– My role: Lead Content Strategist/Designer –
Fannie Mae hired the talent you would expect – visual, UX, interaction, and service designers – when they started their Customer Experience Design (CXD) group.
But they had a gap in their offerings. They had no content experts on the team.
CXD’s senior leadership generally understood the value of content as a design discipline. They didn’t see a practical place for it in the group until the FannieMae.com redesign project was about to launch.
Finding a solution for that single project was simple: hire a content strategist. That’s how I joined CXD in 2018.
The bigger challenge they faced: how to include content strategy and design as part of their offerings?
As I took part in critique sessions and project spotlight events, I saw that CXD’s designers needed a better understanding of the value content experts could bring to projects. They thought that content was something you just added at the last minute instead of a key part of designing a product and creating the user experience.
This gap in understanding played out repeatedly. Designers asked for content help – just “look it over” – in products close to launch dates.
This put me and the content strategist hired after me in a position where we were offering little value. Design decisions were in code and ready to go. If content wasn’t right, it meant rework, which product owners and teams didn’t like.
This pattern had to stop.
Fannie Mae’s tech-first mindset meant designers would need enough content maturity to be able to advocate for content with their product owners and product teams.
When CXD’s leadership stood up communities of practice (COPs) in 2018, I found my first way to raise the group’s content maturity.
The second path to increasing content maturity at Fannie Mae wouldn’t present itself until mid-2020.
Designers and leadership in the Customer Experience Design (CXD) group used the term content strategy as a catch-all. It meant everything from Information Architecture to UX writing to product content strategy to storytelling.
I resisted the temptation to dig into terms as I planned COP events. Instead, I presented content in a context they would understand.
I concentrated on the ways a content expert could add value to the design process and help improve the UX for customers.
I showed designers how they could avoid rework by getting content experts involved early. Once they understood, my next step was empower CXD’s designers to be advocates for content.
Mentoring a design group
The scope of work the CXD group handled was vast. It was too much for a now three-person content team to handle in mid-2019.
The number of requests we got – from proofing presentation deck copy to designing product content strategy to UX writing to storytelling help – overwhelmed us.
We needed designers to be more than advocates.
They had to have enough knowledge to know when they could make their own improvements and when they needed help.
Community of Practice as a vehicle
While most communities of practice are for practitioners, this one needed be useful for designers whose primary focus wasn’t content.
I set up an editorial calendar for the Content Community of Practice partnering with the Sr. Digital Content Strategist hired full time in 2019.
We focused on hosting events that:
- mentored CXD’s designers in content best practices
- gave them practical techniques they could apply with their product teams
The goal: to raise CXD’s overall level of content maturity.
CXD’s content team reduced to two in late-2019 as one of our content strategists, still on contract, moved on to an in-house opportunity. This made it tough to keep momentum going in the community of practice.
Ultimately, we presented 10 1-hour sessions in 2019 in a monthly cadence on topics such as:
- how to design error messages (based on techniques from Writing is Designing by Michael J. Metts and Andy Welfle)
- understanding plain language and how to recognize jargon
- being user centered with content and how designers can incorporate structure into their work with content (based on techniques from Writing for Designers by Scott Kubie)
Once we had practice delivering on our editorial calendar, it was time to find other content experts in the Enterprise.
Because CXD was part of Fannie Mae’s single-family division, I reached out to a Sr. Writer in the company’s marketing & communications division. I asked her to promote the COP events and encourage her coworkers, who were writers and communications professionals, to attend.
In January 2020, I planned an ambitious program for the content COP. It included a two-part workshop on storytelling and presenting design work to stakeholders, and UX writing practice sessions, among other events.
Then the pandemic arrived.
Shifting to fully remote work launched Fannie Mae’s meeting culture into overdrive. It doubled, and for some people tripled, the number of hours of meetings every week.
Everyone had meeting fatigue. And no one wanted to attend an optional community of practice for something that wasn’t their specialty.
We needed to do something different in 2020 to keep people interested.
From May 2020 through October 2020, we held monthly 30-minute sessions. These mini sessions gave bite sized techniques on topics designers faced daily:
- how stories relate to design and how to tell better ones to get stakeholder support
- what makes a good call to action
- designing errors states – round 2 (CXD had more than doubled in size in 2020 and most designers hadn’t taken this training)
- the impact of word choice on the user experience
- how microcopy can help or hinder someone doing a task
I tied each of these sessions into a UX principle. My storytelling presentation, for example, used Miller’s Law and the concept of working memory as its hook.
We also provided resources they could dig into later to learn more.
Our most popular topic in 2020: how stories relate to design and how to tell better ones.
We shortened this presentation from our in-person plans. And we had a guest presenter show us her process for building one of the most popular quarterly readouts in CXD’s history.
Community of practice meetings in 2020 drew an average attendance of 40 people, at least one-third of those from Fannie Mae’s marketing & communications division.
My strategy and the content I designed and mentored CXD’s other full-time content expert to create increased attendance for this community of practice 225% in just two years.
We earned a Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 96 in 2020 as rated by CXD’s designers and people in marketing & communications.