July 21-22, 2021 / Online

How we Destroyed Content Design

Written by How we Destroyed Content Design

March 1, 2021


Oh, hello there. It's good to see you again. But before we begin, I need to warn you about a few things.

Most talks at Tech events are about the big wins, the success stories, the hard problems that are solved. It's like a highlight reel where nothing ever really goes wrong. But it's rare to hear about the losses, the mistakes, the failures, or even the trade offs. And that's a pity, because those are often the more interesting stories that teach us the most. These darker tales make us reconsider our own decisions, biases and prejudices. After all, the oldest lesson is that we've learned far more from failure than we do from success. So that's why this talk will be a little bit different. We'll start by going over the biggest failure of my career. And then we'll end with an altogether different sort of failure. And in between, we'll talk about how teams of content strategists, content designers and UX writers can transform the way they work to achieve more impact, develop their skills, drive their careers forward, even earn more pay.

Now, these are strong opinions that I've developed over my past seven years of working as a product content designer and design manager. And that's part of a career that spans over two decades. So you may not agree with me. And that's okay. Because what I think is not all there is. Reasonable people can disagree over how best to work, ways to structure design practice, what outcomes to target and how to achieve the most in an uncertain world. So I encourage you to consider these opinions, but then to improve on them. Remix the ideas in this talk to transform your own work and organizations. As always, I'm likely wrong about many, many things. But the one thing I'll never doubt is your capacity to do better than I have. And that's it.

It's your last chance to step away for here, there're be dragons and you're not going to like how this ends. I certainly don't. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

My name is Jonathan Colman, and I'm here to tell you about how we destroyed content design. I'm a Senior Design Manager at Intercom in Dublin. And even though I live in Ireland, I don't have an exciting Irish accent. That's because I'm originally from the United States, State of Michigan in particular. Oh, yeah, it's the one that shaped like a hand. You can find me on Twitter @jcolman. And if you have any questions that we don't get to discuss later, please just ask them on Twitter, and I'll follow up with you.

But look, I know you're busy, you're multitasking at home. So no worries if you need to leave early to take care of your kids, walk your dog, or register to vote. You can go to this link right now and get these slides, go.inter.com/destroy. I've included links to all the references and related resources there. Everything's all together in one place.

Now let's begin. We'll start by talking about what happened.

I want to tell you about one of my first projects as a product content strategist at Facebook, it launched back in the spring of 2014. Seems like a long time ago now, doesn't? When you close your eyes and try to remember 2014, what do you see? This is what I see or rather this. I worked on a product at Facebook that would identify the music, movies and TV shows playing around you. It was pretty much like Shazam but for Facebook, here's how it worked.

If you opted in, then whenever you made a post, Facebook would use the microphone and music apps on your phone to analyze the sounds playing around you. It would create an audio fingerprint of those sounds and then attempt to match them against a huge database of music, film and TV audio prints to identify what you were actually listening to. And then you would choose to post that song, TV show, or movie to Facebook with an automatically generated preview like this one.

Now, all of this happened in about five seconds. It's pretty cool. Well, in 2014, that's what we thought anyway.

But here's the thing. Just because you can solve a hard technical problem, doesn't mean you're solving a real problem for real people. Also, I should mention that none of this is a secret. There's a press release on Facebook's newsroom from when this feature launched, and it has all the images I'm showing you here. So let's take a closer look.

My work on this product was solely limited to UX writing. I planned and wrote out the opt on screen which looked like this. The goal was to explain the feature clearly so that people would then opt into using it.

Now do you see that Learn More link? You could tap on that and then the second screen would come up. Now as you can see, in the screen tells you more about how the feature works, how to turn it on and off. It also sets expectations for privacy, what's recorded, what's stored, and what's shared? And that's it. We went through a few iterations. I took it to Critique, got feedback from other content strategists. And eventually I got it approved by the product team, the various leaders, even the lawyers. And why not? It's simple enough, friendly enough. What could possibly go wrong?

Oh, let me tell you.

People needed to know how it worked, and why they should use it, the how and the why, but all I had was the what. And there was barely any what there. Amy Thibodeau, who's now a UX director of Shopify was at Facebook during this period. And she used to call what I was doing, dusting the content. She said that when you only tidy up the words on the surface, without understanding or solving the actual problems, then you're not really focusing on the product or its user experience anymore. You're just dusting. You can't say that what you're doing is designed in any real sense, rather as Jeffrey Zeldman tells us, it's mere decoration. But that's what I was doing, dusting and decorating, taking care of things like voice, tone, terminology, writing standards and style, but not giving the experience, or that people was intended for any real attention or focus. So I inadvertently buried the most important context about the how and the why, on the secondary screen.

