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

Career insights from HubSpot's content design panel, covering entry into the field, portfolio development, interview tactics, and handling imposter syndrome. The experts underscore the significance of user problem comprehension, impact demonstration, and lifelong learning. The discussion is based on a Q&A session with a global audience.

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Over 150 people from around the globe joined us during the live event, and we received more than 50 questions for our illustrious panel! As anticipated, Dayne, Catherine and Natalie offered some fantastic advice to our audience, as well as insight based on their own career experiences.

Whilst they couldn't answer each and every question, we still managed to cover an awful lot in just over 60 minutes!

Our panel

Photo of James Deer (Event Host)
James Deer (Event Host)Co-founder of
Photo of Dayne Topkin
Dayne TopkinSenior Content Designer at HubSpot (has since moved to Shopify!)
Photo of Catherine Carr
Catherine CarrSr Content Designer II at HubSpot
Photo of Natalie Rohrer
Natalie RohrerSenior Content Designer at HubSpot

If you missed the live event, not to worry. We’ve gathered all the best bits into this article so that you can catch up at your leisure. We’ve even split the Q&A content down into ‘themes’, so you can quickly navigate to the topic/s most relevant to you.

Breaking into content design

Question #1

For early career content strategists/designers, do you have any advice for knowing when to start preparing for that next career move? At what point should someone seriously consider switching companies?

Photo of Natalie Rohrer
Natalie RohrerSenior Content Designer at HubSpot

“This is a great question. It's hard to get too specific without knowing if the person asking this question is already in a content design role or looking to make a career change. But I think this answer really comes down to what you value. That's something that's kind of guided each job switch for me. To date, I've been on three different design teams at three different companies.

“It makes me think of our Chief People Officer at HubSpot, Katie Burke. She’s generally just an amazing human.

“She gave a podcast interview (for Ali on the Run) that I think sums this up really well. She suggests that you think about four or five things that you really value right now (rather than aligning yourself with a specific job or a company or a place). Doing it that way is going to make it a lot easier for you to find a job that makes you feel happy and fulfilled.

“I think in tech, it's sometimes easy to get caught up in things like ‘the branding’ and the big company names and products you really admire. But for example, for me, something that guided my decision to join HubSpot was the remote work culture. This is actually pre-COVID, so a different world to what we’re living in now, but my partner and I knew we wanted to move closer to family, so working for a company that really proudly said that their culture wasn't tied to a location was a big selling point for me.

“And in my role at Wayfair, one value that had really attracted me was a unique opportunity to be managed by a senior content strategy manager and work with a larger content team where I'd get to learn from content folks in a really unique way.

I think it's important to be thinking about what you want your life outside work to look like - those values. If they aren't well-aligned with the company that you're working for right now, I think it's probably a good indicator that it's time to look somewhere else.

Question #2

I'm the only content writer at my company, so I do a varied ‘mish mash’ of everything. I sometimes wonder how much value my ‘unstructured’ work experience is giving me for my pursuit of a content designer position. What should I focus on right now to help me get there?

Photo of Catherine Carr
Catherine CarrSr Content Designer II @ HubSpot | Formerly Uber and | Agony Aunt for Content Designers

“I really loved this question because I think it applies to nearly everybody in the content design community. And honestly, we could probably extend it to UX in general too.

“It's still such a new area in terms of a ‘working industry’, so I think most people kind of ‘fall into it’, discover it, or they are actively helping to build and evolve it (with the exception of maybe people coming out of university in the last couple of years). So, I’d say first - you're not alone!

“I know I didn’t have a linear career path into content design. I started in journalism. Then I was a media analyst. Then I went to marketing. Then I went back to journalism. Then I went freelance, and ended up working as a content designer in tech.

“So what I would say is that everything you’re doing is and will be relevant.

“Actually I'm almost done with this really interesting book about specialists vs generalists. It’s called ‘Range’ and it’s by David Epstein. It's challenging this theory of, you know, the 10,000 hours of work you might do to become an expert in something, and whether or not that is the best way to go about it.

