Conference Growing In Content 2024: The virtual Content Design conference Attend Day 1 for Free

Detailing Candi Williams' career in content design, her experiences at Bumble, and her insights on diversity, inclusion, and overcoming industry challenges.

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Candi Williams is a content strategist, content designer, published author, Co-Chair of BIMA (South West Council), and currently works as a Head of Content Design at Bumble (dating app).

Candi Williams
Candi Williams

Career history, at-a-glance:

  • Bumble logoBumbleHead of Content DesignFebruary 2022 – Present
  • Bumble logoBumbleContent Design LeadMarch 2021 – February 2022 (11 months)
  • Nationwide Building Society logoNationwide Building SocietyContent Strategist and Design ManagerJun 2019 – March 2021 (1 year, 8 months)
  • Nationwide Building Society logoNationwide Building SocietyContent Design ManagerSep 2018 – June 2019 (10 months)
  • Nationwide Building Society logoNationwide Building SocietySenior Content DesignerAug 2017 – Sep 2018 (1 year, 2 months)
  • Harte Hanks logoHarte HanksSenior CopywriterJuly 2016 – Aug 2017 (1 year, 2 months)
  • ThirtyThree logoThirtyThreeLead Creative CopywriterOct 2012 - June 2016 (3 years, 9 months)
  • Blue Speck Media logoBlue Speck MediaDigital News and Content WriterApril 2012 – Oct 2012 (7 months)

We chatted to Candi about her career path, where she is now in her field, and her experiences of working in content design within a large, private sector organisation. She also shared some great advice and tips with us about working in content.

Starting out at Harte Hanks

Candi started her career in content as a copywriter for Harte Hanks, a marketing agency. Whilst in the role, she discovered a new interest, which would eventually lead her to her current role at Bumble.

"I became really interested in content design.

"My background is actually in psycholinguistics/sociolinguistics (the power that language has, how people interact). I think research - and especially qualitative research - has always been a big part of that, so I suppose, for me, content design felt like a natural progression."

What is content design?

Content design is a way of thinking. It's about using data and evidence to give the audience what they need, at the time they need it and in a way they expect.

source: Content Design London

Candi's first content design focused role

When Candi started at Nationwide, she was only the second permanent content designer there.

"I think they found it harder to hire content designers, so it took a while for us to 'scale up'. There are now about 20 of us, four years on.

"The first year was fun, but there were a lot of puzzled faces, wondering why there was a writer in the room, wondering why we wanted to be involved in research, etc. but I was able to get really heavily involved in sketching sessions and ideation sessions as well. It was a bit of a baptism of fire – but a good one.

"I think the industry at that time had a very defined view on what content design was - for the public sector. But for the private sector, it brought different challenges and different priorities.

"Working out how to embed the practice of content design and raise the value of it in a super large organisation that also has lots of other pockets of content creators was a challenge, but it was a really fun challenge."

Content strategy naturally played an important part alongside content design in Candi's role. In fact, zooming in on the content strategy enabled her to better understand Nationwide's target audiences and create the content most relevant to both their pain points and their needs.

Growing as the team grew at Nationwide

Over the next several years, Candi moved from her initial Senior Content Designer role to becoming a Content Design Manager, before her role eventually evolved into a Content Strategist and Design Manager position, which she started in summer 2019.

One of the big changes to happen over this time was expansion of the team. In fact, Candi states that effectively onboarding people was a really important aspect of the content design team's growth at the time.

"That first week that someone new starts is really important, and, as a manager, checking in with them much more frequently than you would normally, just to make sure they know they're supported and that there's someone there for them.

"We started making sure that everyone had a content design 'buddy', because we were big enough to do that. We also put together quite a cohesive content design pack for new starters - just to welcome them, and go through things like where we were heading, our principles, and so on.

"In general, I think that being a manager is probably one of the best ways to learn about yourself too."

In her last role at Nationwide, Candi moved to focusing more formally on strategic content capabilities; essentially looking at content operations more closely - and formulating how to keep consistency and cohesion in place.

"We had grown and grown. And what comes with that is while you've got more people, you actually have less consistency in many ways, because people can easily go off in different directions - which is fine, and natural - but I still had to consider how we could get more structure in place now that we we operating as a much bigger team."

What does content operations (ContentOps) mean?

ContentOps is the combination of people, process and technology that are required to produce, distribute and maintain content in an organisation. Almost every organisation on the planet has some form of people, using some kind of process and technology to produce some type of content.

source: GatherContent

Working on Nationwide's content operations

Candi's first task was to look at and assess the current business to identify any existing problems lying at the core. Aspects such as:

  • Content strategies:

    • Are we falling down in terms of structure?
    • Do we have the ability for things to be repeatable?
    • Do we have content patterns?
    • Are we all set up for content models?
    • Do we have the right guidelines in place?
    • Do we have a maturity model in place?
  • Workflows:

    • What is the expectation from others on getting them from 'A' to 'B'?
    • How are we helping them with that?

"The first year was spent getting those foundations in place, for people to then work from. Now, we've done a lot of that, there's a shift of focus to looking at things 'more widely' - so across marketing and across the other comms teams.

