Content strategists focus on how an idea or organization can best express themselves online through written and visual content. Content design focuses on how a website works, and makes sure it looks good within the context of the rest of the site. Both of these jobs are often confused with each other, which is why you see the two titles used interchangeably. If a site is not working aesthetically, there is an issue with either design, coding or content strategy – or a combination of all three! To help avoid confusion about the differences between content strategists and designers, below are some of the most important differences between these job descriptions

Content Strategy. It’s the future. And it only makes sense. Content is increasingly moving to the forefront of corporate and commercial activity but in a fragmented world, understanding how content fits into a key business process is difficult. Content design has become almost interchangeable with content strategy and seems to be getting all of the credit for delivering well considered content as an enabler for commercial success . . . .

Content strategists

What they do: Content strategists do all the tactical work that UX writers do while also taking on more strategic projects. They think more about how in-product copy reflects the brand’s position in the market. They work closely with Marketing to ensure a consistent voice across the entire user journey, while constantly adjusting that voice as the user base grows and changes. Content strategists are likely to be creating the style guides that the entire team adheres to.

What they know: Content strategists know everything UX writers know while also having particularly sharp analytical skills, thinking strategically, and looking at the details within a wider context including where the company is heading and how competitors are shifting across the playing field. Content strategists might have a technical background; they certainly know how to work with data — how to define the most informative A/B tests, run them, analyze the results, and elucidate and apply learnings from them.

Content designers

What they do: Content designers do everything UX writers do, and some of what content strategists do, but they are less focused on market forces and more focused on the structure of the copy — how it appears on the page and how the content of different pages within the product relate to each other (though content strategists think a lot about that, too).

What they know: Content designers, not surprisingly, know a thing or two about design. They are not UI/UX designers or visual designers — but they have a solid grasp of visual design conventions. They specialize in hierarchy and navigation in a way that UX writers and content strategists may not.

What is UX writing?

The definition

User experience (UX) writing refers to the words you see or hear in a product when you’re using it. For the most part, these words are unobtrusive, and you might not even notice them. Many UX writers believe “good” UX writing merges so seamlessly with the design, the person using the product doesn’t even realize they’re reading.

The goal

The main goal of UX writing is to provide the “user” of a product or piece of software with a positive and easy experience.

UX writers generally try to make their writing clear, concise, and consistent.

As Kathryn Strauss, Senior UX Writer at Weebly, puts it: “You don’t have to say everything.” She adds, “Talk about value to users. Invite users to act.”

According to Mike Strickland, Content Design Director at Charter Communications, “The best design is invisible. If your product exists to help someone do something, then there should be as few barriers as possible between them and what they need to do. This means a UI that is clear, unobtrusive, and as simple as the context allows, to (or approaching) the point where your user barely notices the interface.”

Ryan Bigge, Senior Content Strategist at Shopify, says, “There’s much more granularity and nuance in UX writing than I first realized. I’m now very mindful of plain language, the discrete elements of a successful error message, and the pitfalls of nomenclature.”

Where the words live

UX writing is the copy you’ll see in a user interface: onboarding flows, modals, settings, forms, menus, error messages, empty states, notifications, and tooltips. It might also include landing pages and product-related emails. For many teams, it also refers to the words in conversational and voice interfaces.

Who writes the words

Since UX writing focuses on the words, many (but not all!) UX writers have “word nerd” backgrounds in writing, editing, publishing, linguistics, or similar fields.

Depending on the size of the writing team at a company, UX writers also sometimes work on editorial strategy, style guides, marketing copy, training materials, help center content, or other projects related to content strategy.

But it’s important to remember that UX writing and content strategy both have their own sets of required skills and best practices. Marketing copy, training materials, and help center content are not UX writing.

Content Strategy Vs Content Design

How are they similar?

They both see the big picture

UX writing and content strategy both need to take into account a broad view of the entire experience with their product, no matter if the “product” is software/SaaS, ecommerce/retail, or a media site.

Leaf explains, “Once I’m armed with good context, I tend to identify opportunities to improve the current user journey given the user’s objectives and the company’s value prop. So instead of just filling in the blank, I take a step back and engage content strategy principles to suggest that the narrative arc of the experience is flawed and needs to be re-examined.”

Adds Ryan Bigge, “Regardless of job title, it’s very difficult to enact meaning improvements if content isn’t involved early and often. That’s still a primary concern — intervening at the right stage of the project, and co-designing solutions with the entire UX team.”

They both use words to help people learn about and use your product

A content marketing strategy or brand storytelling strategy starts before a person has even shown any interest in your product. The words used in those strategies help to draw people to your product. Once a person shows interest in or starts to use your product, UX writing helps them have the best experience with it.

They both work cross-functionally

UX writers and content strategists both work closely with many different teams. For UX writers, that usually means working with product designers, design researchers, product managers, engineers, QA teams, and data scientists to learn about people’s problems and define the best course of action for their projects.

As Mike explains, “Our content design team is an integral part of the broader experience design team, contributing equally to the UX of our products with our UX and UI designer peers.”

For content strategists, cross-functional collaboration usually means working with teams in marketing, communication, SEO, and legal to create and clarify messaging across the board.

Content Strategy & Content Design Books

There are several other books out there that would be helpful for content strategists, such as Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think, Peter Morville & Lou Rosenfeld’s Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, and Jesse James Garrett’s The Elements of User Experience among many, many others.

This list isn’t meant to (and can’t) be exhaustive. I’ve included the authoritative canon for practicing content strategists along with some newer additions (and editions!). They define the discipline, lay out its scope and modes of practice, and offer standards, tools, and techniques for building success.

Conclusion

Content Strategy guides how we plan and organize content, both on a larger scale (strategy) and smaller scale (e.g., taxonomy). Content Design is to address how the content is presented to users, including structure and form.

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