A lot can change in a year. (Massive understatement, but you get it.) Recently, we’ve seen explosive growth and transformation—and, unfortunately, scalebacks—impact content teams. New specializations and titles have popped up (shoutout to ContentOps, Conversation Design, and Content Engineering) and even new technology has taken over the spotlight (ChatGPT enters the chat).
Q: Where do you see content strategy and content design evolving in the next year … and beyond?
In many ways, our innovations in tech are outpacing our human ability to process them with ease. That’s where people who work in language and design come in, especially content folks.
As digital experiences grow in complexity, the need for clear, navigable information within those experiences grows too.
As content workers, we make information easier to understand. The way that we evolve as a practice is by bringing the core tenets of good content work with us to these new experiences, keeping humans in mind, and building for everyone.
While a lot of the big players in the US have adopted content design and strategy, and it’s well-embedded in the UK public sector, I’d like to see more global reach and inclusion. Great content is a universal need, after all.
I hope we can start hearing from our partners in localization and delving into the many cultural nuances of content.
Content designers should do fewer things better for more impact, recognition, and growth. Most content designers (and their managers) optimize for a high volume of work outputs above all other things. I think this is intended to earn the trust of partners by showing how much you support them. But I’m not confident that they notice or care about any of it since it’s a lot like throwing a bunch of spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks.
Instead, you should determine what the one or two biggest potential outcomes of your work could be and then focus on just those things relentlessly … saying “No!” to everything else. This allows you to work deeply, with great focus, on the strategic things that matter the most. Your leaders should support you in doing this—or if they can’t for some reason, then they should step aside to find people who will.
Both society and technology are evolving faster than ever—recent examples being the pandemic pivot to remote/hybrid work and, even more recently, the onset of AI-generated art and text. I think it’s critical for us content strategists to keep a high-level, systems-wide perspective on the challenges and opportunities that are emerging all around us.
As content professionals, we’ve always had to wear a lot of hats, but now the rest of the world is catching on—and proactively assigning work to make the most of specialized skill sets.
With the inclusion of content designers and strategists on more and more UX and product teams, we’re seeing the opportunity for content designers to specialize in areas like conversation design, taxonomy, design systems, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality. The content conversation is shifting from “What is a content strategist?” to “What kind of content strategist are you?”
I talk to a lot of UX writers and content designers and so, so, so many of their actual problems are either business strategy or content operations problems, not content design problems. A cohesive digital strategy cannot be assembled like Voltron out of a bunch of random-ass “strategy” decisions made by greenhorn product managers who don't understand content.
I hope more organizations start to see that and acknowledge that they do, in fact, need content strategy and content strategists. Not embedded on product teams, but guiding them.
Q: What topics and themes do you expect will emerge?
Two topics that are coming up for me more and more are conversation-driven experiences and trust & safety. With conversational AI, robotics, AR/VR, and experiences that have little to no UI, language takes on additional gravity as the guideposts for an experience. Conversation and content designers are directing the strategy for these experiences, and I only see their responsibility growing in the future.
I also see content designers getting even more involved in making digital spaces feel safe and trustworthy. We’re putting more and more of our personal data online as part of daily exchanges. Credit cards, medical information, personal preferences through AI assistants, calendar dates, secret notes, and even our crypto portfolios. We live on our apps. Security is a huge part of how this is possible, and content plays an outsized role in building the trust needed for someone to opt in to these experiences.
Is this where everyone mentions AI? When the bot-excitement wanes and the realization hits that AI will never replace the need for nuanced, thoughtful content created by humans, I predict ContentOps will emerge as our hero.
The “Should we add a chatbot?” question of the last few years will become, “Should we add AI to this flow?”
We’re going to spend a year talking about whether and how designers and writers should be using AI writing tools to write interface and marketing copy when we should be talking about whether and how product teams should implement AI writing tools into their products and make them accessible to users. That shizz is going to get messy fast.
Systems thinking, 100%. I started my career as a wayfinding specialist and parlayed that experience into content design, and one of the biggest surprises when I first entered the field was how difficult it was to practice systems thinking.