It was easy to miss and impossible to get back to. Also the overall value proposition was weak. I was solving a problem for Facebook. We wanted people to post more, post faster, but it wasn't a real people problem.

So what do you think happened when we launched? Pretty much what you'd expect. The absence of a clear message and a strong value prop, people assumed that Facebook was always listening to them in their conversations, recording everything and sending it back to headquarter for use in ad targeting.

Now here's a news story that shows how people perceived this product when it launched. Here's another one and another one. These were all caused by my failure to do my job. My failure also led to this petition signed by over 600,000 people. And it was just one of many at the time. My failure also led to this video and several others that were viewed millions of times. My failure led to a Jimmy fucking Kimmel skit.

Facebook attempted to do a lot of damage control, but the damage was done. The product was dead on arrival, and later they quietly pulled it from the app.

Now, in case you're wondering, Facebook does not actually record your conversations. And why? 'Cause they don't need to. They can still serve you extremely personalized ads without doing that. But just so we're clear, it wasn't Facebook's fault that this happened. It was my fault for not doing my job. And I take absolute responsibility for this. The product team didn't have a designer so I was in the best position on this team to influence how it worked and what it released. But I didn't do that. I didn't do my job, and I regret it deeply to this day.

So let me address the question that's probably in your mind. Why?

Here's why. I wasn't focused.

Like most content strategist, I was working on multiple teams at the same time on multiple projects within those teams, none of which were closely related. I was in back to back meetings most of the day and trying to write highly nuanced interfaces in the bits of time in between them, or at night, or early in the morning. Back in 2014, I didn't just work on that one product I showed you. I also worked on Facebook login, anonymous login, Facebook's entire developer platform, Nearby Friends, and Facebook's entire search platform. Give or take, I worked with at least 10 product managers and probably twice that number of designers, all of whom was always wondering why I was running around like a crazy person. Oh, and I was also managing a team of content strategists, each of whom also worked on several different unrelated products at the same time.

Now, we often criticized phrases like Facebook's move fast and break things, but have no doubts. This accurately describes how almost all content strategists work today. And we accept it as being normal. But we really shouldn't.

Listen, I'm not letting myself off the hook for doing bad work or for causing such a colossal failure, I deserve your criticism. But I'd also argue that this way of working is unsustainable, one that it's guaranteed to lead to bad outcomes like the one I've shown you.

Move fast and break things, oh, I did, I surely did. And I broke myself a little along the way too.

Now in 2020, six years later, nothing has changed. No matter what you call yourselves content strategist, content designers, UX writers, almost all of you work this way. You're asked to scale in ways that none of your colleagues are, and why? Because it's all just the words, isn't it? Anyone can do that. Your employers believe that it's right and proper to spread a product to UX content person across a large and ever increasing range of product teams. And why not? If you can work well on say, two teams, then why not three, more five, or 10 or 20. I talked with a person last fall at a very well known company who said that they work with over 100 designers all at the same time. But of course, your colleagues on product teams, they all just work on the one product at a time.

So after much research at Intercom and in our industry, there are eight core problems I've identified for content professionals who work in this way, covering many products at once, who experienced the sort of inequality.

The first is that you have no focus.

You're constantly context switching and optimizing for the quick bits of work in between your meetings, or you're doing it on your commute, or late at night, early in the morning, and not just during crunch periods like right before a launch. You're working this way all the time.

Now, a lot of that work isn't going to be your best. How could it? Because you have no context. Even if you're invited to every meeting, you simply can't attend them all when you have multiple teams, stand up, retro, planning, roadmap and goal setting, and more are challenging with just one team, let alone five or 10 or more. You'll run into conflicts here even if you just work with two teams, and because of your lack of context, you rarely have a clear thorough understanding of the problems that your teams are trying to solve, their research insights, their jobs to be done, their users, customers, their goals, their roadmap, and more.

