Plenary session: How to maximize the impact of content design

A presentation at DesignOps Summit 2020 by Jonathon Colman

Most content design leaders stretch their teams to cover many products at once, or sometimes 5-10 or more. This unintentionally causes the team to constantly switch context, drive less product impact, lag in their career development, earn less pay, and ultimately burn out and leave, only to repeat the cycle elsewhere.

This is normal… but it shouldn’t be.

I’ll show you how we redesigned content design to increase people’s focus and depth of work, multiply their product and business impact, and even accelerate their growth and compensation—all by working on just one product at a time.



The following resources were mentioned during the presentation or are useful additional information.

  • What is content design?

    The term “content design” was defined by Sarah Richards at the UK Government Digital Service (GDS). Between 2010 and 2014, Sarah and her team invented the discipline of content design by applying new techniques to their work.

  • Sketchnotes of this talk

    The talented illustrator and customer experience design consultant MJ Broadbent created these sketchnotes that highlight the key points of this talk. You can see more of her work at

  • Content Design by Sarah Richards

    In this book, Sarah Richards explains what “content design” really means, and tells you how to put those techniques into your organisation and your web project. This book is short, lively and practical. Using real-world examples and imagined examples, it takes the reader through the content design process one step at a time, explaining everything along the way.

  • Facebook Newsroom: A New, Optional Way to Share and Discover Music, TV and Movies

    “Today, we’re making those conversations quicker and easier by introducing a new way to share and discover music, TV and movies.”

  • Amy Thibodeau

    Amy is the Chief Design Officer at Gusto, a former UX director at Shopify, and we used to work as content strategists at Facebook. In this talk, I reference her metaphor of how content strategists sometime “dust” the content rather than actually solve the problem.

  • Facebook: “Move fast and break things”

    This profile of Mark Zuckerberg includes a quote that’s often cited as part of the foundation for Facebook’s “Move fast and break things” motto: “Unless you are breaking stuff, you are not moving fast enough.”

  • Org Design for Design Orgs by Peter Merholz and Kristin Skinner

    This practical guide provides guidelines for creating and leading design teams within your organization, and explores ways to use design as part of broader strategic planning.

  • DesignOps Handbook

    This is the source of Dave Malouf’s quote “DesignOps is everything that supports high quality crafts, methods, and processes.”

    Authors: Dave Malouf, Meredith Black, Collin Whitehead, Kate Battles, and Gregg Bernstein (editor).

  • The Elements of User Experience by Jesse James Garrett

    This book introduces one of the best-known conceptual models in all of experience design: the five planes of UX. I reference this when talking about “full-stack content design.”

  • The “double diamond” model of the design process

    “The Double Diamond is a visual representation of the design and innovation process. It’s a simple way to describe the steps taken in any design and innovation project, irrespective of methods and tools used.”

  • Product and content designer levels at Intercom

    The complete list of competencies, expectations, and career paths for designers at Intercom, including both product and content designers. Note that the expectations and career paths are almost exactly the same for both disciplines. Funny thing, that, considering what a strong distinction most organizations make between the two roles.


    The home of Intercom’s product design team. Includes our design process, principles, levels & career paths, how designers have product impact, and more resources that are all licensed for re-use through Creative Commons.

  • UX writer salary survey

    In August of 2019, the UX Writing Collective surveyed the industry to learn about compensation. Among other insights, they found that “74% respondents as identified as female, or ‘mostly female’” (n=208).

  • “The Discipline of Content Strategy” by Kristina Halvorson

    Kristina Halvorson’s 2008 article in A List Apart codified and popularized the practice of content strategy for the web.

  • Business Insider: Intercom laid off 39 employees and is relocating 47 roles to Dublin

    “The $1.28 billion customer messaging platform Intercom announced to employees Wednesday that it’s letting go of 39 people globally and relocating some roles to Ireland. The layoffs impacted about 6% of its 649 total employees amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.”

  • Presentation: How to Design a World-Class Content Design Team

    This was the alpha-version prototype for the talk you’re looking at right now. It was given at the Sydney Content Strategy Meetup in August of 2019.

  • DesignOps Summit 2020

    DesignOps Summit 2020 is a Rosenfeld Media virtual conference. We live—and work—in difficult, punishing times, and designers need more support than ever before. That’s why resilience is our theme for DesignOps 2020. We’ll explore how individual DesignOps practitioners, teams, and organizations harness resilience to adapt, survive, and thrive.

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