We've come a long way in the last few years. Many content designers now work directly in design software like Figma. We're embedded in product teams throughout the entire design process rather than being brought in only at the end to “polish the words.” Dedicated product content tools like Ditto and Frontitude help us to operationalize our work. We now not only have a seat at the design table, but in many cases, also a bird's-eye view of the entire system. This means that we can think and work holistically rather than in fragments. Systems thinking allows us to flex the “strategy” muscle as content designers and strategists.
For better or worse, it looks like more organizations will turn to AI to help them generate content ideas and write more quickly. It’s our job to help make sure this content stays on-strategy, meaningful, and satisfies actual search intent.
When marketing teams get distracted by the next shiny piece of technology, having the right guidelines in place and a strategy that specifically considers what AI needs to be successful and how it should be integrated into the workflow can make all the difference.
A trend I’m excited about: content strategy becoming a standard part of conversation design teams! I work with conversational tech, and for the last decade, I’ve seen most early-stage teams ignore content strategy and information architecture. Any conversational bot is made of content, so of course these perspectives are necessary—and their omission is a root cause for bad bots. A lot of our core conversation design problems can be improved or solved with content strategy frameworks and methods.
I also see companies awakening to the need for content strategy and information architecture in conversational products. (Confab has been ahead of that curve—when I first attended in 2019, there were already sessions on chat and voice content!) As companies pull in their time-tested UX writers and content strategists, we can all continue to advocate for better bots that serve up useful, usable content. That's the only way we'll get out of this rut of mediocre conversational products.
Looking internally to our organizations, it’s important to keep a pulse on the day-to-day work of content design and content operations—to help uncover trends and patterns that are unique to our situations.
Looking externally from our organizations, it’s important to stay tightly connected with one another in the global UX and Content communities—to help discover insights and perspectives that we may want (or need!) to adopt to stay relevant.
For all these reasons, I’d wager the biggest risk for us content folks is burnout. We’re needing to work harder than ever on taking small steps towards big ideas—finding (and celebrating) quick wins where we can and getting comfortable with backlogging what’s important but not urgent.
Content-first and content-led projects will continue to gain steam. Instead of using a default model, where every project is led by, say, a UX designer, I think we’re going to see more content designers and content strategists driving the work through a content lens. As the connective tissue between different disciplines, we’re perfectly suited to take the lead.
I hope to see organizations taking smaller bites in improving their content rather than waiting for large organizational changes or brand shifts to trigger it. Small changes and smaller steps can still make big improvements.
Q: What skills do content strategists, content designers, and their teams need to adopt in 2023 to stay ahead of the curve?
The most impactful content design talk I saw in 2022 was Samuel Marc speaking at Button about ethics in UX writing for robotics. What I took away from his incredible talk was that content designers and UX writers are literally writing the conversations of the future. We are paving the path for AI, robotics, interactions with machines, and more. Are we going to write an inclusive, ethical, and accessible future? I hope so.
I would say that staying ahead of the curve is less about learning how to write for the new technologies and more about planting an ethical writing flag in these new spaces. If we all make that intentional commitment, we’ll usher in a better future.
Strategy skills. Seriously. In a world rife with U-turns, change and challenge, we need to be able to build solid, efficient ways of working.
Move fast and break things is so 2022. Let’s hone into moving strategically and landing things. The answer to doing more in a tough climate isn’t writing faster, it’s being clear on our focus and defining smart approaches that help teams thrive and unlock value.
We’ve spoken a lot about “beyond the words” but that goes “beyond the Figma” too. There’s so much more to content designers’ skill sets than UI writing (albeit important), and we need to own that, embrace it, and shout about it.
I think it’s about shifting the question from “What we can produce and how fast?” to “What value can we unlock, and what’s the smartest way to do it?” Sure, that might include some great button copy, but it might be auditing what we’ve got, working out which copy performs best, and defining clear patterns for button copy that are embedded within our components.
Content designers are natural complexity unpackers, deep thinkers, and problem unpickers. So, I actually think it’s less about new skills and more about fully embracing the ones you have.
Oh, and accessibility and inclusivity of course. There’s a wild misconception that accessibility is all color contrast and code, but so much of it is reliant on content (alt text, captions, screen order, and so much more). This can give content designers such an important edge, and it’s critical to making sure experiences, products, and services don’t exclude.