"It's like, if we're doing all of this shiny work here, we're doing all of this over here, and you're doing all of this over here, how can we come together so we've got consistent journeys and experiences? That's a biggie."

Dealing with change

Like many other content design professionals attempting to embed the practice in an organisation where the concept is relatively new, Candi faced some challenges during her time at Nationwide.

"It can be hard for some people to get their head around the fact that design isn't just 'the way things look' as a whole. They will already have heard of 'online experiences' and 'user experience design', and then when you throw 'content design' into it, it can be confusing for people.

"For me, I always try to understand my colleagues and where they're coming from (as well as my natural role in trying to understand our end users). Then you tailor your comms and interactions with them accordingly, and find ways to bring them on the journey with you - it's super important."

Diversity in the content design industry

Knowing that diversity is a topic very close to Candi's heart, we asked her what it was like to be a woman of colour working in this particular field.

"The content community is one of the few spaces in my life where I've felt at home and a real sense of belonging. I reflect on this sometimes and I think it's for a couple of reasons.

"I feel like I've grown with the discipline of content design. When I started at Nationwide four years ago, 'content design' was a title on a book by Sarah (Winters) and a big ambition. Now, every time I see more content designer roles, I honestly do a happy dance.

"Things have changed a heck of a lot - even in the last year. The pandemic has been a shit show for many, many reasons, but it seems to have brought the content community together like never before. The Twitter chats, the support – it's special."

During Black Lives Matter (BLM), which was probably one of the most challenging, reflective times in Candi's life, she says she witnessed so many allies from the community speak up and speak out in solidarity.

"Not in a tokenistic way; in a genuinely 'wanting to do better' and 'make a difference' way.

"It feels completely backward that such a tragedy would make me feel closer to people, but I remember being stuck in my flat, alone, and feeling all of the difficult emotions and I'd flick through Twitter and see Kristina Halvorson, Andy Wefle, Michael Metts and other content legends championing BLM continually, and it'd help keep me going."

Candi feels that Button Conference was another turning point for her. She remembers a Slack group where one existed especially for people of colour.

"I make no exaggeration when I say I've never connected with so many people of colour who work in content. It was so heartwarming.

"For the conference, Kristina and crew did an incredible job of curating truly diverse speakers and stories. John Paz's one about belonging had me fist pumping to myself. Then, 'backstage', I met some Black women who I honestly feel will be friends for life: Gladys Diandoke and my incredible mentee, Dorothy Eyo.

"So, how does it feel to be a Black woman in content design? A whole lot different to how it feels to be a woman in UX or tech. As a content community, we have very intentionally created a safe space where kindness and integrity are more important than your years of experience and education.

"I don't believe the same can be said for every area of UX and tech, sadly."

Panel photo
Panel: Ethics, bias, and responsible design

Tackling prejudices and biases

"I see a lot of conversations and activism about 'diversity and inclusion' from underrepresented groups but far too little happening the other way around. And that's the problem.

"If there was ever an industry where we need inclusive teams, it's in user experience. We have a responsibility for designing products and services that people (from all walks of life) rely on. How can we do that if our own teams and the people we research with aren't representative?

"So how can people help? Firstly, I think we should all ask ourselves what we're already doing to make our work and the world more equal and inclusive. If the answer is 'not a lot' or 'we have a diversity and inclusion team' or 'we do accessibility,' then now's the time to do more.

"Engage in the many resources out there. Look around your workplace and circle, and start to really consider how inclusive your teams and practices are. Connect with the many speakers there are on this topic. Genuinely consider your own biases.

"You can start small, but you need to start. You need to do the work. There is no quick fix to inclusion and equality, but the risk of not doing more is catastrophic."

Candi's current role at Bumble

In spring 2021, Candi moved to a Content Design Lead position at Bumble. For her, one of the big attractions was knowing she would be joining an organisation which matched her own values.

"I asked a lot of questions in my interview about what they stood for and their stances on things - things that matter to me - like equity and inclusion, psychological safety and wellbeing.

"They care about the things I care about, and that's crucial to me in any organisation I work at."

The future at Bumble is one which excites Candi. She feels that she joined at a time at which the world is finally starting to talk about safety more (and the lack of, for many people). She is also a big fan of Bumble's existing drive for creating inclusive content.

"I think one of the most brilliant things about Bumble's content is the focus on safety. It's one thing being a cool, cheeky dating app, but designing features and content that help people to feel safe and well is a different ball game.

"To do that, you have to understand not just people's tasks but their emotions, their worries, their concerns. Bumble has done an impressive job of acting quickly and designing content and features to help stop things like body shaming and catfishing. Content with conscience."

Candi expressed that she felt lucky to be part of a team that is focused on creating products that actually can make a bigger difference in the world and help tackle some of today's biggest issues. She also feels that the Bumble product brings some super exciting challenges, and is generally looking forward to supporting ContentOps.

"Our mission is to create a world where all relationships are healthy, safe and equitable."

Advice, recommendations and tips from Candi

What advice would you give others working in content who want to achieve similar accomplishments to yourself?

