, 2023

Governing Design Systems

by

Courtney Doane

Design systems are collections of guidelines, principles, components, and assets that are used to create and maintain consistent...

Blog Post

March 6, 2023

Enabling the Brain Drain for Knowledge Management

by

Courtney Doane

Knowledge management is the process of capturing, distributing, and effectively using knowledge that resides within an organization. To capt

Blog Post

January 3, 2023

Content Strategy Seattle 2022 Year in Review

by

Paula Land

2022 was a breakthrough year for Content Strategy Seattle.

Blog Post

October 24, 2022

Content Strategy Seattle + Button pre-conference party recap

by

CSS Organizers

On the evening of Sunday, October 9th, we welcomed 60-ish Button speakers, attendees, and local Seattle content folks to the Wunderman...

Blog Post

June 15, 2022

Welcome to our new site!

by

Content Strategy Seattle Organizers

Learn more about how and why we created this website, and how you can help make it great!

Seattle Happy Hour

Blog post

August 3, 2023

by

Courtney Doane

For the July Content Strategy Seattle meetup, we gathered in person at a sweet little space called The Lab at Ada’s Bookstore. It was a great turnout and the room was lively with conversation, great nosh, fine craft cocktails and some non-alcoholic spirits too.

In addition to providing an opportunity for some of our local members to meet and mingle, the event featured an informal panel. Paula Land led a conversation among Scott Pierce, Ahava Leibtag, Ariel van Spronsen, and Susan Stainsby, each of whom was selected because they bring years of expertise in content strategy and their careers span multiple industries and settings, from healthcare to technical help to in-product content, and much more. Whatever the setting they’ve worked in, they all have a common goal: Designing clear content for their users. Conversation started out with panelists discussing the differences and similarities of working in-house, being a freelancer, or working within an agency. We also covered how to deliver content to a range of stakeholders. 

One of the highlights was when Ahava, who works in healthcare content marketing, made the point that users who are encountering a new landscape are in unfamiliar territory, and that we have to care for that newness as well as the general clarity of the information. As an example, Ahava talked about how the prevalence of complex language in her industry, can add an additional level of complexity for users who are commonly in a state of stress about health issues they may be having. Susan shared that in in her work with GoDaddy, she also sees  users coming to the help center with some level of confusion and needing assistance.

Panelists emphasized the importance of using clear language that matches users’ mental models, using data to make decisions about content, and working directly with users to test the viability of their content. You could tell these professionals really enjoyed the conversation as they bounced ideas back and forth. Audience members said they came away with some great insights and everyone enjoyed connecting with fellow content folks!

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Leading with Influence: Insights from Michael Metts

Blog post

June 29, 2023

by

Courtney Doane

Leadership is a multifaceted concept that extends beyond mere management responsibilities. At the Content Strategy Seattle June meetup, we had the privilege of hosting Michael Metts, an experienced leader who joined us from Chicago to share his thoughts on leadership and influence. In addition to his passion for pizza, Michael is an author, maker, and teacher who has done dozens of workshops and speaking engagements all over the world. In this blog post, we'll explore the key takeaways from Michael's talk and delve into the different facets of effective leadership.

Leadership Goes Beyond Management 

During the meetup, Michael posed a question to the audience, asking what they appreciate in a leader. Interestingly, many of the responses centered around characteristics typically associated with managers. This observation highlighted a prevalent misconception: equating management with leadership. To foster progress, it's crucial to differentiate between management and leadership, understanding that not every manager embodies the qualities we seek in a leader.

Developing Leadership Skills

To excel as leaders in the design world or any field, we must cultivate specific skills. Michael emphasized the importance of seeing the bigger picture and recognizing the interconnections between various elements. Leadership should serve as a conduit between the "have to," the "what," and the "why" of our stories. Michael shared an anecdote about his own growth as a leader, realizing that writing alone couldn't solve all his problems. He discovered the significance of early involvement and proactively addressing issues, rather than waiting until they became insurmountable.

