Content design has a nomenclature problem

Content design is answering a user need in the best way for the user to consume it.Sarah Winters

Das nomenclature problem

As of this writing, the discipline of content design has a nomenclature problem. A delicious irony for a discipline populated by language experts.

Content design was originally known as content strategy” but this overlapped with concept of marketing content strategy. Some of us tacked a UX to the front, UX Content Strategy, but it was still a little unclear.

The term UX writing” was en vogue for a while. From a content design standpoint, this is an effective term. Writing” describes the job and UX helps people know what kind of writer you are. Modifier + noun is quite elegant. The term plays well with Search Engine Optimization (SEO). It’s how I describe my job to people who don’t work in tech.

Within the virtual hallways of this industry however, the term UX writing” does not capture the full scope of the role. Because it’s more than writing.

Design hat, writing gloves

Sarah Winters coined the term content design” which better conveys the spirit of this work: you’re wearing a design hat while wearing writing gloves, not the other way around. You’re thinking about language from a design point of view.

In a corporate realpolitik sense, the term content design” enables the perception of role parity with UX design” and helps convey to folks in engineering and product management where content fits into the UX design process.

That said, for an average schmo content design” is less clear. It’s a pair of squat, gelid nouns, which is how jargon is formed. Content” is a highly nebulous term (John Perry Barlow’s dissection of this concept is a worthy read), and can feel as opaque as user experience.” Besides isn’t the User Experience” of a product its content?” In my humble opinion both the people writing the words and the people drawing the shapes are user experience designers.

Content design might be what we do, but UX writing” is easier to grasp. And UX designer” is closest to the truth, though we seem to lack the collective courage to say so in public.

Anyway… all these nuances are what make this work deeply interesting and I believe, valuable to the design of great experiences.

You do it to yourself, you do

People smarter than I have tried to articulate differences between these all these terms. To me: content strategy equals UX writing equals content design. The goal is the same: improve an experience via the organization (i.e., design) of language. Design hat, language gloves.

So why all this confusion?

Some psychologists (shout out to my therapist) say that a weakness is really just a strength that’s working overtime. That could be at work here. Any other discipline might have settled on wordsmith” and never thought about it again.

But the fact that we think tirelessly about language and its impact on humans really is emblematic of everything we do. The discipline has a nomenclature problem because nomenclature problems are our collective obsession.

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