Not being immersed in these things at the same levels as your colleagues makes it pretty hard for you to have an impact on them. Not to mention that your teams have no idea what you do, how you do it, or why. And why should they? They barely see, and they don't perceive you as even being part of their team. So they don't see your process, how you solve problems, or how you determine solutions and validate their success. To someone who only sees you for 15 to 30 minutes a week, seems like all you do is ask a lot of questions and write, not design. And that's not your fault. It's also not theirs. I'd argue that neither of you are set up well for success in this relationship.

So you don't get to work as deeply on problems as anyone else on the teams that you serve. Most of your work is limited to the product surface, where your colleagues want you to fill in a series of boxes with the right words. And even then, they'll doubt your decisions, they question your judgment, because they don't know how you work. But they do know you don't have the same context they do. So it's easy to just align with a style guide, and then fall into a mode of writing what they tell you to write.

Now, this means that you don't have the same opportunities for impact as your colleagues. They're all rewarded for solving hard problems, shipping new product and features. But you're usually overlooked. Your work often goes unnoticed, 'cause you're not considered to be part of the team or to be an essential part of the solutions that they ship. Your ability to influence people, product roadmaps, strategy, it's all greatly curtailed and you're always begging for recognition, but you almost never get it. The doors to impact and recognition that are open for others, they're not open for you. And that makes it really hard to advance in your career, not just promotion to the next level, but real development, learning how to solve harder problems, building better products, multiplying your impact or the impact of others, developing your skills as a designer or as a product person, basically doing anything besides writing, and usually writing more or writing faster. It's hard to grow your skills when you're scrambling to switch contexts between teams, and your work isn't recognized, and when your hands are tied for doing anything more than just writing.

You're also not paid as much as your colleagues in design and product and we all know it. They out earn you in cash, equity, bonuses, races and more. And they'll continue to out earn you as they take new roles and new jobs and new companies. They're already well ahead of you. And by the the end of your career, they'll be even further along.

And it's not just about us as individuals. A survey conducted last year by the UX Writing Collective found that 74% of people who self identify as UX writers, also self identify as women. So less compensation for practitioners of this discipline also contributes to the gender pay gap in design and tech.

And finally, you are burned the fuck out. And who wouldn't be under circumstances like these? It's hard to be motivated when you're spread too thin, context switching way too much, under-recognized, under-promoted, under-paid, and when your only solution is to move to another company to repeat the same things over and over again.

For me, the most draining thing is knowing that you have unfulfilled potential and that you're blocked from living up to it. So even when you're exhausted, you can still achieve more, if only your organization would let you work in a different way.

So we have these eight core problems, and they aren't new. Everyone working in the field today knows all about them. And most of us have grappled with them for the better part of a decade, several of you much longer. But we rarely talk about it outside of the content displines. Why is that?

Well, that's why since 2014, I've been waiting, waiting and wondering, what if things were different? What if we were different, and worked in a different way? In 2018, when I interviewed for my role at Intercom, Emmet Connolly, the design director, who would later become my manager asked me, "How would you build a world class content design team?" And when he asked this, I heard a voice in my head that said, "Look, the door is open a crack here. What if we swung it wide open?"

Now that voice sounded a lot like this woman, Ella Mei Yon Harris. She was my manager at Facebook. And she's now the head of design for Facebook Assistant. Now, there was a year when I was at Facebook, where Ella gave me the opportunity to work with just one product team. She had this brilliant idea that content strategist could be far more impactful when they worked on just one thing at a time. And she convinced her colleagues and product leadership that this would yield better product results in our usual way of being spread thin across everything.

I was part of her test case. And by the end of the year working on just one product, I went from writing the words in the user interface to leading its designers and being offered a role as a product design manager.

Now, let's be clear. Those things didn't happen because I'm specially talented or did everything well. I'm not and I didn't. Rather it's because I was given the time and space to have the same amount of focus as everyone else on the product team. And I'm convinced that if you work this way, yes, you dear listener, if you work this way, you could realize the very same outcomes.

So when I came to Intercom, I built on Ella's theory, but make no mistake, she inspired me. And she deserves recognition and credit for this idea.

So here's how we solve those eight core problems at Intercom completely changing how content designers work, what they work on, and why. Like many content efforts, it started with a document. Now all product people at Intercom find that writing is the clearest way to communicate and align on big, complex and ambiguous problems. So we often start new lines of work with documents that we call intermissions. Here's part of mine.