Book coverRange: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World
by David Epstein LinkedIn icon Twitter icon Published 28 May 2019

Provocative, rigorous, and engrossing, Range makes a compelling case for actively cultivating inefficiency. Failing a test is the best way to learn. Frequent quitters end up with the most fulfilling careers. The most impactful inventors cross domains rather than deepening their knowledge in a single area. As experts silo themselves further while computers master more of the skills once reserved for highly focused humans, people who think broadly and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives will increasingly thrive.

“The book says that, yes, in some areas - say if you're a chess player - it’s probably good to do that and start early. But, if you're into something that requires more innovation or range (in fact, ‘Range’ is the name of the book), it's actually good to have a really broad background and a wide breadth of experience.

“So I’d say is that it sounds like you're in a good spot already for going forward. I think it’d be great for you to really focus on things like how you're solving problems, and making sure that you're making decisions based on user problems or even business problems, but with a user angle.

“Having a little bit of project experience is actually super helpful too; like learning about return on investment (ROI) and what the business is focused on, because a lot of that should come from user-based problems as well. Then, if you can integrate that with the content side and really solve challenges in a meaningful, impactful way, I think that's really going to allow you to stand out.

“Also, keep reading and looking at articles on places like Medium, and studying what your peers are doing. All in all, I think you're on the right path though.”

Catherine Carr talks about ‘Range’ - a book that’s really inspired her

Portfolio and resume advice

Question #3

What does a good portfolio example look like when you’re applying for a midweight role?

Photo of Dayne Topkin
Dayne TopkinSenior Content Designer at HubSpot

“I think a lot of content designers (or designers in general) can end up getting a bit hung up on what goes into a portfolio; like, ‘do I need to include everything that I've ever done? Are all these projects related to the specific role? How deep should I go into each of these projects?’

“In my experience, a good portfolio is not one that captures all the work that you’ve done, but one that is able to articulate your understanding of how the work you do is applicable to the role you’re hoping to get.

“I've heard from a number of people in the industry that they use a portfolio to really try and understand your process, because what that's going to ultimately do is show your understanding of where this particular role fits in the overall design process.

“Sometimes that's more important than ‘Hey, check out these cool five lines of copy that I wrote’, or ‘Look, I changed this features name and it resulted in this’... but sometimes we get so hung up on the words of the role - not the process of how we go from a particular user problem to how to solve it.

“And a trap we can all potentially fall into keeping a portfolio running, proactively adding to it - whether it’s going to be specific for a future role or not.

A content designer’s portfolio shouldn’t just be a running list of all the things that we've done.

“When you think about it from a recruiter’s point of view, they’ve got a number of different candidates to go through, and how can you surface as one of the most promising people if your portfolio is just a rolling record of your work.

“So think about things like:

  • ‘Am I able to articulate and give somebody the rundown of how the work that I've done in an entirely different space can be relevant?’ and;

  • ‘How is this actually related to the nature of the role I’m applying for?’

  • ‘Can I showcase the impact of the work I’ve done?’

“If you're able to answer those kinds of questions with your portfolio, that’s going to be the mark of a really good portfolio.

“And I think, as the industry has grown, resumes have become shorter and shorter - yet we can all have so much background or have so much experience. So how do we not convey everything and keep it to the ‘one page’?

“For me, one particular thing that stands out is understanding that your resume is something that essentially should evolve over time. Make sure you comb through that job description carefully so you can make sure you're hitting all the right notes in relation to the work that you're currently doing. You want to make the recruiter or the hiring manager's job as easy as possible and allow them to tie your experience to the role they’re hiring for.

“The ‘impact’ point is incredibly important. I know we often get confused or when we think of ‘impact’, we assign it specifically to data. That is incredibly valuable, but not all projects are necessarily going to have a specific metric attached to it, or we may just not know quantitatively what impact that particular project has had - but there’s still a particular impact on user behavior.

“It can take some time to put this kind of thing together and to condense all that information into something easy to digest for the recruiter. But try and think of recruiters as users - after all, we're producing a particular product for them with our portfolios and resumes.”

Photo of Natalie Rohrer
Natalie RohrerSenior Content Designer at HubSpot

“I love that. And it's kind of funny because my younger brother is getting ready to graduate from college and he's applying for internships right now, and that was my advice for him!

“On a side note, if you have experience with content strategy tools specifically, that's a great thing to mention too. I took this great Content Strategy Fundamentals course with Scott Kubie, and he said something I loved so much.