Overcoming Challenges and Building Influence

Michael faced several challenges in his journey towards becoming an influential leader. First, he found others encroaching on his responsibilities. By clearly defining his role and presenting it to his manager, he effectively regained control. Second, he felt excluded from key meetings and decisions, hindering his ability to perform his job effectively. Taking the initiative to establish collaborative team practices allowed him to contribute more meaningfully and address the issues at hand. Finally, he tackled the problem of subpar features by developing a structured approach, using worksheets and fostering collaboration. Over time he built relationships, faced setbacks, and continually adapted his strategy.

The Time and Evolution of Leadership 

Michael stressed that leadership is not an instant process. It requires time, trial, and error. Crucially, leadership is not confined to designated roles; anyone can be a leader by leading conversations and ensuring inclusivity. Michael presented a list of traits that can contribute to effective leadership. These traits include authority, entertainment, belief, observation, trust, planning, generosity, thoughtfulness, and humility. By incorporating these traits into our daily practices, we can enhance our leadership capabilities.

Diverse Perspectives on Leadership

Michael also shared insights from individuals in non-tech industries, showcasing different perspectives on leadership. These perspectives ranged from understanding the whole person and valuing their input, to embracing flexibility, experimentation, and inclusivity. Additionally, the importance of learning from others and acknowledging that we are all in this together emerged as crucial elements of effective leadership.

Content Strategy Seattle's June meetup provided a valuable opportunity to learn from Michael Metts about leadership and influence. Through his experiences and insights, we gained a deeper understanding of the multifaceted nature of leadership and how it extends beyond traditional management roles. Developing leadership skills, overcoming challenges, and embracing diverse perspectives are all vital steps toward becoming effective leaders. Remember, leadership is a journey that requires continuous growth and adaptability. If you're interested in exploring leadership further, Michael offers workshops at leadinglikeyou.com. Embrace the opportunity to lead with influence and make a positive impact in your personal and professional spheres.

View the video of Michael’s talk at Content Strategy Seattle

Get Michael’s book: Writing Is Designing: Words and the User Experience: Metts, Michael J., Welfle, Andy, Madden, Nick

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Gaining Influence on your teams: building collaboration from the ground up

Blog post

June 1, 2023

by

Courtney Doane

Chasing a seat at the table and gaining a voice

Content design isn’t a new role, yet some team members are still unclear about what a content designer does. While giving the pitch of “why content design is great,” can be helpful, Ariel van Spronsen, Content Strategy Seattle’s May speaker, offered guidance for a more structured way to gain your voice and establish yourself as a leader. 

Some guidelines for integrating into a new team or potentially into the middle of a project:

  • First, acknowledge previous work. It is important to let the team know that what they’ve done so far is important and make sure you understand what has been done prior to your arrival. 
  • Second, you want to be a learner and be ready to research what you don’t know about the project. After you have learned about the team and the project your next task is to synthesize what you’ve learned and what insights you have gained since coming to the project. 
  • Finally, the last step is to build connections and make sure you understand what everyone is going through on the team. 

After these foundational pieces have been laid, it is time to potentially raise some issues you are seeing and address those with the team.

Red flags and decision making

Raising red flags needs to be done carefully and with compassion. Understanding that team members have worked hard on this content and making sure to be compassionate as you approach these red flags is key to winning the team’s trust. This is a great time to utilize data researchers on your team or within your organization to back up your reasoning. It’s also important to bring solutions to the table and make sure you are able to flex and hear feedback to create the desired outcome for the project.

Collaboration

Ariel suggests utilizing the 6 C’s of collaboration: 

  • Context
  • Clarity
  • Communication
  • Critique
  • Cooperation
  • Compassion

The most important of these C’s is communication because the others cannot happen without communication. Setting goals is important and backing up those goals with data or knowledge is key. In Ariel’s example, she discusses a new product that HubSpot was adding to their CMS offerings. It was a great time for Ariel to figure out how to collaborate with the product designer. 

  • They established guidelines for how they would communicate and how they could collaborate in a productive way. 
  • They looked at the timeline, collaborated on ideas and shared documents and they utilized a combined Figma document to add content in real time together. As questions came up, they had to understand that the success came from identifying these questions and taking the time to address them.
  • They utilized customer feedback and added more messaging for the users. 