I put this together by talking with my team, colleagues and leaders to identify and better understand what turned out to be those eight core problems I shared with you earlier. I proposed to leadership that we move content designers from focusing on five or six products each to just one product at a time. Just one content designer to just one product, and that's it.

Now, this matched the allocation of almost everyone else working on product, including product designers, product managers, engineers, analysts, all of whom worked on just one product at a time. Now, along with working on just one product, we also shut down all of our office hours programs in other ways that provide an ad hoc support. After all, no other discipline does these things. Why should we? We determined that work like this provides minimal impact at best and maximal distraction from the most important things at worst.

Now, the reason why content teams in most companies spread themselves thin and run office hours style programs is because they're focused on creating connected, coherent experiences across all the products, all the features and all the messaging for the entire company. Sometimes we refer to this as breaking down the silos. The fear is that if they don't craft every piece of content and make sure it's consistent, clear, and up to standards, then things can fall through the cracks between all of those individual product teams.

Now at scale, this can lead to bad handoffs between products, unclear or inconsistent messaging, and if things get confusing enough, poor conversion and retention, so the spaces between our products matter just as much as the products themselves. So content teams often focus on the language and information architecture and product surfaces, making it clear, consistent, useful, accessible, and on brand. This helps him break down those silos and ensure the holistic customer journey is coherent.

But here's the thing. As they do that concept strategists often become aware of much deeper issues in products and solution design that are far, far below the surface. And these often take the form of strategy, scope and structure that are hard to solve with just words. Maybe the definition of the problem that the product is supposed to solve is wrong. Maybe the scope of the solution is too small to solve the problem. Maybe the solution concept doesn't address the needs of a marginalized audience. Maybe the system model is too opinionated, which will make it brittle, prone to errors and expensive to change in the future.

These are all important problems. But because content strategists and UX writers aren't embedded and focused directly within these teams, they often uncover these issues toward the end of the development cycle, after everything's already been built. This means that they have very little influence over this product teams. And those product teams aren't incentivized to be receptive to their feedback. Or they try to solve product strategy and design problems with content on the surface.

Here's a pro tip, that doesn't work.

All those extra words make the experience more complex, more intimidating, and more confusing. And this approach decreases trust, because it teaches customers to skip over our messages.

Say it with me. You can't solve product and design problems with content.

So at Intercom, we wanted to solve those deeper issues. And that's why we made an intentional choice to prioritize them instead of our previous work on just the words at the surface. And since we had fewer content designers than we did product teams, this meant that if content designers only worked on one product at a time, then ultimately we'd just focus on a subset of our products, not all of them.

So we also made hard decisions about which product teams needed focused, directly embedded content design the most, and which ones didn't. We decided that not all products deserve an equal amount of focus or time. And we empowered the teams that we didn't work with anymore with a simple set of content principles and guidelines that helped them do quality work quickly. What about the spaces between the product teams?

At a company level, we created multidisciplinary initiatives owned by teams and groups of teams to drive coherence and connection between our products. And ultimately, we decided that this was a much better and a far more effective approach than expecting content designers to somehow magically fill in all those gaps.

So if content designers are dedicated to just one product at a time, what do they do all day? Writing the words is great, but only during the detailed design phase of the product lifecycle. What happens earlier on at the beginning or midway through? Inspired by Jesse James Garrett, we defined the practice of what we called full stack content design.

Now, this is work that goes well below the product surface all the way to its foundations. Rather than being limited to just writing words on the product surface, we untied content designers hands. Now, they were expected to influence product strategy, direction, scope, roadmap, system, solution concepts, and more, not just the words. Our theory was that if content designers have focus, context and the trust of their teams, then they can work on problems deeply from the beginning, doing far more than just writing the user experience. They could also engage in everything from setting strategy and requirements, up to and including interaction design, UI design, and visual design, you know, just like product designers. And because at this point most teams already know what to expect from product designers, it's easy for them to understand what to expect from content designers. In effect, we simply call this capital D Design.

So content designers at Intercom work like product designers now, they co-lead product teams and drive discrete product efforts, such as understanding the problems and aligning the team around them, conducting research to yield insights, hypothesizing solutions, mapping out systems, defining concepts, working at all levels of fidelity to prototype, validate and ship. That's right. They work in clearly identifiable and well understood ways across the entire Double Diamond design process. You know, just like product designers.