“He said, ‘Any repeatable method for creating clarity and alignment about content can be a content strategy tool. Remember: It’s all made up!’ So really, I would focus on demonstrating the plan that you use, how you planned out, and so on.”

Interview advice

Question #4

How should I include and word non-UX writing portfolio pieces?

Photo of Dayne Topkin
Dayne TopkinSenior Content Designer at HubSpot

“This is a question I hear of often, because a lot of people who are typically moving to content design don't have any specific ‘formal content design’ experience. And because of the nature of the industry, there's not a particular path that one can take from high school all the way through university.

“I know in the past we've seen a lot of people with a journalism background make that transition, and that's sometimes felt like that's the path - but actually, it’s just a path - and only in some particular instances. There is no ‘rule of thumb’ behind it all, currently.

“I think I'll go back to something I said with regards to portfolios. When you have a deep understanding of what content design is and what the process of content design is, you'll actually be able to see the content design work you're doing, whether it takes place in that discipline formally or not.

“I was somebody who came from a content marketing background, and I made that transition. Even in my portfolio to this day, there are some very specific content marketing examples in there that I still use; they’re some of my strongest examples when I’m in pursuit of content design roles.

“Sometimes it looks as simple as saying, ‘While this may not be a traditional, functional activity of content design in the context that you're looking at, here is how this is content design work’. You may need to call that out formally in your portfolio as well, but that goes a long way in making sure the hiring manager or recruiter looking at it can actually see that you really understand the functions of the role.

“And it’s good to remember that not everybody's going to apply for things with a deck or a slew of product-related projects under their belt either, so focus on gathering and understanding what the role you’re going for is, what it does, and how it functions in the organization as a design process.”

Question #5

What are the most important qualities to you in a content design colleague?

Photo of Natalie Rohrer
Natalie RohrerSenior Content Designer at HubSpot

“I think this is a really good opportunity to talk about what we generally look for in content design candidates at HubSpot.

“You'll hear us advocate for the customer a lot at HubSpot; that's part of our culture code and directly informs the tenets of our voice, which are:

  • ‘Clear’

  • ‘Helpful’

  • ‘Human’

  • ‘Kind’

“Those things are really important to us. We talk about writing as humans for humans too - so being really inclusive and ‘global first’ in our approach.

“We also care a lot about having folks on the team who can ‘adapt gracefully’ to changing circumstances. I think that happens so much in this industry because there are often really ambiguous problem spaces, so it's really important that someone can kind of come in and muddle through the complexity whilst also being able to bring simple, clear solutions.

“Dayne also mentioned the importance of showing impact. I think if you have experience engaging with data to measure impact and guide decisions, that's really important.

“That's a really broad overview of qualities that we look for when we're hiring and evaluating candidates at HubSpot. I'd also say on a personal level, I've been really lucky to work with folks here, but also at previous companies too. They cared just as much about doing great work as helping their fellow content designers learn and grow and do great work; whether that's hosting ‘lunch and learns’, taking time to do team critique or just sharing a really great template that they've created.

“I can say that a lot of people have made me better at what I do. So, working with collaborative people who are not only great at what they do, but also generous with their time and feedback is a really incredible gift. I’d say don’t underestimate the value of generosity and bringing others along with you as you grow.”

Photo of Catherine Carr
Catherine CarrSr Content Designer II @ HubSpot | Formerly Uber and | Agony Aunt for Content Designers

“I want to see somebody who’s ‘rounded’. Thinking back to what I said above about ‘specialist versus generalist’, I think there's a lot you can learn if you stick with one company for years and years, and you become a specialist at that company.

“That sometimes means that you might not be as agile as you need to be if you move to a new company. So if you are someone who’s been at a company for a very long time, I’d want to see that you have some other things going on - that you're keeping a blog, or that you're contributing to a publication of some kind maybe…

“If you have had experiences at a few different companies, I’d want to see what the day-to-day looks like for you; where are you using messaging matrices? Where are you using A/B testing, and so on.

“I just want to understand a little bit about what that looks like for you, and what skills you've actually learned in previous roles.

“And, personally, anybody who can demonstrate experience with data or experimentation is going to stand out for me because I’m a huge advocate for data and using that in the decisions that you're making.