After these changes were made and they were able to do more research after the product had launched, they received great feedback and great scores from users.

Key takeaways

Key takeaways from this talk were to be brave, believe in yourself, and do so with compassion. Everyone has a job to do and at the end of the day, we are all trying to do our best. Supporting team members and creating a space where everyone can be creative and successful is the goal. 

About the speaker

Ariel van Spronsen (@arielvansprons) is a senior content designer at HubSpot. She’s been obsessed with making information clear, useful, and enjoyable since she was a kid, but officially started her UX career in 2007. Since then she’s helped companies like Expedia Group, Nike, and Motorola craft better content experiences. Ariel lives and works in Seattle with her beloved three-footed tabby cat by her side.

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Content research: Building your visibility and impact

Blog post

April 25, 2023

by

Courtney Doane

We all know content is vital, but how often do we actually measure it? Erica Jorgensen gave us a ton of great ideas and tools for exactly that during our April CSS meetup. Read on for a recap!

Content research is a way to test content and terminology to ensure that user needs are met and content aligns with the organization's brand strategy, key performance indicators (KPIs), and overall goals. There are qualitative and quantitative ways to research content, and within those two categories, there are various types of testing that can be done to gather data.

Get Your House in Order

Before you embark on research activities though, Erica suggests getting your content house in order. Get a good sense of what content you are working with. Review for plain language use and check for bias. 

As Erica said, “Plain language is communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it” (more info about plain language linked at the end of this post). Biases like confirmation bias, stakeholder bias, and recency bias can affect our writing. Check out the great conversation about these types of bias we had with David Dylan Thomas, author of Design for Cognitive Bias: Using Mental Shortcuts for Good Instead of Evil, back in January.

The Scrappy Way

User research can be done using tools and organized efforts, but if you don’t have the resources for formal user testing, Erica suggested several ways to take the “scrappy” approach. One key source is to talk to your customer experience team. The information they can provide could include customer service calls, chatbot analysis, customer surveys and interviews, and industry reports. Understanding what customers are missing is a sure way to make direct improvements to your product. 

Finding the cost of how much it costs for one customer service call can be a good way to quantify for your supervisors how you are actually fixing the customer experience. Erica spoke about an example from her book where her co-worker found that customers were confused about their monthly bill breakdown. The way to fix this was to add in more details which did create a longer area of content, but this content was key for customers who were confused about why their bill was that price. 

Using an Online Platform

The second way to start with content research is to use an online platform such as UserZoom or UserTesting. With these tools, you can use online platforms to interview current customers or potential customers. Be sure to ask a quantitative question and then follow up with a qualitative question. 

Use the feedback to see what aligns with your company brand guidelines. This type of analysis, where you ask people what type of content they prefer, is called a preference test. You can also do a naming test to see which names are preferred. Some research questions are audience-specific. Other research questions you could be asking are for clarity/comprehension, actionability, completeness/gap analysis, hedonic/emotional response, and competitive analysis. 

When thinking about DEI and analyzing your users, be sure to know the regions your tests are reaching. For example, UserTesting does not support certain countries. This is a limitation in your research you will need to identify at the beginning of research so that the information is taken knowing this limitation. 

Stakeholders

If you’re going to do content research, you’re going to need to be ready to make changes. Sometimes there are big changes, but it can make the company better. Presenting this information to a CEO or stakeholder team can seem daunting, but remind yourself–and them–that this is a thoughtful and methodical way to evaluate content. When presenting this to stakeholders, be sure to include company key performance indicators (KPIs) and loop in other UX, marketing, PR, and social media teams. Using the RACI (responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed) framework is a great way to keep the right folks looped in. 

Finding time and keeping sane

Finding time to conduct this research might seem hard, but a suggestion Erica had was to divide and conquer with the team you have. Another way is creating a backlog of test ideas so that you always have something to be researching. If you have office hours, consider reallocating that time to content research and see if that helps you solve some of these content problems. 

Perhaps one of our favorite takeaways from this talk is a piece of counsel Erica offered: Always be kind. Understand that when you are looking at content, someone else worked hard on that content and showing respect for that will smooth your way.

