Stories through film, books, and UX with Laura Costantino

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November 17, 2022
Laura Costantino
Laura Costantino

As far as cool jobs go, Laura Costantino is quite the expert.

They have worked in the film industry, in book publishing, and as a copywriter.

They then transitioned into a UX role, finally finding the supportive community that had been missing earlier. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves—more on that later!

Today, Laura helps build the future of Google Ads, as a Senior UX Writer.

Or at least that’s the official title (they would much rather go by Content Designer, for reasons to be discussed soon).

What’s content design?

Content designers, often interchangeably called UX writers, focus on helping software products communicate their purpose & functionality to users. 

You can open Uber and figure out the ride you need in 0.36 seconds because the app is well-organized & the language is intuitive to you. This is the work of Uber’s Content Design team.

Content Designers craft the written material in your apps—headers, instructions, funny 404 messages—and figure out how to best organize it (information architecture) so that users can discover & access the value behind the product.

This process ranges from research (gathering information on user needs), to mapping the user’s journey, understanding their language and emotions, and like with all things UX—iteration.

Successful content designers must be able to

  1. gather and understand user needs through research (this could be primary or secondary)
  2. think through user flows and empathize with user needs throughout this journey
  3. communicate their ideas—in writing and and verbally

Laura is doing pretty well at their job with this little known startup, Google.
It’s safe to assume that they meet these requirements.

But one skill Laura is particularly proud of—their storytelling ability.

Storytelling and Content Design

All through their career the common thread “connecting the dots” has been storytelling. Storytelling through books when they worked in publishing.

Storytelling through movies when they worked in film.

Storytelling through the lives of the users they’re studying now.

Looking back, Laura believes that people’s stories have fascinated them the most.

They also believe storytelling can be an empowering tool all young UX professionals should work on developing. Let’s dig into why.

Why does storytelling matter for UX Professionals?

Source: LinkedIn

Laura believes their storytelling abilities have bolstered their UX career in two ways.

For one, it is easier to empathize with people when you can understand their experience in the form of a story. To be a good UX professional, it is crucial to understand different perspectives, often contradictory to your own. Being compassionate towards individuals and larger groups of users enables Laura to step in the user’s shoes.

Beyond this, Laura’s storytelling skills have also helped them become a better presenter. All UX professions require you to present your work. These are usually drab presentations that cover everything but hold no one’s attention. These presentations rarely ever lead to meaningful action. Tough to take action on something you slept through.

Instead Laura is able to leverage their storytelling skills to build a compelling narrative around their work. Their interesting presentations can inspire action.

So how can you as a UX professional, writer or otherwise, hone your story-telling skills?

How can you develop the skill set of a content designer?

How can early career professionals improve their content design  skills?

As with any other skill under the sun, the internet is overflowing with powerful resources on writing and designing content.

It can be overwhelming to venture these waters alone.

Luckily, we had a professional to ask for advice.

Books to learn content design and strategy 

Books to learn content design
Source: Amazon

You can work your way through all twenty thousand of these results, but these are the three that Laura recommends:

  1. Strategic Writing for UX by Torrey Podmajersky
  2. Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson
  3. Content Design by Sarah Winters

For any UX professional looking to develop their storytelling muscle, the three of these are absolutely essential.

Podcasts to learn content design and strategy

After you’ve bought those books and let them sit on your shelf for a month, you can move on to podcasts. Again, you can work your way through the hundreds of podcasts available online but here are the two that Laura recommended:

  1. The Content Rookie podcast by Nicole Michaelis (best for beginners)
  2. The Content Strategy Insights podcast by Elles Media

Other recommendations to learn content design and strategy

Other than books and podcasts, Laura also suggested two often overlooked options.

If you are already working with an organization, check in with your HR department to find an in-house training you might have available. Many companies understand the importance of storytelling and writing. Your organization might just have some great options available for you.

Other than that, Laura recommends checking out the UX Content Collective. They offer coaching, workships, online courses, and other relevant resources that will help you work on your UX writing and content design skills.

The highs and lows of a Content Design career

So far, the idea of content design looks good to you.

You’ve ordered all the books, found some courses, and are ready to enter this new journey.

Should you?

What are some highs and lows you can expect as a Content Designer?

👎🏻 Organizations don’t understand Content Design

In Laura’s ideal world, Content Designers would be involved from the earliest stages of product development, collaborating with interaction designers, product managers, and developers.

But in most organizations, the opposite is the norm right now. Content designers are involved at the very end. They are provided a high fidelity working prototype and then asked to improve the copy.

The problem with this line of action is that it misunderstands what content designers do.

The job may involve writing copy and correcting grammatical errors, but the broader goal is to figure out the best way to structure the content.

This structure should enable the user to go from point A to point B in the easiest way possible, which might not be what the design and development team comes up with in a vacuum.

👍🏻 The content design community is amazing!

But what if you do feel passionate about writing and find yourself in a wonderful new Content Design role?

The reason Laura (and perhaps you) found renewed passion in their work is that UX Writing comes with a powerful community—a place where you can grow, connect, belong.

There are only a few thousand content designers out there, all of them eager to learn more about each other and help the community out. As a result, Laura has a sense of belonging with the profession now.

The community (like this one!) helps grow Laura’s love for content design, and this love for content design helps them be a proactive member of the community! It’s a virtuous cycle that they were missing out on in their previous jobs. It’s a virtuous cycle most of us are missing out on in our current roles!

You can be passionate about work, as it turns out! All you need is a community where everyone uplifts each other.

Find that community.

Give back to others.

Layoffs - A note from Laura

Speaking of giving back, Laura wanted us to consider the massive layoffs taking place in big tech right now.

They are trying to find ways to help those affected by the layoffs and have been connecting with laid off employees for advice and to share resources You should connect with them on LinkedIn to stay updated on these efforts.

As Laura reminds us, there is no shame in losing your job for reasons out of your control. Change is hard and you should be kind to yourself through these tough times.

If you are a UXer, Looppanel’s job board might help you find open positions you can apply for. Do check it out as well!

Tags: UX Research, Laura Costantino, Content Design, UX Content Writing

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