Our content designers achieve much more with this new way of working. For example, content designers present product design and strategy to leadership. Previously, that's something that only product designers or sometimes PMs did. Content designers design and build prototypes and lead a research to validate them, something that previously only product designers have done. Content designers will lead the beta release products process for new products and features, something that traditionally is the task for PMs. And most importantly, content designers help set their team's strategy, goals and roadmaps, all things that only PMs, product designers and engineering managers have done in the past.

Alex Schleifer the Chief Design Officer at Airbnb has written about the model of the three legged stool of disciplines that working together co-lead product teams. These disciplines are engineering, product management, and product design. But in Intercom, content designers emerged as the fourth leg of team leadership, providing additional stability, perspective, coherency and meaningful impact to the teams they worked with. Our content designers were able to achieve the status because they had the time and space required to consistently drive business impact and prove their value to teams and leadership. You could do the same.

I'm convinced that any team working this way would be just as successful if not more. And that's because when you work on just one product at a time, you have the opportunities to focus and work deeply, along with the same full context as everyone else on the product team. Our content designers were present and active in all of their teams meetings and other rituals. And because they were, their teams could see them working all the time. And this helped their teams understand them, their work, how they did it best and why it mattered, how it drove impact. Everyone on the team always knew what their content designer was doing and why, all because they only worked on one product at a time. That was the key that unlocked everything.

Next, we wanted to make it clear what content designers were being held accountable for. What was their job exactly and how do they advance in their careers? We started by writing up a very detailed list of all the competence and skills and outcomes that were highly specific to content design that we thought we should be held accountable for. And then we trashed that.

And that's because as we look through our existing competencies for product designers, we couldn't see any reason why content designers couldn't or shouldn't do exactly the same things. For example, take a look at these expectations for products and teams. They're exactly the same for product and content designers and why wouldn't they be?

These focus on product knowledge, direction, vision, strategy and collaboration, it's hard to imagine any design role being effective without these skills. Same for the behaviors and practices we value. These competencies focus on beliefs and values, how we communicate about design, developing a growth mindset and team building. Why shouldn't both content and product designers both be accountable for all these things?

Same for the results and outcomes we care about the most. These focus on the impact we created and the practices that bring it about, such as setting smart goals, biasing towards action, working efficiently and making the most of the opportunities in front of us. Why shouldn't both content and product designers be accountable for all of these things? The only real difference we found is in design execution, what work we do and how we do it.

Now, you might think that there's a big gulf in execution between what product and content designers do but there's not. If and only if content designers work on just one product team at a time, that makes most of these differences vanish.

In the end, we decided to keep the same expectations for design execution with the slightest change. Product designers would focus slightly more on interaction and UI design, while content designers would focus slightly more on information architecture and UX writing, but both roles would be expected to be proficient and capable across all of these areas.

None of this is a secret, by the way. You can find all of these on our design team site at intercom.design. Our expectations, design process, principles, everything else you'll find here are all created through creative commons so you can remix and reuse them with your own teams. We only ask that you share out your work so that other folks can continue to learn from you.

Also, please know that on the site, we intentionally refer to our combined team as being Intercom's product design team. And that's because we purposefully blurred the lines between these two roles so each effectively looks, acts and works almost exactly like the other. We made sure the product and content designers follow the same design process, product and content designers are held accountable for the same expectations. Product and content designers both produce the same outcomes, and the same impact. Why? Because it makes both roles more effective. Product designers up level their skills and language, structure, content and narrative.

Meanwhile, content designers develop in visual design, interaction design, prototyping and more. But both roles by virtue of collaborating more closely and more often as equals, they just simply build better products. They're no longer playing against each other. They are literally on the same team working in tandem. And it's hard to tell the difference between them. And that's the point. There's no design without content, and no content without design.

When we're at our best, it's hard to tell where content ends and design begins. That's not a mistake or a failure. It's intentional. It's the goal. It's our job.

And finally, we determined that if content designers do the same work as product designers using the same process to the same standards, producing the same results and the same impact, then they should be paid the same. So content designers and product designers at Intercom have exactly the same total compensation by level and experience. There's no difference at all between the pay bands, equity grants, benefits or anything else. Also, this happens to be the same pay as product managers have. So there's no hierarchy on our product teams.