“I think it's got to be a really good combination of your expertise as a wordsmith, your knowledge of the user, and your ability to read data.

“If I see somebody that's like ‘We had X impact, we increased whatever by X%, based on this user problem that we found in research, and I helped push that’, I'm in love with that person before I’ve even heard any more(!). I really, really want to see that kind of thing - especially if you want to work in a product or tech world.

“I would also add in some kind of sign that you understand iteration, because sometimes we do things, we put them out there, and then we forget about them and walk away. But I want to see somebody who can show that they did this, then kept an eye on it before then figuring out how to improve it, etc… I think that's really important because it's very easy to work on a project once, but showing resilience and that commitment to actually improving that experience also says a lot about what kind of content designer you might be, too.”

Career progression

Question #6

How do you prioritize your own personal career progression?

Photo of Catherine Carr
Catherine CarrSr Content Designer II @ HubSpot | Formerly Uber and | Agony Aunt for Content Designers

“I think we hear a lot about ‘setting objectives’ and doing it by the quarter or by year, and having goals that you need to reach. But sometimes that can put a lot of pressure on you.

“Whilst I think some personalities will react really well to that, and that it’s good to have a solid plan you’re working towards, for other people, it just doesn't work.

“So I would say, first of all, find what works for you and have an honest, open conversation with your manager. If you do have a culture of, ‘We need monthly goals’ etc, have that open conversation, explain that it doesn't suit you and what does suit you and the way that you work. Make sure that together, you’re really creating a system that actually will help you to grow professionally.

“Obviously not all managers are ‘created equal’(!), but just be really clear about where you want to go and how you want to get there. And maybe you need to do some side projects for a while, so that you can build up some skills that you're not able to build at your current company. Then you’ll be better placed to eventually move somewhere that will allow you to use those new skills.

“Also, I’d say that you shouldn’t get caught up in climbing some kind of career ladder. I think I have fallen into that in the past, and I've seen lots of people end up caring more about ‘climbing’ and not ‘growing’.

“I think they are two very different things. For example, there are very specific things and perhaps some ‘loopholes’ and cheats you can use to get a promotion - but that doesn't necessarily mean that you have grown, gained knowledge or that you’ve become a more rounded content designer.

“What I tend to do for myself is focus on where I want to grow and where my interests are. That's part of the reason I actually moved to HubSpot because an opportunity came up with FinTech, and I've been finding the FinTech space really interesting in the last couple of years, as it's started to explode.

“When this opportunity came up at HubSpot - a company that I respect so highly from a content perspective and from a culture perspective - it was a no-brainer for me. So that really helped me make that decision to apply.

“I think that kind of links into Natalie's answer to the question about knowing when to take that step. I think just focus on you, where you want to grow, and where you want to build skills. Because, it might sound great to be promoted to a manager, but do you really want to manage people? Or when it comes to being a principal, do you really want to remain as an Individual Contributor?”

Question #7

As a content designer, what do you value the most when working with product managers and product designers?

Photo of Dayne Topkin
Dayne TopkinSenior Content Designer at HubSpot

“That is a really good question. One of the things I know I appreciate a lot is openness to collaboration. Sometimes when we attach particular roles to a project, or we have a particular understanding of how the design process works, we can silo it, like, ‘Nope, this is not where the content designer comes in. They come in at the end. Once the wireframes are done, we need some words to slap on it’, etc. So I think one of the things that I appreciate most with product designers and product managers is an awareness of how important each role in the design process is, and the bringing of people in at the right time.

“We're not always going to be able to know there’s ‘x’ conversation or meeting that I absolutely definitely need to be a part of. And that’s where your product designer may be able to flag it up, and say, ‘Hey, we need Dayne in this meeting before we actually move forward with this and before we make any decisions - there are some information architecture issues.’

“It's not necessarily something that your colleagues will inherently have in them, but you can give them that; that's something you can educate them on.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to work with product designers and product managers who have that though; they're aware that there's so many different touch points in this process, and different people are needed all along the way.”

Photo of Natalie Rohrer
Natalie RohrerSenior Content Designer at HubSpot

“I think there's something really, really special about product managers and product designers who understand the value of content design and them being really keen on bringing you in from the start.

