Content Design vs. Content Strategy: Know the Difference

Trying to understand content design vs. content strategy after a confusing look through job boards? You’re not alone. Here you’ll find the key differences between the two as outlined by someone who has actually worked in both roles.

Companies often interchange and merge these two phrases, but they’re actually different. You only need to look through LinkedIn or Indeed to find a confusing range of similar-sounding openings, including:

  • Content Designer
  • UX Content Designer
  • Content Strategist
  • UX Content Strategist
  • UX Content Writer

Some of those roles are the same function with different names, yet some are completely different. That’s due to the hiring manager and HR reps not understanding the difference. I’ll explain the difference in this article.

Let’s get some early context out of the way: product-focused companies often refer to “content” as any word that exists on a web page or a mobile app, but that’s not really how the rest of the world refers to it.

“Content” has actually become synonymous with the digital marketing industry since at least 2010, if not earlier—not so much UX.

That’s part of the reason why people don’t understand what a content designer is. Understandably, they’ll often get these two roles mixed up.

The last bit of context is that overlapping responsibilities do exist between content designers and content strategists, but these roles generally live in different worlds—one in UX, the other in marketing.

 

Content Design is a UX Discipline

First and foremost, content design is a part of the User Experience discipline (UX for short). There are some UX teams that straddle both product and marketing (I worked in one at Shopify), but UX tends to focus on digital products much more than marketing.

UX teams can still create marketing materials, of course, but the north star for UX is to champion user needs for a better product or page—not just to create leads.

Here’s how you can identify content design roles:

  • They live in UX teams, not marketing teams
  • They work with product designers most often
  • They do a lot of “UX writing”
  • They help build user flows
  • They champion the user above marketing and sales KPIs
  • They take responsibility for micro copy as well as the overall user journey
  • It focuses on the bottom of the business funnel, where product adoption occurs
  • They use design tools like Figma

Content design also encompasses UX writing. It requires serious practice with your economy of words, conveying different ideas and meaning into small packages delivered tactically—like a tool tip when you sign up for a new product.

Some companies use the term “UX content strategist” to refer to content design roles, but I’ve found that’s usually just a misnomer. Sometimes “UX content strategists” are in charge of maintaining knowledge base content that supports product acquisition and retention, but in mature organizations that responsibility is likely to fall outside of a content designer’s direct responsibilities.

 

Content Strategy is a Marketing Discipline

I used to work as a content writer and content strategist in my early career, so I’m attuned to the differences between strategists and designers.

Putting aside title misnomers, content strategists differ pretty drastically from content designers. They have different goals and workflows, even both roles rely on similar fundamental writing skills.

“Content strategy” most often refers to a marketing role that creates an action plan to acquire and convert leads. This can be integrated with the work content designers perform, but it’s fundamentally different work altogether.

Content strategists plan and manage content marketing strategies to acquire leads. That’s substantially different from content designers, who create and design products (and sometimes web pages).

Here’s how to identify content strategy roles in the wild:

  • They live in marketing teams
  • They set marketing and sales KPIs
  • They maintain content marketing calendars
  • They manage freelancers or in-house writers
  • They identify lead generation opportunities
  • They focus on the top and middle of the business funnel, where marketing occurs
  • They create production workflows to reuse marketing content
  • They assist with sales collateral
  • They focus on promoting content for brand awareness, SEO, and lead generation
  • They commission blogs, social posts, podcasts, and video content

Content strategists have different goals, tools, and measures of success. That’s one of the key differences between content design vs. content strategy. You’re likely to find a content strategist managing a content calendar, not improving product micro copy in Figma.

 

Where Do Content Design and Strategy Overlap?

Having said everything above, there are areas of overlap between the two roles—that’s part of how I transitioned from content marketing to content design, after all.

Both roles take on some shared high-level responsibilities. For example, you’ll often see both roles produce things like:

  • Flow charts for user journeys
  • Brand guidelines for voice, tone, and messaging
  • Information architecture
  • Positioning statements
  • Product page copy

They both rely on similar writing skills and emotional intelligence, but they apply those skills in different scenarios. Content strategists focus on managing schedule, deliverables, freelancers, as well as distributing content to generate leads.

On the other hand, content designers craft products (and closely related experiences) to make the smoothest, most compelling experience possible.

People in both roles tend to share high-functioning writing skills in common, and they both engage in elements of high-level strategy. Yet their goals, tools, and functions are substantially different.

 

I hope that was helpful! Remember to think carefully about the responsibilities of content design vs. content strategy before hiring for a role or applying to one. Make sure you understand if you’re looking for a UX professional or a marketer, and note the points of overlap to make sure you’re finding a match for the kind of role you have in mind.

Andrew Webb

Andrew Webb

Andrew is a content designer, UX writer, and strategist who used to be a content marketer and SEO specialist in his early career. He also started the Employed Historian, both a blog and a podcast.

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