Now we did this because it's just so clearly the right thing to do. We're glad to do it. We've also found it to be a key differentiator for recruiting new content designers to join us. But that's not really an advantage I want, because everyone in this field should be paid fairly and equally for their work. Imagine if all companies did this at scale across our entire discipline, where women make up 74% of all the practitioners, then we'd begin to have some clear impact against the gender pay gap in design and tech.

And there you have it, the four key changes we made. Content designers work on one product at a time and no longer run office hours. They practice full stack content design, working not just on words on the surface, but deep in strategy and scope, extending their practice across the entire Double Diamond process. We hold all designers accountable for impact in exactly the same ways, so that everyone knows what to expect of both content and product designers. And because of that, we pay them the same.

All of these are great changes that solve the eight core problems I mentioned earlier. But they're not what destroyed content design for us, these things are. One of the things you learn after working in product for almost any amount of time, is that no matter how good things might seem, how clear of a choice or opportunity is there right in front of you waiting to be picked up, there are always trade offs, side effects, unintended consequences.

I started off by telling you how unfortunate it is the talks at Tech events like this aren't open enough about these things. So it's only fair that I share with you what happened after we made these changes.

As I mentioned before, some products don't get any content design support at all. And that's not a bug, it's a feature. Because if you're making intentional choices to invest 100% of a content designers time into just one product instead of five or 10 or more, that means you have to prioritize. In effect, you're picking winners and losers.

Let's say you had a team of five people working across 50 products, and then you implement a system so that they only work on just five products, one per person. Okay, so which 45 products would you now choose to go without the benefits of content design? It's a hard question. And decisions like these are not fun to make. The quality of products without our support is a lot lower. And you may not even realize that until you see a product that's launched out in the wild, and you likely won't even know that it's launched because your early warning system, a content designer who talked to someone on that team for 15 minutes one week, that early warning system no longer exists.

And on the products that do get content design support, that work is held to a much higher standard. It's the same standard as product design. So just writing the words and having someone else worry about the pixels, prototype, design system components, code, QA and more, it's no longer an option. Our leaders ask for a lot of heavy lifting from our content designers and they're right to because we have the same expectations of content design as we do have product design and we pay both roles the same.

So content designers have to know their product spaces inside and out. They have to explain the rationale for their decisions, and they have to move fast, just like product designers. And when faced with a challenge or a hard question, they can't push the work off to another designer or to a PM or anyone else. They need to take ownership and move things forward.

So when content designers are embedded and focused on just one product, they can't work holistically on all of the content across the entire system of products. It's not just individual products that don't get our support, it's the all the handoffs between them. So we're no longer in the business of forcibly breaking down the silos. We've embedded ourselves within them. I'm sure if you went through Intercom the product at a deep level today, you'd find a number of inconsistencies inelegant experiences and quite possibly even some bad ones. We've tried to give all teams working in product the knowledge and guidance they need to avoid these problems. And we work hard to stay in close contact with our customers to solve issues as they come up, but no one's perfect. I'm sure things slip through the cracks.

But I'm also sure that burdening any one person or anyone disciplined with the sole responsibility for filling in those cracks is not a sustainable way for solving them. It's also much harder for us to invest time in content ops work. So things like voice and tone guidelines, principles, style guides, terminology, all of these are deprioritized. There's no one who can work on them because each content designer is 100% allocated to their product team. So the tools and scaffolding of content design often don't get much of a look-in. We do more bespoke work now that's specific to the problems we're solving in our product teams.

You can solve for some of this with a strong design system, but only if you have a dedicated team for it. If not, the problem of developing standards and tools will persist. Overall, when you blur the lines between content and product design, your content design team ends up looking and feeling a lot more like a product design team. And if you play both roles the same, what you absolutely should do, your team will also cost more. It will cost the same as a product design team. So it's more expensive to run, which means that at scale, you can't hire as many content designers as you'd like to. Money isn't free, neither is hiring. You'll have to get used to seeing more empty chairs than you'd like. And even when you do have headcount to bring on more content designers, guess what? It's extremely challenging to recruit, hire, and retain a team of content designers who can work just like product designers at the same level of impact.

Not everyone is well suited to work the way we do, nor does everyone want to. It's very hard to find people with these skills though I hope that changes over time. Content designers who can work this way have a lot of leverage over employers in the market today, as well, they should. So managers, keep on your toes. Give your content designers challenges to help them grow and opportunities to learn so that you don't loose them.

