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Learn to Write Better Content from Content Strategist Stephanie Hay


Gymnasium academic director Jeremy Osborn recently interviewed Capital One’s content strategy lead, Stephanie Hay, about trends and challenges in writing for the web.

Stephanie’s the instructor of our new Gymnasium course, Writing for Web and Mobile. It’s perfect for copy editors, marketers, web designers and content strategists looking to create more compelling and engaging content for their users.

Jeremy: So, you do a lot of public speaking on the subject of content strategy. What is the number-one biggest challenge people have in web content creation?

Stephanie: The biggest challenge is convincing people they can start creating lean, engaging content today. They think they have to sell the idea first. Or that people in their company won't let them. I always recommend people start redesigning the content in places teams typically overlook—like terms and conditions language, error messages, or FAQ pages—and interject more human, personal, and natural language there. Just dig in and do the work, then show the work to people. You'll be amazed how little time and energy it takes to start the ball rolling by redesigning those micro-moments to be truly delightful; people will want that everywhere.

Jeremy: You've talked on this subject for many years. What has changed over time and what stays the same?

Stephanie: What's changed is the acceptance of content's role in designing compelling experiences that truly connect with people. Companies who embrace this are forging new territory in human-centered design by speaking the right language to the right person–every time–and in a beautifully nuanced way. What hasn't changed (and won't!) is human nature to want to structure and categorize content immediately, or have an entire architecture designed before ever looking at what the content actually is, or figuring out what language the customer is using. Letting go of that structure-first mentality to fully immerse yourself in the story you're trying to tell (and that customers want to read), and then identifying the patterns and structures that naturally emerge... well, that takes patience and a real commitment to iteration. Not everyone feels comfortable with that level of entrepreneurial design.

Jeremy: Can you explain how this model helps the other members of a web/mobile team (designers and developers in particular)?

Stephanie: Designers love designing with real content because they have a real-world scenario to work from. They can then bring it to life in whatever way works best visually, interactively, or otherwise. They can really sing. Similarly, developers can design better systems and experiences—and their end-products reflect the integrity of everyone's shared vision—when they're working with real-world content right from the get-go. A couple manifestations here include CMS structures with high utilization and human language error messages.

Jeremy: When a high-level stakeholder (such as a CEO) comes in late to a project and asks for dramatic changes (known as a "swoop and poop"), how do you handle such situations?

Stephanie: Involve the CEO from Day 1. Find ways. Send emails. Co-create together throughout the process rather than create in a black box and ask for approval. That's the best—and most fun—way to truly collaborate and get the greatest products to market fastest because they've been designed by cross-functional, diverse teams.

Jeremy: Someone has taken your class and is a total convert to this model. Do you have some suggestions on ways to get other people on board?

Stephanie: When you jump in with a LET'S DO IT RIGHT NOW attitude and do the work, it invites others into that energy and momentum. Then when you show what "better" looks like, other people can't help but get onboard.

Have we piqued your interest? Join us live, online on April 27th at 2 pm ET for Designing for Understanding: Creating Meaningful Interactions for Web & Mobile, featuring Stephanie and John Hodgins of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.


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