Why collaboration is so important in content design
This post is by Anne Walker, Senior Content Designer at Disclosure Scotland.
I work in Disclosure Scotland (DS), a Scottish Government agency that protects children and adults who can’t safeguard themselves.
DS is transforming how it delivers its services. Undertaking digital transformation means understanding how things work across a business. Content designers can only do this if we build and maintain positive working relationships with colleagues in other professions.
Content design is as much about collaborating with our colleagues as it is about delivering content. In fact, I spend much more time working with colleagues than I do in writing or managing content.
I’ve found that working together is essential to:
Make services more effective
We’ve created a new online application for basic disclosure. We’ve gone from having everything on one screen (for our existing online application) to a more usable Government Digital Service (GDS) form structure.
Content design has worked extremely closely with user experience (UX) – also known as interaction design – and user research to create prototypes and test them with users.
Working with business analysis, service design, developers and testers within an Agile environment has meant we’ve been able to iterate the design until it works.
Because the application launches from mygov.scot, we’re using mygov.scot design, collaborating with the product and content teams at mygov.scot. We’ve also had to create some new designs which we can share with Scottish Government and other agencies.
To make sure we continually improve our services, we also interrogate the analytics for the online service so we can find out where users might be getting stuck on their journey. That’s where our performance analysts come in.
With user research monitoring feedback for our online service, and performance analysis also providing quantitative data, content design gets a great insight into any misunderstandings users may have.
We’ve also had great support from policy colleagues who help guide and refine the content, and our service team who can feedback any problems users have with the content or functionality.
As a government agency, in order to be able to offer a digital service we had to go through the Digital First Service Standard. Content design was a key part of understanding and delivering a service that met this standard. The core team for our assessment also included a user researcher, product owner, technical architect and business change colleagues.
The standard’s 22 criteria not only ensure a robust initial service to users, but also allows for continuous improvement and sustainability throughout the service’s life.
As well as our online application continuously improving, we ensure that the DS content on mygov.scot does the same. Content design works in a proactive and reactive way with fact checkers (subject matter experts) to make sure content is kept up-to-date, relevant and accurate, and it continues to meet users’ needs.
Working in Transformation on an online service, looking at the end-to-end process, has given me an insight into how DS communicates with its users/customers, and how different teams have historically had different approaches.
Working with service design and support officers, we’re designing a more streamlined and consistent approach to our letters and emails to customers.
With policy, user experience and business analysis, we’ve worked to improve our certificates and inserts so that they’re more accessible in terms of design and terminology.
With engagement and user research, we’re also looking at how we can best communicate some complex recruitment issues with employers.
Our users have contact with the organisation through various channels – on the phone, in written communication, and through social media. So it’s not just digital content we have to look at as content designers.
To try to enshrine the principle of consistency, I’ve been working on a style guide with our communications and engagement teams to ensure we take a consistent approach and employ best practice across all channels. We can draw on evidence from user research via GDS to improve our tone and clarity to our users, at whichever point they use our service.
Content design has a further role to play in helping the organisation find a way to work together routinely at all stages of producing content which is intended for any channel. Our content strategy must include all complementary disciplines and be integral to how the organisation communicates with its users.
Build strong communities
You may have noticed the frequent use of ‘we’. There are lots of different ‘we’s in a content designer’s working life.
I’ve had the good fortune to work with the content team at mygov.scot. They’ve given me invaluable and frequent advice, peer reviews, and content design input into usability testing. Their blogs and resources are helpful, and their meet-ups are informative and supportive, especially if you’re the only content designer working in an organisation.
I’ve also gained content design (and other) insights from:
- other public sector content designers in Scotland
- content designers at the Disclosure & Service (DBS), our equivalent agency for England and Wales, who shared their experiences of launching a similar service at the same time
- GDS content expertise via designers, online content communities, and all the resources on GOV.UK and elsewhere
- government user research, accessibility, service design and international design communities
- participating in meet-ups across different design disciplines and conferences like ConCon
- working with user researchers at DS and Scottish Government, and professionals across the public sector, to look at appropriate ways to ask about sex and/or gender
- other designers from outside the UK, like the design team from the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Organization (NAV)
Sharing our expertise, not just within our own organisations, but with others in the field, means we can help improve services everywhere.
Benefits of collaboration
Advocating for the user, as a content designer, makes you look with a critical eye at a service. You ask questions and you find the right person to help you answer them.
Working with so many people, you learn about different approaches, gain greater understanding, and see the wider picture. It means you often bring people together to solve problems in a consistent and user-focussed way.
As we design new online services for Disclosure Scotland, we’ll continue and develop this collaborate approach. Everyone in government has a responsibility to learn from one other, and share resources across disciplines and borders.
We strive for excellence in all we do, and aim to make sure that services are safe, successful, user-focussed and cost-effective for the citizens of Scotland. But we can only achieve this by working together.