Now take all of these trade offs together, and the bigger question, a question behind it in plain sight, but one I'm a little afraid to ask out loud. If your content designers work just like product designers, if you blur the lines between product and content design enough, if your content designers no longer work across the system, and if you realize the same trade offs that we have, then well, what is content design?

As we made these changes at Intercom and as our content designers became more successful as capital D designers, a disquiet haunted me. I began to experience doubt in something that I once felt was assurity, which is what if there is no content design? What if there are no content designers, content strategists, or UX writers? What if I no longer believed in everything that got me into this industry, this role, and where I am today? What if the key had always been there on the ground in front of me all along, and I was just afraid to pick it up, unlock the door and swing it wide open?

To paraphrase Jesse James Garrett once more, over the past year, I've come to believe that there are no content designers. There are only and only ever have been product designers.

And I know that sounds threatening, so take a deep breath before firing off that Twitter thread. I'm not attacking you, or anyone who identifies as a content designer, content strategist or UX writer, I'm not invalidating your work, your practice, your accomplishments or your careers. I'm trying to elevate them. After all, you probably didn't become a content designer just to write the words, but to solve hard problems for people, to design and build products and get them to those people who need them. We figured out a way for you to do that. So if you consider the things that you say you want, the things we found at Intercom, working on one product at a time, working end to end across the Double Diamond, working deeply with full context, earning the trust and respect of your colleagues, and leaders, co-leading a team to solve hard problems and build better products, advancing in your career and earning equal pay. If these are the things that you want, and if the solution to these problems is essentially the same as product design, then are you not a product designer?

For me, I eventually decided that I was. And that's how we destroyed content design, at least for me, it doesn't have to be destroyed for you. One of the benefits of blurring the lines between product and content design suddenly make it possible for people to switch between the two roles as opportunities open up on either side.

So last fall, I transferred to a product design manager role. And in addition to content designers, I now manage the product design team for our platform group of products. It's good craic, as we say in Ireland, and I'm learning and growing a lot. But it's the kind of opportunity I don't want to be special. It's the kind of opportunity I want every one on my team to have, it's the kind of opportunity I want you to have too. But I can't call myself a content designer anymore. The lines have blurred far too much.

Now, do you remember how I told you at the beginning, that you won't like how the story ends? Well, we're here at the end. Unexpected events, like a once in a century global pandemic can disrupt even the best laid plans. And so late last month, Intercom had to make a very hard painful decision to lay off many of our staff to the impacts of COVID-19 on our business, and among those affected were two content designers. I'd like to introduce you to them because they're both looking for their next roles, and I think you can make a real difference for them.

First up is Kelly O'Brien. Kelly has been working as a hybrid product and content designer at Intercom for two years. Her focus has been on building and designing our automation and chat bot products, and she was a driving factor behind a resolution bot product, which automates the answers to common customer questions, in a really smart and human way. Kelly's also spoken at several events about content design for chat bots, including UX London last year. You can learn more and connect with Kelly directly at go.inter.com/kelly.

Next is Meredith Castiel. And Meredith has been working as a hybrid product and content design lead at Intercom for the past year. She's currently focused on designing our next generation chat system, that seamlessly connects machine learning, bots, people and businesses all through conversations. Previously, Meredith was the first content strategist and discipline lead at Udemy, a senior content strategist at Google, and a lecturer at Stanford. Bloomsbury USA published her first book, "Driver's License." You can learn more and connect with Meredith directly at go.inter.com/meredith.

And both Meredith and Kelly can help transform your teams to work exactly the way that ours did. They were both essential to making all of this happen at Intercom and each of them contributed so much to the process, thinking and execution of the ideas I've shared with you today. It simply wouldn't have happened without them. So don't miss your chance to hire them. I'd urge you not to walk but to run to get in touch with them. And if you're not comfortable reaching out to them directly, get in touch with me, and I'd be happy to introduce you to your next great content designers.

So like I said at the beginning, I'm sorry, but the story doesn't end well. Instead of concluding with a big win, we end the same way we began, not with a bang, nor a whimper, but with failure. And I wish it ended differently. But we all knew it wasn't gonna. Maybe that's fitting, because the work of organizing, building and rebuilding teams is never complete. And in some ways, we're always adapting to the world and what we've learned from it. And like I said at the beginning, failure has always been a far better teacher than success. So at the end of our story, no one lives happily ever after. Not even me, but they do live and for a while, they were happy.

Thank you so much.

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