“I know that's not always the case, but I know I have really appreciated the product managers and designers I've worked with. They’ve been really proactive about creating space for me, and making sure I'm on meeting invites, but also they’ve been really respectful of my time and recognized when I'm working across teams. They’ve communicated well and asked questions about when to bring me in when they're not sure. They’ve also kept me up to speed on projects when I may have to be focused on something else for another team. So inclusion and communication are things that I've really valued.”

Managing mental health and imposter syndrome

Question #8

I often experience imposter syndrome and feel like I’m out of place within my team. Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome? How do you manage it?

Photo of Catherine Carr
Catherine CarrSr Content Designer II @ HubSpot | Formerly Uber and | Agony Aunt for Content Designers

“I saw this question in advance as we were going through the big list of questions for this session, and it really jumped out at me. Because, as I was going through that list, there was a little voice in my head going, ‘Who are you Catherine, to be giving advice to other content designers?’ That’s imposter syndrome right there, you know.

“Imposter syndrome is not specific to content design of course, but I do think it's one of the communities where we can see more of it. I think there's a few reasons for that, and - disclaimer - this is purely from my own perspective of course.

“I’ve noticed that content design communities tend to be predominantly female, but also, in my experience, senior levels have been disproportionately male. We also lack BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, (and) People of Colour) representation.

“So if you come into a community that is predominantly female and has a small BIPOC representation, you're not seeing yourself represented at higher levels or in leadership. Again, my experience is that the majority of content signage I see are white women, but yet the loudest voices tend to be white men. So of course, we're all experiencing imposter syndrome.

“And couple that with the fact that we work in tech, and that traditionally, if you don't have technical experience, you don't have the ‘street cred’, and you have to work a lot harder to get that recognition that, quite frankly, we all deserve. If your colleagues aren't ‘respecting’ your abilities, how are you supposed to respect your abilities?

“My own sense of imposter syndrome has improved gradually over time. Part of what’s helped is joining HubSpot. We have a predominantly female content design community, but our senior level has some amazing kick-ass women in it - and that's been really inspiring.

“The Head of UX, for example, is fantastic. My own manager is just a daily inspiration to me; one of the most wonderful people I've ever worked with. So that’s helped me because I'm seeing people in these positions.

“Saying that though, I think we are still way behind when it comes to BIPOC representation, and it's something that, as a company, HubSpot is working on. They recognize that we're not doing enough yet. We need to hear from more women within the BIPOC community, and celebrate those voices.”

Photo of Natalie Rohrer
Natalie RohrerSenior Content Designer at HubSpot

“The sticky note above my desk says, ‘What am I uniquely positioned to offer?’ and I look at it all the time, because some days I just need a reminder that you don't need to know everything to have something really important to bring to the table.

Sticky note photo at Natalie's desk
The actual sticky note Natalie keeps at her desk!
Photo of Catherine Carr
Catherine CarrSr Content Designer II @ HubSpot | Formerly Uber and | Agony Aunt for Content Designers

“This is the thing. We're not going to change the system overnight, and we’re not going to fix imposter syndrome overnight either. But, two of my ‘go-tos’ for imposter syndrome is that you've got to have a core circle of trust - those two or three people that you can go to and who can ‘pump you up’ a little bit. They are the ones who understand what you do, see the value in what you do - and also value you as a person.

“My other thing is that, if you're feeling like you're not doing enough, get up from your computer, make a drink, and then sit down with a pen and a paper. Just spend a bit of time writing a list of things that you achieved in the last month, or the last quarter at work, and maybe even outside of work too.

“Just writing it all out and seeing it on a piece of paper can help change your perspective a little bit. It may not fix the problem, but it might just help you feel less overwhelmed by that ‘imposter syndrome feeling’.”

Question #9

HubSpot is known for empowering team members to prevent burnout. I’d like to make suggestions to my employer on how we can improve in the same way. Can you share any personal experiences where these policies have helped you?

Photo of Natalie Rohrer
Natalie RohrerSenior Content Designer at HubSpot

“This is a big question!

“I think HubSpot is really going ‘all in’ on company-wide initiatives that address burnout. We're calling them ‘The Five Rs’. So that includes everything from an annual, global week of rest for everyone to really looking to solve the root causes of potential future problems, so things like workforce planning.

