Jody Allard is a content design leader whose notable work includes managing the content teams of Meta, Microsoft and Pinterest. She has vast experience in design and execution of content strategy across channels and a strong editorial background in journalism, B2B marketing, technical editing and social media.
It was the year 2020 when the internet saw the word "content design“ popping everywhere around with huge brands such as Facebook and Shopify, announcing to move from content strategy to content design.
But what does content design really mean and how does it differ from other content-related roles?
To learn more about this topic, we speak to Jody Allard, a former content design leader at Meta, Microsoft and Pinterest.
In this interview, Jody shares her insights on content design, the crucial role it plays in the success of big companies and the top skills needed to become a successful content designer in 2023.
Spotlight: What is Content Design and how does it differ from other content roles?
Jody Allard: I like to describe content design as designing information experiences. You'll notice that I don't use the words "writing" or "content" in my definition of content design and that's intentional. All too often, content designers are viewed as copywriters rather than designers whose medium is information. Information experiences is a broad term that encapsulates the full spectrum of what we do: information architecture, design systems and patterns, user journeys and intent, and so much more. As content designers, it's our job to deeply understand our users so we can present information at the right time in the right way to help them easily complete their goals.
You’ve been fortunate to lead the content teams of Microsoft, Meta and Pinterest. How crucial is Content Design to the success of these big companies and how are they optimizing it?
I've been blessed to work with some amazing people in my career. I think Meta is the best example of how content design can function as a full-fledged design discipline. When I was there, content design was about 500 people and our goal was a 1:3 ratio with product design, although we rarely achieved it.
What made Meta content design so successful was a couple of things:
- An absolute willingness and even encouragement to focus our efforts tightly in order to have the most impact
- An understanding of the need to embed content designers in the design process from the get-go
- A performance framework that valued work on content design as a discipline, not just product work
This enabled content designers to ruthlessly prioritize and put their time where it had the biggest ROI and also ensured that content designers were contributing to the growth and development of the discipline itself as well. While Meta has done this the most effectively, any company can employ those principles and it's something I've taken with me no matter where I work.
Can you share some career tips with fellow content designers looking to follow a similar path?
Frankly, my career has taken a pretty circuitous path. I've done everything from journalism to marketing to content design. I often talk to content designers with similar backgrounds who are worried that their breadth of experience is a downside. I think it's the opposite: some of the best content designers I've worked with have had completely unique and nontraditional paths too. There's no one path to content design and it's important not to let that idea hold you back.
Ultimately, there are a few things that I think drive success as a content designer. First, the ability to identify where you can have the most impact. Early in your career, your manager can help you with that. But as you grow, it is critical to be able to do that yourself. What's the opportunity? How can you take advantage of it in a way that has a measurable business impact? Everyone can write, but how you find opportunities and create impact is what will set you apart and the reality is that it requires saying no constantly to make room for the yes. Great content designers prioritize their work constantly.
Also, seizing opportunity proactively is critical. No one is going to tell you what to do as you progress in your career, especially at companies like Meta or Microsoft. You're the expert on your team, tell us what you can do to drive results.
What are some of the biggest challenges in your current role as the lead content designer?
As a manager, the challenges tend to be the same: lack of resourcing and understanding of the discipline cross-functionally. Pinterest is a much less mature content design discipline so there I also had the challenge of trying to build the house as we were building the foundation. But following the same formula of prioritization plus discipline advocacy plus focusing on the growth of the discipline that I learned at Meta served me and my team well.
You are an advocate for people with disabilities. What are ways businesses can cater their content to this audience segment?
Unfortunately, inclusion and accessibility are often considered a nice-to-have rather than a necessity. Considering that one in four people in the United States will develop a disability in their lifetime, that approach is flawed.
When we design with inclusion and accessibility in mind, we create experiences that meet the needs of all of our users rather than a chosen few. I think most companies want to do the right thing but it's viewed as time and cost prohibitive.
However, there are lightweight ways to design more inclusive products without hiring tons of new people. For example, at Meta, I found a disability product review board, which was a group of people with disabilities who reviewed products and comms to provide input before they launched. And at Meta, I partnered with all of the ERGs to create an inclusive terminology guide for the company. Both of these were volunteer efforts that had a big impact. If a broad inclusive design program is out of reach at your company, look for ways to leverage the lived experiences and talents of people you work with to better meet the needs of the disabled and other marginalized people.
What can content designers do to help make digital content more usable and accessible?
Content designers are often the best-suited people to work on projects like inclusive terminology. For example, it was content design at Pinterest that launched the company-wide inclusive terminology project. Content design can partner with ERGs and accessibility experts to create guidance that can be implemented across the company.
Lastly, what are the top skills needed for a content designer in 2023?
When I hire, I look for people who go beyond the content to impact product strategy. They look for ways to understand the needs of their users by leveraging research and metrics. When there isn't particularly helpful research or data, they find lightweight, scrappy ways to do their own. They think holistically about the user experience and how users will interact with the information they present. They think strategically about the content they write and look for ways to scale their work. And, most importantly, they experiment and iterate and continuously look for ways to improve their impact.
Thank you for your time, Jody Allard and best of luck!
Keep up with Jody on LinkedIn and read about other successful businesses here.