Watch Free: Content Design 101 with Sarah Richards

Watch one of the most popular sessions from the 2020 OmnichannelX Conference, free.

Sarah Richards, of Content Design London, is the architect behind the content design process, which provides us with a clear and concise roadmap for creating content that fills a need – not just a webpage.

Her session “Content design 101: Resetting the conversation around content” was one of the attendees’ favourites, and is now available to watch for free.

In it, Sarah takes the audience back to the early 2000s, when she worked for the UK government. At the time, the government estimated they had 3,500 websites with approximately 75,000 pages. It was too much information for visitors to sift through, and in many cases contained information that didn’t address the reasons visitors were coming to the website.

Websites served more as a way to push information to the public according to internal departmental motivations, rather than considering the specific questions the public might have, and pulling them to the site with concise answers.

Sarah changed all that. Radically.



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  • What are the three foundational questions you should ask at the start of the content design process?
  • Push or pull marketing – which strategy is more valuable?
  • What is the role of language and sentiment in the design process?

Content Design vs. Content Strategy

In 2010, the Government Digital Service (GDS) was created, and with it, a new approach to how content would be curated and developed. This included the creation of a new job title: Content Design. A Content Designer is not a copywriter, writer, or content strategist. Instead, content designers use data and evidence to give an audience only what they need, and at the time they need it. This could include copywriting or editing, but it is not limited to a singular discipline or skill.

Sarah defines a content strategist as someone who will set the direction of what you’re doing and will define who is doing what. Using real-world examples, she then demonstrates how content designers using research, data, and evidence to pinpoint the pain points along the user journey. These pain points are then opportunities to create relevant content that provides the message, in the right format, through the right channels, to reach the user.

Push or pull marketing – why it matters

Evaluating the difference between push and pull marketing content, Sarah explains that effective content design should pull in the visitor as a response to their direct need. Pushing information out to your audience through “blast publishing” doesn’t meet their needs, and doesn’t provide value.

Understanding the motivation and emotion that a user brings with them to your website allows you to create content that will capture their attention and provide the answers they are seeking, pulling them to your content instead of pushing it on them. In Sarah’s projects, it has meant the difference between 129 daily webpage visits and over a thousand visits a day.

In content design, you are always answering a need, and Sarah reminds the audience that it doesn’t always need to be big, lofty ideas or concepts. It’s important to understand the flow of what is important to the user, and needed by the user, and then putting that information on the channel your user is on. Consider the bias and language your audience brings with them, and how people feel about what you do. This will help you determine the content to create, as well as the channels to use to distribute it.

User stories can fuel your content strategy

Another tool that Sarah describes is mental models. Using mental models helps to identify the bias, language, and sentiment of your audience. Research and visit forums to better understand what people are saying, on what channels, and with how much emotion, so that you can add value to them. Reviewing SEO and forums will tell you the format your audience wants their content in, the language they’re using, and what their priorities are. You can then take this information to create user stories.

User stories, also known as job stories, are created to answer a need, and can be used across the organisation. Beginning with the user’s need, user stories answer the questions “When…”, “I want to…”, “So that I can…”. The generated user stories can then be used by your social media team, your press team, and your digital team, making the message coherent and cohesive across all channels.

Sarah finishes her session by encouraging the audience that content design should start with these foundational questions: What do we want, what do our users want from us, and, what do we want to deliver?  Following it up with solid acceptance criteria to determine when the need is met will provide you with the ability to collect solid evidence that your content design is working efficiently.

About Sarah Richards, Content Design London

Sarah Richards
Sarah Richards
Content Design London

Founder of the content design movement, Sarah pioneered the standards during her 10-year career with the UK government. As head of content design for the Government Digital Service (GDS), Sarah created and implemented the content strategy for the GOV.UK website.