One piece of content that really stuck with me last year was UX Content Collective's podcast episode on layoffs. We've seen many big-name companies lay off huge swaths of content designers in 2022, and the uncertain economic climate in 2023 is likely to result in further layoffs that hit our discipline hard.
In the episode, Patrick talks about how many content designers become laser-focused on the content itself but not on its impact. Crafting content that checks all the usability boxes on paper is great, but it's not the only job requirement. To stay ahead of the curve, you have to know how your work aligns with what your company really cares about and consistently show and actively find more ways to prove that value.
Content strategists and content designers need to focus on democratizing our work—on making it accessible, focusing on results, and helping promote the idea that most of what we do can be done by anyone. The role of a content strategist is one of clarification and organization—both of communication and people. The more people we get on board, the more likely our work will live on.
For content design teams and UX writers, familiarity with emerging technologies, writing for them, and learning how we could leverage AI tools will help them stay ahead of the curve.
What’s important is not just understanding how we can better utilize these AI tools in our work but also how we transform the landscape by combining human empathy with artificial intelligence, collaboration and brainstorming with code-driven results to create awesome user experiences.
A skill every content strategist can benefit from is knowing how to use search data to inform product design and interface copy. When budgets are tight, search data is also one of the most affordable user research tools around.
Contrary to popular belief, search data isn’t just for SEO or web copy. It’s a gold mine of human psychology, a wishlist of unmet wants, needs, and priorities that can help make products better—and a quick way to learn how real people describe things that can shape everything from IA labels to microcopy.
In the past, we’ve spent oodles of time educating others about what we do. Content strategists and content design teams need a deep understanding of the different roles and specializations contributing to a project or body of work. We should actively learn about our engineering and dev partners, understand our researchers, and seek out perspectives from our leaders. Having a deeper understanding of multiple perspectives not only helps us create (write, test, edit, organize, manage, maintain) better content; it positions us to successfully lead projects and larger bodies of work within our organizations.
This year, content folks should start investing time in learning how the business side of their company works. We need to understand not only the value of our work as a discipline but how that plugs into the bigger picture of the company as a whole. That’s how we go beyond the conversation of “what’s the value of content,” and shift towards “this is the impact that content is having in the organization.”
What curve? Many Fortune 500 companies still can’t produce an actually-usable web-based form to save their lives. Read widely, strengthen your writing muscles, and stay user-centered. You’ll be fine.
We’ll wrap up with a quick prediction from ChatGPT. (Sorry, we had to.)
Our prompt: How will content design, UX writing, and content strategy evolve as a field in 2023?
ChatGPT’s response: It’s difficult to predict exactly how the field of content design, UX writing, and content strategy will evolve over the next few years, as it is likely to be influenced by a wide range of factors, including technological advances, shifts in user behavior and preferences, and the emergence of new best practices. However, there are a few trends that are likely to shape the field in the coming years:
- Increased focus on user-centered design: As more and more companies recognize the importance of delivering a seamless and enjoyable user experience, there will likely be a greater emphasis on user-centered design principles in the field of content design and UX writing.
- Continued growth of conversational interfaces: The use of conversational interfaces, such as chatbots and voice assistants, is expected to continue to grow in popularity. As a result, content strategists and UX writers will need to be skilled in crafting compelling and effective messaging for these types of interfaces.
- The rise of AI and machine learning: Artificial intelligence and machine learning are expected to play an increasingly important role. For example, AI-powered tools may be used to optimize website content or to generate personalized messaging for users.
- Greater emphasis on accessibility: There is likely to be an increased focus on making websites and digital products accessible to users with disabilities. This will involve designing and writing content in a way that is accessible to users with a wide range of abilities and needs.
Well, there you have it. Only time will tell what 2023 will bring. Until then, we’ll be cheering you (and your whole team) on at Confab in Minneapolis this May, Button in Portland this October, and every day in between. We can’t wait to see what you dream up.
What do you think?
We’d love to hear your 2023 predictions—and what you’re prioritizing in your role and with your team this year. Talk to us on LinkedIn.