Content Design

A year of content design at Sage

After a year of change with content design at Sage, I wanted to review how things have gone.

The team keeps growing

At the start of the year we were a team pulling together into a new organisational structure. Each of us had been at Sage, largely as technical writers, for many years. In January, we were forged together into a new content design unit responsible for many products.

As we reach the end of the year, our team has expanded. We’ve gone from a team of 7 to a team of 13. I’ve been at Sage for 23 years and never seen so much commitment to content.

We began this recruitment in August and it feels different to when I last recruited two years ago. Then, I had 2 content marketers and 2 technical writers apply for 1 content design position. It felt challenging to get across what we were trying to accomplish with content design at Sage. In hindsight, if we’d have advertised for UX writing candidates, we’d have done a lot better.

Now, we’re getting candidates with the right skills, and although experience is limited, the quality of work produced for interview tasks was superb. Candidates were also younger and their confidence and enthusiasm for content design as a discipline in its own right was evident.

And Sarah Richards was mentioned a lot.

Existing processes are questioned

With a team of 7 who were used to working together, we could get away with muddling through the work. At the start of the year, we were a little unsure of how we should be working with the larger Experience Design organisation at Sage. The larger organisation knew we existed, and would do their best to make sure we were included, but processes were not written down and we were still (sometimes) justifying our position.

As our team grew, so did the Experience Design team. New solution designers and UX designers joined our division at Sage and the process for how we would work together was formalised. Content was where it needed to be, right alongside the solution and UX designers at the start of any new workstream.

Since then, we’ve done our best to keep to this process but it feels that the ratio of content designers to other disciplines may not be quite where it needs to be. For some workstreams, we’re right at the beginning, for others we might get involved when there are designs to review.

This isn’t anyone’s fault. It’s just a question of demonstrating the value of content consistently so it becomes more noticeable when we’re not involved at the start. As the team is growing and we’re able to allocate more people to workstreams, I’m hopeful that we can improve this picture.

Standards are considered part of the global design system

Sage has an updated design system and content is set to play a key part. We’ve had our own internal style guides before of course, and in the first version of the Sage Design System we had a reasonable amount of content to support content designers. But what we’re aiming to do with Sage Design System version 2 is provide true value to content designers globally across Sage.

It’s a big task. We operate in 24 countries and serve millions of customers. But we still want to bring some unity to the experiences we provide. Just this week, we set off with four new workstreams to flesh out the content parts of the Sage Design System.

Content design is in even more demand

There is no shortage of work for content designers at Sage. Our remit includes: UX writing, help topics, help videos, and lots of other things that I’m going to group together as content strategy.

Historically, our remit consisted solely of writing help topics but if we were to through that way now, there would still be too much work for us to do. It seems news is spreading that we have good content designers who can contribute to other products and aspects like our website.

This demand for our team is pushing us to revisit our requests for work process. We’re well past the stage where email is an acceptable way to request our time so we’re trying out a few different things.

We’re making more use of Microsoft Teams with the Support team. Support have a preference to use the same feedback mechanism that we offer to customers on help topics because it’s simple. It’s also messy and requires us to process the feedback so we can easily see what’s come from colleagues and what’s come from customers. Teams allows us to implement the Lists app which gives us a simple change request form. It’s handy for Support as well as they get to see what else has been logged.

Deciding where to focus is difficult

The team has a somewhat fuzzy boundary. There is a list of products that we need to provide content support for, but how much content support each gets is largely down to our discretion. For development teams I imagine it’s a lot easier when deciding what work to do. They have a backlog and the product owner determines the priority. When you’re spinning plates across multiple unrelated projects, having a single product owner to determine priority becomes nonsensical.

We’re working through this but it might be as simple as being very honest and open with each project’s stakeholders as to how much time we’re spending with their projects, and what actual work is being done for them. As projects move on, we will get feedback as to how well we’re doing.

No time to sit still

As we prepare to enter a new calendar year, it’s reassuring to me that content design hasn’t lost any of its impact at Sage. We might not be quite where I’d like us to be as a discipline but tangible progress is being made to bring the rest of the business along with us. It’s still a good time to be in content design.

This article was originally published in ISTC Communicator, Winter 2020.