“I can speak about at least one of these initiatives, which we piloted this summer, and that initiative is that we stopped having internal meetings on Fridays.

“Just to give you the background, I’m part of a relatively new product group within HubSpot, so I've not only been embedded with product teams working on some really specific projects, but I've also been thinking about what our product content strategy should be for this area; like what tools and resources I can create to support teams as the group grows.

“It had become harder and harder for me to fit everything in, so I started to block off my Fridays for that content strategy work.

“I learned to fiercely protect my time. But, there were times when this was really tough to do, because saying ‘no’ to that two-hour vision workshop or those research sessions where I know my voice could be important and I get the context I need to do my job well is difficult! So having the ‘no meetings on Fridays’ initiative implemented across the company has made a huge difference for me. I don't have to worry about what I might be missing.

“So I think this is something that you could potentially pilot with your own product group or team at your organization as well. It doesn't have to be company-wide for it to be successful. I've worked on teams in the past who have all agreed on a different day, too.

“It's not just about having uninterrupted time to work either. It's also about recharging. Design is a team sport, but it can be like a really exhausting team sport sometimes. That ‘Zoom fatigue’ is real.”

Natalie Rohrer talks about ‘no meeting Fridays’ at HubSpot
Photo of Dayne Topkin
Dayne TopkinSenior Content Designer at HubSpot

“I absolutely love the ‘no meeting Fridays’. I think with a lot of content designers and, even with us on the panel here as well, we work across multiple teams. So getting some of that time back to do some of the high-level strategic work that’s needed has been really incredible.

“And then, I’d just like to give a huge shout-out to the week of rest HubSpot gives us, because everybody stops at that point. It’s so great because sometimes you can take a week off, and your team keeps moving of course, so by the time you come back, you're like, ‘Oh gosh, what happened? I need to take the week to catch up, etc!’ So just having that time and being super intentional about that - where everybody shuts down - gosh, that was incredible.”

Photo of Catherine Carr
Catherine CarrSr Content Designer II @ HubSpot | Formerly Uber and | Agony Aunt for Content Designers

“Yeah, absolutely a big fan of the ‘no meeting Fridays’. What I will say though, is that we absolutely recognize that these things are easier said than done, and that we are very lucky to work at a company that really values its employees’ mental health and also recognizes the burden that it is to work from home during a pandemic.

“Like Natalie said, HubSpot embraces remote work and they do it in a very intentional way. They recognize that it's different to working in the office and have tried to make it work for everybody. That being said, and I think this is just really important in life as well, setting boundaries is essential. If you find that you get to the end of every week and it's all been crazy meetings and you haven't actually got any focus time, sometimes you need to just put your foot down, have a talk with your manager, have a talk with your PM, or whoever's leading your product or your project group, and just be very clear that you need this time.

“And the great thing about Zoom meetings is that you can ask people to record a meeting if you think you’ll need to miss it. So don't feel like you were being princessy or precious - you need that time to do your job. You need that time to sit down. So don't be afraid to stand up for yourself and fight for it.”

Diversity and inclusion at HubSpot

Question #10

HubSpot has well-developed diversity and inclusion programs. What impact does this have on you as a practitioner?

Photo of Dayne Topkin
Dayne TopkinSenior Content Designer at HubSpot

“I think this is something that is so incredibly important. One of the things that I will just commend right now is HubSpot's leadership and their intentionality behind diversity and inclusion initiatives. These things often flow down from the top, whereas, in other organizations it could be that senior people are ‘talking the talk’, but not necessarily ‘walking the walk’.

“And although we have a ton of work still left to do at HubSpot, there’s intentionality behind the programs that are set up, the communities, the Slack groups... there are a number of different communities, whether that be our poker group, whether that’s our Black hub (which I'm a part of as well) - those communities are so important.

“There are events going on and things happening in the world where certain individuals are affected more than others. And those things weigh on you. But, we're still required to come to work, do our best work, and deliver.

“We discount the outside effects and how those have can affect the work that we do. We think that we're just supposed to leave that stuff in our home life. But it's nearly impossible to separate the two.”

