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How Content Creators, Designers, and Developers Can Work in Harmony

content-creators-design-visual-collaborationFinding that your content often falls flat? You may have a harmony problem.

Without a strong composer, a piece of content can strike dissonant chords with your audience.

Content marketing managers coordinate the work of content creators, designers, and developers. Depending on the project scope, the project management process may follow a path like this one:

  • The manager and her team form a concept, sometimes with the help of a user experience (UX) strategist.
  • The content creator writes the content.
  • The designer shapes the presentation from a visual perspective (or the producer films the video).
  • The developer does any website or application construction work.

This is an ideal situation, of course; and ideal isn’t always practical, from an execution standpoint. In reality, content marketers often have to wear more than one hat when it comes to managing all the moving parts involved in content creation.

Many of us probably earned our project management experience on the job. And when under the gun of looming goals and expectations, we aren’t always able to take the most levelheaded approach; instead we fly by the seat of our pants until we resign ourselves to the final product.

As a content marketer, you need to stop saying “this’ll do” and start learning to manage those expectations right from the start of the process. If you make it easier for your team members to do their jobs, they’ll be able to make things easier on you.

Small projects: what you should know about working with designers

Writing your own content yourself and working directly with the designer may be more common facets of your day-to-day operations, especially for smaller projects. You probably work directly with designers for… well, pretty much any type of marketing project you can imagine, including websites, blogs, eBooks, and infographics.

It can be tough, especially for those of us with a background in writing, rather than design. Often, our lack of experience in communicating visual ideas results in those ideas getting lost in translation.

So how can you curb your aspiring, yet inexperienced, inner artist and learn to trust that your designers will still meet your expectations and requirements? As is usually the case with project management efforts, communication is key. Though sometimes that communication can get a bit heated, tact and professionalism demand that we learn to keep our frustration in check, for the sake of building stronger, more trusting team relationships.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that such frustrations don’t need to be vented, from time to time. So consider the following crucial ideas shared by three experienced design professionals to be an airing  of grievances, of sorts; and then take their helpful suggestions to heart in the name of developing more positive and productive relationships among the teams involved in content creation:

Joseph Kalinowski (“JK”), Creative Director for CMI

  • Trust in your designer: A good designer makes certain choices because he knows what he’s doing. Ask questions and give feedback, but remember to put your trust in your designer.
  • Involve a designer in the early planning stages: Designers need the big picture just as much as anyone else. A complete understanding of the process and project goals is crucial to effective design.
  • Share your ideas: If you have an example of design styles you like, please share them at the beginning of the project. It saves everyone time and reduces hassles in the long run.

Brittanie Crain, UX Strategist at Duo Consulting

  • Design impacts goals and analytics: From the very beginning, UX strategists and designers should help set analytics goals. Design plays a big role in how a website or piece of content achieves those goals.
  • Page tables are super helpful for larger projects: Like a creative brief, a page table organizes the content’s objectives and messages. They’re so useful in the strategy and architecture of a larger project.
  • Designers need personas too: Designers need the same insights into the target audience as everyone else involved. Personas help ensure that writers and designers are in sync.

Matthew Russo, VP Design & Product Development at 30 Lines

  • Focus on the outcome, not the look: You’re hiring a designer to bring your ideas to life through visuals. Tell us what outcome you want — what you want your readers to feel — and leave the aesthetics up to us.
  • Less is usually more: The more competing elements you want on the page, the less impact the focal point will have. Let your content be the star. Let your designer come up with great ways to fit everything together.
  • Partner up: An open dialogue with your designer enables cooperative solutions instead of forcing creative demands. The more flexible each party is, the better design and copy will complement each other.

What about more extensive projects, like entire websites? Here, you might want to consider working with a full team headed up by a user experience (UX) strategist.

Why larger projects can benefit from UX strategists

If you have a decent understanding of development, you may choose to work directly with website development teams. But for really extensive projects, you might want to involve a UX strategist.

Sometimes it can feel like there’s a valley between the expertise of a content marketer and that of a developer. If it seems like you’re speaking different languages, it’s probably because you are.

Designers often have some development experience, which puts them in an excellent position to serve as a liaison between the content creation and development teams — particularly for smaller projects.

Larger projects, however, can be a different story. Content marketers need development professionals for content-focused websites, blogs, microsites, or apps — projects where your designer likely already has his hands full, which makes it difficult for him to juggle the dual role of an artist and a middleman.

UX strategists, on the other hand, are more comfortable serving as a bridge among teams of marketers, writers, designers, and developers. They are also experienced in combining audience research with their knowledge of design techniques and best practices to create the most direct and compelling pathways to lead a visitor to the actions you want them to take.

From a high level, content marketers may understand how they want a project to come out; but often they can use some additional perspectives to answer the tough questions that can arise during a major project. UX strategists are well-positioned to provide that perspective, particularly when it comes to common questions, like:

  • What is your software backbone capable of? This question goes two ways. Your content initiatives may be asking too much of your available technology infrastructure. On the other hand, your technology may be more robust than you thought, allowing you room to think bigger in terms of your content possibilities. Open source CMS solutions like WordPress and Drupal, for example, have very different capabilities. A UX strategist can help you see your available options.
  • Which platform should you use? This could hinge on whether your organization uses several different platforms, or if you might need to expand your tech capabilities. For example, your website may be built on Sharepoint, but it may not have the right features readily available for your microsite or blog. UX pros can help you make selections among the options at your disposal.
  • How do I update this? User friendliness is a major factor in a web content project, especially if you will need to update content on a site over the long term. A UX specialist can help you create a configuration strategy that makes it easier for even your non-technical personnel to update content.

Outside development firms typically staff their own UX strategists, but developing your own rapport with a UX consultant is a worthwhile idea if you tend to work with an internal team.

Four steps to better content marketing project management

There’s no question that project management is tough. Managing a large team can get dicey, and content marketers who don’t have a lot of management experience can often get thrown into these situations unexpectedly — especially at smaller organizations.

However, the following four steps can help even the most inexperienced project managers build and sustain an organized process:

1. Meet with everyone at the outset of the project: Bring your team together — including your writer, a designer, and a developer (or UX person) — and share the general idea of what your project is aiming to accomplish. As a team, brainstorm your plan of action, making sure everyone gets to voice their ideas.

2. Write a creative brief: A creative brief, along with defined roles and responsibilities, is a great way to outline project guidelines while managing expectations. Your brief might include a tentative title, short description of the project, the audience for the piece, the goals of the content, the key messages, the tone it should reflect — anything necessary for shaping the creative concept, including copy and design.

3. Establish a timeline of deliverables: Each role has a responsibility that follows a natural timeline. Build out your project schedule based on that timeline, so there’s no confusion about work flow, routing, and which team should take ownership of the content throughout each phase of the project.

4. Manage revisions: Find revision points that don’t force the project team to start from scratch. For example, natural revision points usually occur after the copy has been drafted, and again once the wireframes or design concepts have been built, so take advantage of this as you plan your revision process.

Weigh in

How do you manage your content team on a project-by-project basis? Share your tips with us in the comments below.

Looking for more tips and advice on what it takes to create compelling visual content? You won’t want to miss the insightful discussions we have planned at Content Marketing World 2013. Don’t miss this chance to learn from industry-leading experts. 

Cover image via Bigstock