About Erica Jorgensen

Erica Jorgensen is a staff content designer at Chewy.com and the author of Strategic Content Design: Tools and Research Techniques for Better UX, published in April 2023 by Rosenfeld Media.

Additional Reading

The $300 Million Button — UX Articles by UIE

Plain Language Guide - US

Plain Language Guide - UK

Plain Language Guide - Canada

Plain Language Guide - Australia

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Governing Design Systems

Blog post

March 27, 2023

by

Courtney Doane

Design systems are collections of guidelines, principles, components, and assets that are used to create and maintain consistent and cohesive visual and functional design across a product or organization. Done well, they present a comprehensive and holistic approach to design that considers all aspects of the user experience, including visual design, interaction design, accessibility, and usability.

A design system typically includes components such as typography, color palettes, iconography, buttons, form elements, and other UI elements, as well as guidelines for how they should be used and combined. It may also include documentation on design principles, user research, design patterns, and development best practices.

Design systems are used to streamline design and development workflows, improve consistency and quality across products, and facilitate collaboration between designers and developers. They are particularly valuable for large organizations or teams working on multiple products, as they help ensure that design is cohesive and scalable across all projects. 

To bring a new lens to this topic, the March Meetup of Content Strategy Seattle featured Margot Bloomstein and Greg Storey. Unlike our typical events where a speaker presents a prepared presentation, this meetup was designed to be more of a fireside chat and conversation about governance and design systems.

This graphic from Margot and Greg’s slides illustrates what a design system is and how it creates an all-encompassing system that scales to all aspects of a brand’s digital experience. While there will always be differences between companies, working with your clients or stakeholders to understand what their users need is a key component of a design system being effective. Content strategists are good at understanding the overall idea of governance but sometimes proving that to a client can be tricky. 

About Our Speakers

Both Margo and Greg bring years of strategic leadership experience to bear on the topic of design system governance. Margot founded the consultancy Appropriate, Inc. in 2000 and Greg is Design Principal at Airbag Industries and Strategic Advisor to Luro App. In addition to these independent and in-house experiences, they recently formed the Loupe Collective. Along with two other industry professionals, they are a collective of experts in content strategy that come together to collaborate to further the field in a cohesive way. With years of experience between the members of the collective, they have seen projects succeed, fail, and have found ways to recover to create success again.

Governance and Design Systems

In August 2022, Michael Haggerty-Villa led a panel for the Meetup about design systems and since then this topic has continued to grow. 

Margot and Greg brought the topic of governance to the conversation, discussing how, as with any set of processes and guidelines, design systems require governance to ensure that they remain consistent and can be managed collaboratively.. Governance sounds expensive but in the long run putting a focusing effort on the design system could save clients a lot of money. Putting an emphasis on design systems could potentially avoid accessibility lawsuits and other legal issues. Another way governance could potentially save money in the long run is through employee retention because the employees feel they are a part of the design process and this could result in a more positive work environment. 

Design System Initiative Rollout 

A typical experience with an initial design system rollout experience is that you build the design system and launch it and then it fails. Margot and Greg think that failure does not need to happen. One reason  systems fail so often is because they didn’t start with governance and adoption. Another reason is success is not defined and therefore can’t be measured. Companies can prepare for a successful design system by starting with co-creation with shared ownership within the company, collaborating on buy-in from product owners, and defining what “done” looks like and how it will be measured. Being a contractor coming into companies and telling them what to do in the style guide, for example, could potentially fail. Margot mentioned she sat down with a client company and listened to what they are already doing and helped them realize why she suggested the design system. 

With this collaborative system design there is greater compliance within the company.  Every design system needs a system model that can be considered a living document. Making sure there is a process to add new additions and edit processes so that the users of the system are contributors and creators. Getting feedback and getting people to the table during these conversations about the system strategy creates a way to get on the same page with cross-organizational teams. When the expectations and standards are laid out clearly for teams, they know how to engage. A content strategist can play the role of a mediator, helping to develop a common language in a collaborative way with a team.

Watch the video of this lively, informative conversation.

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