Why did you choose this topic for your webinar?
A year or two ago I did a talk on designing for the dead. It explored our own digital legacies and data after death, as well as why we needed to weave our own endings into the services and products we create.
But since then, my perception has changed. Death and grief stopped being abstract concepts. And I saw up close how digital services can be accidentally destructive when we’re at our most vulnerable.
I’ve also worked on a number of projects that directly impacted people experiencing grief, trauma and anxiety. This includes creating content for people at the highest risk of COVID-19, writing for victims or witnesses of crimes and for those failed by healthcare authorities.
Speaking to participants for these projects really brought home how a small usability error or innocent organisational quirk can make a terrible personal experience worse. I started thinking more practically. How can we create kinder, better services? How can we write in a way that doesn’t just meet practical needs, but our emotional needs as well?
We’ll all lose loved ones and have difficult life experiences. It’s like my dad said to me a long time ago: “it’s inevitable that at times bad things and bad people will come crashing into your life. What matters is how you respond to it.” And as practitioners, we’re in a unique position when it comes to responding to these Bad Things.
We have the chance to take the negative experiences we have and turn them into actions that make it easier for the next one along. We get to make the world a little bit better. Even if those changes seem small. So, this webinar is me, responding and making tiny changes.
How does your role at Nomensa allow you to infuse empathy into the content you create?
Empathy begins with user research and without it, it’s hard to get the content right. That’s why I’m lucky that user research is woven into pretty much all our projects here. Working so closely with user researchers means we get to hear first-hand what it’s like to use a digital product or service.
Being ‘in the room’ whether physically or virtually during research sessions gives you a real world understanding of how users access a service. It shows you their immediate needs like certain topics, painpoints or priorities, but also the emotions they feel while using a service.
These emotions aren’t just the ones that the service makes them feel (for example, grief when reporting a death). But also the emotions that exist in the background while doing a tangential task (for example, trying to find a map to the courthouse when you have to testify or locating a COVID testing centre while your child is sick).
This emotional element is what we need to get right the most. And it’s the bit that can be lost if we don’t speak to our users enough.
What skills are most crucial when crafting content that not only informs but also supports and empathises with the reader?
Writing well is just the beginning. Writing is traditionally seen as quite an insular activity, but really, there’s a whole period of gestation and rumination before we can write a single word. And most of that process is just listening and understanding.
We need to understand who we’re writing for to create inclusive, empathetic content. We have to listen to the people who deliver a service and the ones on the receiving end. But we also have to listen to product teams so we can understand what’s gone wrong before and find opportunities of what we can do next.
What do you find most rewarding about creating content that empowers and supports users, and how do you navigate the emotional complexities involved?
The most rewarding part is easy – being able to make things just that little bit better for people is a feeling I’m not sure I’ll ever get tired of. We get to give back, learn and change things for the better. We don’t always work on projects that touch on the Big Topics. But even mundane, daily tasks matter too.
We might just be checking the council website to see when our bins are going to be collected, but we still have that whole symphony of stresses, preoccupations and nagging thoughts rattling around our heads. Making that noise a little more manageable is what it’s all about.
Navigating the emotional complexity of designing these services is a bit trickier, and it will be a big part of my webinar. Because it’s not just the emotional wellbeing of service users or participants we need to be mindful of. We also need to look after each other.
As practitioners, we thread this weird balance between being a user and a designer of services and products. We’re both an observer and a participant. Often the projects we work on impact us directly. Sometimes we’ll speak to participants whose experiences feel uncomfortably close.
So how do we write about topics we’ve also experienced while remaining impartial? How can we take care of our own emotional well-being when working on services that directly affect us? Not to leave you hanging, but you’ll have to attend the webinar to find out.
What advice would you give to aspiring Content Designers about creating content that truly resonates with an audience?
Mostly just to read a lot and learn as much as you can. Getting the words right is so important that it can feel terrifying, especially when we’re writing for services that involve vulnerable users. We never want to re-traumatise or upset anyone by saying the wrong thing.
So, if you’re ever unsure, just ask. Ask your teammates, other content designers and your community. There is so much expertise out there and so many talented people doing great work that they’re happy to share. You don’t have to have all the answers and it’s okay to get it wrong.
Content design is a team sport and you don’t need to do it all alone. So lead with your compassion, but make sure to keep some for yourself.
Join Lauren for her upcoming webinar on Tuesday 13th February – grab your free ticket here.