How we destroyed content design

A presentation at SofaConf 2020 in in London, UK 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.

  • Video: “How we destroyed content design”

    Full video of this talk on Vimeo.

  • Sketchnotes of this talk

    The talented illustrator Zsofi Lang created these sketchnotes that highlight the key points of this talk. You can see more of her work at

  • 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.”

  • Jeffrey Zeldman: “Content precedes design…”

    In 2008, Zeldman made the case for a content-first approach to design.

  • 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.”

  • Ella Mei Yon Harris

    By day, Ella works in technology, leading a product design team working on augmented and virtual reality. Ella also writes her family allegory, exploring how memory creates meaning beyond generation and culture.

  • Emmet Connolly

    Emmet’s the senior director of product design at Intercom. He hired me and asked that fateful question: “How would you build a world-class content design team?”

  • The Elements of User Experience by Jesse James Garrett

    Originally published in 2002, this book contains one of the most famous conceptual models of UX work in the industry and it’s still relevant today.

  • 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.”

  • Defining Product Design: A Dispatch from Airbnb’s Design Chief

    Alex Schleifer, VP of Design at Airbnb, talks about the “three-legged stool” model of product team leadership, made up of engineering, product management, and design. At Intercom, we’ve added content design as the fourth leg of the stool.

  • 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.

  • Source for the quote: “It’s hard to tell where content ends and design begins”

    In her 2012 book “Writing for Animation, Comics, and Games,” Christy Marx states: “It’s [game design and writing] so intertwined that it can be hard at times to sort out where writing ends and design begins.”

  • 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.

  • Jesse James Garrett: The Memphis Plenary

    I paraphrase quotes from Jesse’s closing plenary at the 2009 IA Summit in Memphis, Tennessee. Specifically this one: “There are no information architects. There are no interaction designers. There are only, and only ever have been, user experience designers.” You can watch a video of Jesse’s plenary talk at

  • 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.”

  • Kelly O’Brien

    You should hire Kelly O’Brien, a hybrid product/content designer specializing in chatbot design and automation based in London, UK.

  • Meredith Castile

    You should hire Meredith Castile, a hybrid product/content senior designer specializing in conversation design based in San Francisco, USA.

  • Quote by Stephen King

    I paraphrase this quote at the very end of this talk.

  • Interview: On the Sofa with Jonathon Colman

    “Jonathon is speaking on the Content Strategy day at SofaConf but before he joins us we caught up with him on the sofa.”

  • SofaConf 2020

    A stay-at-home conference! Welcome to SofaConf, a five-day online design conference from Clearleft, the folks behind UX London, Leading Design and Content by Design.

  • 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.

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