How to build a career in content design

Content design careers are on the rise

Content design is a discipline that’s in demand among Australian tech companies and government agencies. In 2022, content design roles took the number 8 spot on LinkedIn’s Jobs on the Rise in Australia.

With more than 2,500 content design-related jobs in Australia but no clear pathway into content design, you might be asking how to take your first step.

The current state of content design

Content strategy, marketing and writing have been around since the 19th century. However, the discipline of content design has only emerged within the last 9 years.

Ever since content design emerged, writers have been learning the new craft, changing their job titles, and educating themselves on what it means to be a content designer.

It’s been a challenging yet rewarding experience for content designers who have had to edge their way into design teams. But now, content designers are being considered as part of multidisciplinary teams and even hold leadership positions. For inspiration, check out the Founder of Content Design London, Sarah Winters and the Director of Content Design at Bumble, Candi Williams.

In February 2023, a Content Design and UX Writing Survey ran a health check on the state of content design. It found that content designers now participate in big product launches, improving operations and the earlier design stages.

“[Content design wins over the past year] Gaining a larger seat at the design table. Convincing designers that I can also design and contribute at earlier stages in the design.”

— Senior UX writer, USA

Data from a 2023 Content Design Salary and Industry Survey also points to the industry aligning on what it means to be a content designer. The title content designer is now more popular than UX writer or content strategist. The survey found that 47% of respondents with writing and research skills now refer to themselves as ‘content designers’.

Experience and salary expectations

Most content designers have 10+ years of experience in a related writing or design discipline.

Because of a content designer’s background and education, the average annual salary for this role sits between AU$100 and $140K. In Australia, some content designers also reported receiving an average bonus of $11K in addition to their annual salary.

Graph of the average annual content design salary in Australia. Junior (less than 1 year) 100K, senior (4 to 6 years) 120K, principal (7 to 10 years) 140K.

The skills you need to sharpen

At this stage, no formal degrees will launch your career in content design. However, there are many skills you can leverage from other degrees and short courses that will lead you on the right path.

When you speak to a content designer, they might tell you they started with a communications degree in journalism, marketing or digital media. From there, they may have transitioned into content design, taking short courses in UX writing, research and design thinking. While gaining a professional communications degree takes years, it only takes months to upskill in content design.

If you come from a more traditional writing role, there are 2 primary skills you’ll need to develop: UX writing and research.

UX writing

UX writing is the art of writing microcopy. It focuses on the importance of short, concise and simple words that all users can understand.

Microcopy is used in digital products to guide a user through a series of tasks intentionally. Microcopy could be the call-to-action text within a button, the label text of a form field or an error message that tells the user how to resolve a problem.

“UX writing, in particular, is an essential part of the design process because it can dramatically improve user engagement concerning digital products.”

— Why small words matter: the importance of microcopy UX, Toptal

The 7 principles of UX writing are:

  1. Usable.
  2. Helpful.
  3. Accessible.
  4. Clear.
  5. Appropriate.
  6. Seamless.
  7. Branded.

Familiarise yourself with how to apply these principles to your writing. Practice writing instructional copy that educates and explains how to complete a task, like filling out an online form. With these principles, your writing moves from selling and marketing products to guiding and supporting the user experience.

UX research

UX research involves uncovering user behaviour, motivations, and needs through observation, data collection and analysis.

In content design, UX research informs content decisions so that every word is intentional and based on user data.

The UX research process involves:

  • defining objectives
  • identifying assumptions
  • exploring applicable research methods
  • conducting research
  • synthesising and analysing results
  • surfacing insights and recommendations.

If you work alongside a UX researcher, ask to observe their research to gain experience in their research methods and techniques.

Once you get familiar with UX research, start thinking of ways you could conduct research to understand a user’s language. When you use data to inform your content, you stop assuming that you know what your user needs and you start making educated decisions.

The importance of mindset

Content designers are passionate about problem-solving and achieving the best user outcomes. It’s not just the hard skills of UX writing and research that make a content designer, but also the soft skills like empathy.

Empathy is one of the most vital skills a content designer can have. Content designers use empathy to form connections with their users, ensuring their needs are met throughout the entire user experience.

“Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection.”

— Dr. Brené Brown

By injecting empathy into design, you bring people together and make them feel represented in products and services. To design with empathy, a content designer will consider how each word resonates with a user. They will undertake research and base decision-making on the insights gained through speaking with real people and not just rely on vanity metrics.

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Schedule your first 1:1 coaching with one of our content design specialists. Use the time to discuss where you’re at and where you want to go. We’ll help pave a pathway to success.

A content designer’s place in a multidisciplinary team

Being a collaborative team member is part of being a content designer. The siloed approach of write, review and publish has been replaced with the design process. Content designers use the double-diamond framework that encourages collaboration and design thinking.

The double diamond framework has 6 steps:

  1. Empathise.
  2. Define.
  3. Ideate.
  4. Prototype.
  5. Test.
  6. Implement.

Content design delivers the most value when incorporated into the entire design process. Working with other disciplines like product management, product design, and engineering is essential to creating user-centric products and services.

In the Content Design Salary and Industry Survey, content designers revealed that their top collaborators are:

  • product designers
  • product managers
  • UX researchers
  • front-end web developers.

This finding from the survey shows that content designers work less in silos and increasingly in multidisciplinary teams.

Expanding your community

Whether you’re expanding your team within an organisation or freelancing and wanting to grow your business, establishing a content design community will prove highly valuable. Being part of a content design community within your workplace or the industry will help keep your skills sharp and support life-long learning.

Leveraging other content designers for feedback, discussions and content critiques is also a great way to gain knowledge from other people’s perspectives. You can participate in workshops and discussions with other disciplines to learn from different specialties.

Get expert career advice

Want to learn more about advancing your career in content design? Our content design coaches can give you expert advice.

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