"Stop worrying about doing things perfectly, or the right way. Always look at what's within your control, because we're always going to face problems - and they can be big problems because they are propositional problems!

"'So think: 'can you fix this credit card that's been around for 10 years?' Probably not within a sprint! But can you make the content around it more readable, more usable, more in line with user needs? Probably, yes.

"And pick your battles wisely, because it can feel so difficult when you look at everything as one, and it's like, 'everything's a problem'. Look at what you can control, and try not to beat yourself up about things which are just out of your control at certain points."

What advice do you have for someone who wants to actively improve inclusion in their organisation?

"Start with language. I hear a lot of people say 'we're accessible,' but they haven't even considered how inclusive their language and content is from a race, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic or cognitive disability point of view.

  • How are you representing and talking about gender?
  • Are you using terms associated with the slave trade?
  • Are people clear on how to talk about disabilities?
  • How open are people about their pronouns?

"I feel like inclusive language guidelines are a step forward that anyone can take. There are lots and lots of examples out there.

"When I worked at Nationwide, I looked at race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality and disability and health; structuring the guidelines simply by outlining:

  • The terms to avoid
  • Why we don't use them (super important to explain)
  • The terms you can use instead

"It was a starting point but it seemed effective.

"Another thing to remember with inclusive language is that if you don't feel affected or feel defensive about language changing to be more inclusive, that's privilege and you should count yourself as one of the lucky ones who has never had to hide your identity or feel the impact of language that excludes and persecutes it.

"Don't get me wrong, conversations about diversity and inclusion often aren't easy. We're touching on people's identities and human rights - not just how they like their tea.

"But these conversations are beyond important. We have to meet these conversations with the same openness, non-judgment and curiosity that we would user research for them to be effective.

"You wouldn't scream 'that's not true' or 'I'm not racist' at a user sharing their 'lived' experiences, so you should apply that same principle to conversations about these topics."

And what qualities should a hiring manager look for to ensure that their candidate will be sensitive to these issues and actively work towards addressing them?

"I was wondering just the other day why we don't make questions about accessibility and inclusivity mandatory in interviews, if we're serious about it.

For practitioners:

  • Tell me about a time when you've applied accessible or inclusive design principles
  • How does diversity and inclusion contribute to team success?

For leaders:

  • What actions have you taken to create a more diverse and inclusive working environment?
  • Tell us about how you've embedded principles of accessibility and inclusive design within teams

You can have those for free!"

Is there any work that you've done that you feel particularly proud of?

"When I was still at Nationwide, there was a project I worked on which involved vulnerable customers.

"An existing service offering that helped this segment of Nationwide's customer base wasn't getting enough take-up, and it was my job to try and understand why this was - and what could be done to improve things.

"We spent a lot of time working with charities and interviewing people going through incredibly challenging times and understanding their perspective and what they might need from a service.

"It was beyond eye-opening. An example that always stands out for me is the language around cancer and 'battle' metaphors; 'battling cancer', 'a victim of cancer' etc. This puts the onus on the person, when often they have very little control against the horrendous illness.

"Metaphor and colloquialism are so ingrained in our language but they can be really problematic in many ways."

Candi found being able to completely redesign the content very rewarding; especially when she saw end users' reactions to the work.

"We saw people's body language change and their faces light up when we showed it to them, because they felt heard, supported and reassured."

In general, making content inclusive is a subject very close to Candi's heart.

As part of her last few roles, she's made it her side-mission to wage a war against any inaccessible, hard-to-digest, confusing content, and she's even talked about her passion for inclusivity and diversity in content at previous conferences and online events.

If you could go back in time and give yourself a 'helpful pointer' early in your career, what would that be?

"Similarly to the above - stop worrying too much about everything. And also, recognise that it's not a reflection on you if people don't understand the discipline of content design! It doesn't mean you're not very good at your job. It's just where they're at on their content maturity journey. So try not to take it too personally and don't let it affect your wellbeing. That always needs to come first."

Which industry professionals should people be following right now on Twitter?

If you could choose one book to recommend to someone early in their career, what would it be?

"Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug. I think it's an amazing book, and it really puts things into perspective."

Book coverDon't Make Me Think
by Steve Krug Twitter icon Published 9 Jan 2014

The book's premise is that a good software program or web site should let users accomplish their intended tasks as easily and directly as possible.

I think it's an amazing book, and it really puts things into perspective.

— Candi Williams

Have you seen any examples of something that addresses inclusion and diversity issues well?

"The Content+UX Slack where whenever someone mentions the word "guys" an auto message comes up and asks them to be mindful about the use of this word. A lot of social media channels could learn from that. Just saying."

Slack screenshot
Slack reacting to the word "guys"

"I'm also a huge fan of Cards for Humanity."

Cards for Humanity screenshot
Cards for Humanity screenshot

Lastly, if a BIPOC is reading this that is considering a career in content design, what advice would you give to encourage them to make the jump?

"We got you, and you got this. Lean on your community and believe in yourself."

Candi Williams: Further reading, watching and listening

Inclusivity and diversity: further reading, watching and listening

Content:

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