I never thought of myself as any kind of designer. If you’d asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have said “video game journalist.” With a background in history I never expected to work in the tech industry, either.
Yet now I’ve worked for two high-profile tech companies as a content designer. How did that even happen?
It was the same reason I detoured through the marketing industry in my early career: content.
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Content powers everything
For all the public scoffing at humanities degrees, it turns out that clear writing predicated on clear thinking is actually a timeless skill that just about every company needs in some shape or form.
I love learning, writing, and putting together a “case” for something. I’ve known that since I was in high school. That’s why I gravitated toward content writing so early in my career.
Those skills took me far in content marketing. I wrote many pieces of content for many clients in many industries.
I’ve written in-depth case studies, conversion-oriented product pages, technical troubleshooting pieces, and most things in between, but writing something excellent didn’t do it for me the way it did in college.
What I didn’t realize until three years into my content career was that I also really enjoyed strategy and systems thinking, too.
Marketing didn’t feel like “the one”
Interest in strategy and systems thinking didn’t lead me straight into UX, though. It pulled me toward content strategy, website architecture, and SEO.
As I leaned into discussions and projects about how to deploy content more effectively, I learned that I enjoyed the planning, crafting, and balancing of resources. I enjoyed seeing the problem from a birds-eye view, the way you’d look at a chess board.
That’s how I started doing things like:
- Planning website architecture
- Creating content calendars
- Analyzing competitive search data
Engaging with that high-level work took me further away from frontline marketing activity, and I became more and more aware of how little I actually felt like a marketer.
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In hindsight I know that’s because I’m not a “galvanizer.” I’ve never had the kind of personality that’s comfortable hyping up a product or contest. Honestly, I’m the kind of person who snorts with laughter when toothpaste and dish soap brands try to convince me to follow them on social channels.
That’s when my first real UX opportunity showed up.
My first taste of product UX
Being a practiced writer made me the go-to person for wordsmithing. One day my boss asked me to review the company’s fintech product for clarity. She knew I liked to exercise my editorial eye outside of blog posts and web pages, and she knew I’d be thorough.
The product itself had always been in rough shape, and I had always felt that undermined the marketing work my team had done for it. This was a chance to improve things for everybody at the company.
So I took my first shot at UX writing for a fintech product.
I wasn’t too cognizant of UX at the time, and I’d never seen product designers or UX writers in action before. So even though they just asked me to help with the language, I ended up helping out with the entire flow:
- How to use consistent terminology
- Where interactions could be improved with placement and interaction elements
- Spotting confusing parts in the client journey
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was sinking my teeth into a real-world UX writing challenge—and I was loving it.
Crafting something carefully left me far more fulfilled than producing more blog posts, web pages, or ads. I contributed to something with a critical eye, making use of my editorial inclinations in a new and novel format.
It was also refreshing to analyze something that didn’t involve keyword data.
The success criteria were more rewarding, too. While the company didn’t have any UX professionals to approach product design systematically, the opportunity still let me contribute significant improvements with tangible results based on critical thinking.
Joining the big leagues
I wasn’t actually confident in applying for UX roles at the time, so I started looking for a new place to grow in 2022. That’s when I spotted a content marketing manager role at Shopify. To my surprise I was actually in the running.
I came in at a close second, but instead of turning me away, one of the secondary interviewers—a UX manager—offered me a spot on her team.
Becoming a content designer at Shopify turned out to be the best career move I’d ever made.
That team had a foot in both marketing and UX, occupying the territory where both disciplines overlap. That’s where I gained more exposure to product design, and it pulled me in immediately.
I wanted to move closer to product UX, so I gravitated naturally toward the projects where marketing overlapped with product teams. It was difficult to learn so much about a product and the internal sales protocols all at once, but it was totally worth it.
ALSO READ: What is a UX Content Strategist?
As it happens, my time as a content marketer prepared me pretty well for that role:
- I already knew how the marketing funnel played into product sign-ups.
- Standardizing language between sales, marketing, and product teams came naturally.
- I could integrate conversion and UX thinking where others couldn’t.
- Writing copy and headlines made UX writing a natural step forward.
From there, I started working more closely with product designers on a regular basis, and I’ve never looked back.
Despite the economic downturn, I’m now working as a content designer for Meta, where I get to apply all of my content chops to internal business tools that drive the company’s bottom line.
All of my content skills help me succeed here.
- Improving language and flow for internal tools.
- Tracking down subject matter experts.
- Translating engineer speak into plain language.
- Creating product documentation.
- Establishing mental models for employees to use tools effectively.
And I’ve never looked back.