“So with the communities at HubSpot, everybody has a space where they can be vulnerable. A place where we can say, ‘Hey, you know what, yesterday sucked and things that are happening around me are not ok. And I need a space to talk about this. I need a space as a Black immigrant living in the US, where I can talk to people who are experiencing some of the same as what it is that I'm experiencing.’

“Knowing that we have those environments set up is a confidence booster in the workplace. I know having those spaces has made an incredible difference to me over the last two years; that I have a community of folks that I can lean on to help me process things.”

Dayne Topkin talks about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives at HubSpot

Question #11

If it wasn’t already on the agenda at HubSpot, how do you think you might make a difference when it comes to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion?

Photo of Catherine Carr
Catherine CarrSr Content Designer II @ HubSpot | Formerly Uber and | Agony Aunt for Content Designers

“So I’d firstly think ‘How can I make a difference in the workplace with your colleagues and the work environment you helped create?’ And then also through the craft of content design, ‘How can I do that?’

“A really good design book was published last year called Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. So, things like pharmaceuticals, or even seatbelts... Turns out they are designed for men. And that's why they tend to see more issues with women, because the research isn't directed there. That may seem very far from what we do, but it’s about thinking about how we can be more inclusive when it comes to the content that we work on.

“I think gender pronouns is a really big one. Like, how can we be inclusive there? I think sometimes it can leave some companies a bit baffled, but I think, as content designers, it folds into our area of expertise. So, do you need to ask about ‘gender’ if somebody is filling out a form?

“What we do means that there’s some room for us to push back. Actually, our Tone of Voice guidelines at HubSpot actually caters quite well for this. We use very simple language. We try not to be overly complex in how we phrase things. And we try to make it easier to use with writing.”

Photo of Natalie Rohrer
Natalie RohrerSenior Content Designer at HubSpot

“Two of the content designers on our team actually put a lot of work into expanding our style guide, and they created an inclusive style guide addendum. They really thought about how we could be making our product content more inclusive and accessible. And I think we've got a really great blog post on the HubSpot Product Blog to read on that, if you're interested in learning more about how you might be able to apply that to your own practice at your own company.” (Extract from the blog, below.)

Screenshot of an extract of HubSpot's blog
Extract from: Inclusivity Is a Design Principle (HubSpot Product Blog)

Highly recommended resources

Question #12

In terms of resources, what would the panel members recommend (even if it’s not strictly content design-related)?

Photo of Natalie Rohrer
Natalie RohrerSenior Content Designer at HubSpot

“I have really enjoyed listening to Brain Traffic’s Content Strategy Podcasts. It's been so awesome to hear from folks who work in different roles, and not even just in tech industries. It's been really fascinating to hear their perspective. I've learned a lot from that.

“And also Writing Is Designing is the book that I wish I’d had when I started out as a UX writer. I keep it on my desk at all times. I love it so much.”

Book coverWriting Is Designing: Words and the User Experience
by Michael J. Metts LinkedIn icon Twitter icon and Andy Welfle LinkedIn icon Twitter icon Published 14 Jan 2020

Without words, apps would be an unusable jumble of shapes and icons, while voice interfaces and chatbots wouldn't even exist. Words make software human–centered, and require just as much thought as the branding and code. This book will show you how to give your users clarity, test your words, and collaborate with your team. You'll see that writing is designing.

Photo of Dayne Topkin
Dayne TopkinSenior Content Designer at HubSpot

“One of the things that I’ve found pretty helpful and enjoyable is just getting an understanding of how different companies are doing content design by hearing from people who work at them. For example, Patrick Stafford has a podcast called Writers of Silicon Valley.

Screenshot of the Writers of Silicon Valley website

“All the writers are not from Silicon valley, but it's really great to hear the influencers that he gets on the show. You get to hear what they’re doing, and how they’re approaching things. It can be as simple as a conversation about how to do content design. There's just so much wealth of insight in there.

“And then outside of that, one resource that I've particularly found helpful is Rachel McConnell's book, Why you need a content team and how to build one.

Book coverWhy you need a content team and how to build one
by Rachel McConnell LinkedIn icon Twitter icon Published 06 Nov 2018

This book helps you to understand your content maturity and how to increase it. It explains the different content roles, including the nuances between them and the overlaps. It’ll help you recruit the right content experts — explaining what to look for and how to interview them — experts who’ll take your digital journeys to the next level and beyond.

“I keep it on my shelf, and I have so many different bits highlighted and different notes in it. It's a good reference point for anybody who's interested in understanding the industry. I think as content designers, we do find that we have to do a lot of advocacy sometimes for the value of our work, why this it’s important and how it fits in. That book is just always a great resource to kind of brush up on.”

Photo of Catherine Carr
Catherine CarrSr Content Designer II @ HubSpot | Formerly Uber and | Agony Aunt for Content Designers

“There are a lot of books out there about content design, which is important, but what I was saying earlier about making sure that you're ‘rounded’ comes into play again here, because a lot of what we do is bring people together and coordinate people. Books I always tend to go back to are How to run a great workshop and the classic, Sprint.

Book coverHow to Run a Great Workshop: The Complete Guide to Designing and Running Brilliant Workshops and Meetings
by Nikki Highmore Sims Published 03 May 2006

Anyone who has ever endured 'death by powerpoint' or a dry 'chalk and talk' session knows how not to do it, but how do you make sure that you get it right? This interactive guide is designed especially for busy managers - people whose main role is not training -- and will take you through a simple step-by-step process that results in stimulating, fun and effective workshops and presentations.

Book coverSprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days
by Jake Knapp LinkedIn icon Twitter icon Published 01 Mar 2016

A practical guide to answering critical business questions, Sprint is a book for teams of any size, from small startups to Fortune 100s, from teachers to nonprofits. It’s for anyone with a big opportunity, problem, or idea who needs to get answers today.

“These help you to really understand the processes, and how you can actually bring people together. It’s tough to bring people together in an office environment now - trying to coordinate everybody, and trying to get everybody on the same page. But it’s so important for content, for clarity, for comprehension.

“Another book I’ll come back to is a basic grammar book called Eats, Shoots and Leaves. I think sometimes we get so caught up in strategy and what sounds cool and catchy that sometimes we forget the basic rules. So, once a year I like to sit down and read through this book (that I first came across in secondary school for my English exams). I just refresh myself on it, so I never forget the fundamentals - they're really important and it keeps those writing foundations strong.”

Book coverEats, Shoots and Leaves
by Lynne Truss Published 01 Oct 2009

Anxious about the apostrophe? Confused by the comma? Stumped by the semicolon? Join Lynne Truss on a hilarious tour through the rules of punctuation that is sure to sort the dashes from the hyphens.

The future of content design

Question #13

Where do you see the practice of content design heading in the next 5-10 years?

Photo of Catherine Carr
Catherine CarrSr Content Designer II @ HubSpot | Formerly Uber and | Agony Aunt for Content Designers

“I think there are two angles. There's the actual ‘content crafting’ aspect, and then I think there's the ‘content design community/industry’ side.

“On the content crafting side, we're going to start to see content itself be redefined. I think right now it gets put into a little box of just ‘being words that you read on a page’. But the way technology is expanding, with cross-platform experiences, things like that, we're going to start to see content emerging as more than just words on a page. And we as content designers or content strategists are going to need to be really aware of how that's all going to come together, and how different types of content will apply to different types of people, at different times, and in different places.

“So, I think I would start to think a little bigger when you think ‘content’. When you think of how AI is progressing, even in the respect of the amount of companies now using chatbots, I think that's going to be a really interesting area over the next five to 10 years.

“If we're looking at industry sectors now starting to grow, if anybody listens to the podcast Pivot (which is one of my few non-crime podcasts!), with Kara Swisher, it's fantastic.

Pivot website screenshot
Pivot website screenshot

“It's on twice a week, and it's honestly like the highlight of my week. They tend to talk a lot about healthcare as an emerging area.

I think we're really going to be looking more and more at the user experience for healthcare professionals, but also the patients and even health insurance companies. It’s touted by some as ‘the new Fintech’.

About the author
Photo of Fi Shailes
Fi ShailesLinkedIn iconTwitter iconWriteful

Fi is an experienced B2B writer and strategist who creates content for the likes of Working In Content, GatherContent, and The CMI. She also manages the Writeful Blog, which is full of articles written for content people — by content people.

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