Trying to understand content design vs. content strategy after a confusing look through job boards? Good news: I’ve done both, so I can tell you the key differences between them.
Companies often interchange and merge these two phrases, but they are different. You only need to look through LinkedIn or Indeed to find a confusing range of similar-sounding openings, including:
- Content Designer
- UX Content Designer
- Content Strategist
- UX Content Strategist
- UX Content Writer
Some of those roles are the same function with different names, yet some are completely different. That’s due to the hiring manager and HR reps not understanding the difference.
Let’s get some early context out of the way: product-focused companies often refer to “content” as any words that exists on a web page or a mobile app, but that’s not really how the rest of the world refers to it.
“Content” has actually become synonymous with the digital marketing industry since at least 2010, if not earlier. Content design and content strategy entered popular working vernacular later. Just look at Google trends:
- The blue line is content strategy.
- The red line is content marketing strategy.
- The yellow line is UX content strategy.
That’s part of the reason why people don’t understand what a content designer is. Understandably, they’ll often get these two roles mixed up. It also means we have two different meanings for “content strategy.”
- Content marketing strategy, a function of marketing.
- UX content strategy, a function of user experience (often product-based).
This makes it confusing when people refer to “content strategy,” because the two types have different goals, tools, and workflows.
Both types of content strategy employ similar skills, and many of those skills make for a good content designer, too. That’s why I have worked in all three roles.
Content design is a UX discipline
First and foremost, content design is a part of the User Experience discipline (UX for short). There are some UX teams that straddle both product and marketing (I worked in one at Shopify), but UX tends to focus on digital products much more than marketing.
UX teams can still create marketing materials, of course, but the north star for UX is an effective and usable product, not more customers.
Here’s how you can identify content design roles:
- They live in UX teams, not marketing teams.
- They work with product designers most often.
- They do a lot of “UX writing.”
- They help build user flows.
- They champion the user above marketing and sales KPIs.
- They take responsibility for micro copy as well as the overall user journey.
- It focuses on the bottom of the business funnel, where product adoption occurs.
- They use design tools like Figma.
Content design also encompasses UX writing. It requires serious practice with your economy of words while conveying different ideas and meaning into small packages delivered tactically. This is the kind of writing that goes into tool tips and notifications.
Some companies use the term “UX content strategist” to refer to content design roles, but there’s usually a bit more nuance than that. “Content design” is becoming the accepted term for the entire field UX-related content work, and “UX content strategy” is really just one facet of that discipline, like UX writing.
In practice, a content designer’s average week would include both UX content strategy and UX writing. Only in large organizations would the role be split—yet even then, the established terminology is different.
Most roles in the content design discipline look like this:
- Content Designer
- Senior Content Designer
- Staff Content Designer
If an organization is large enough to hire them, staff content designers are the ones handling UX content strategy. That’s the generally accepted terminology.
but I’ve found that’s usually a bit of a misnomer. Sometimes “UX content strategists” are in charge of maintaining knowledge base content that supports product acquisition and retention, but in mature organizations that responsibility is likely to fall outside of a content designer’s direct responsibilities.
There are two types of content strategist
You don’t want to hire a content marketing strategist for a UX content strategist’s role (or vice versa), even thought both make use of similar skills. They have entirely different goals and workflows, which is why it’s important to know the difference.
I used to work as a content writer and content strategist in my early career, so I’m fairly attuned to the differences between UX and marketing. “Content strategist” has referred to the content marketing discipline for at least a decade before it gained any traction in the still-young UX discipline.
Content marketing strategists
Content strategists plan and manage content marketing strategies to acquire leads. That’s substantially different from content designers, who create and design products (and sometimes web pages), and from UX content designers, who handle content design governance in large organizations.
Here’s how to identify content marketing strategy roles in the wild:
- They live in marketing teams.
- They set marketing and sales KPIs.
- They maintain content marketing calendars.
- They manage freelancers or in-house writers.
- They identify lead generation opportunities.
- They focus on the top and middle of the business funnel, where marketing occurs.
- They create production workflows to reuse marketing content.
- They assist with sales collateral.
- They focus on promoting content for brand awareness, SEO, and lead generation.
- They commission blogs, social posts, podcasts, and video content.
Content marketing strategists have different goals, tools, and measures of success from UX content professionals. That’s one of the key differences between content design vs. content strategy. You’re likely to find a content strategist managing a content calendar, not improving product micro copy in Figma.
UX content strategists
UX content strategists tend to be called “staff content designers” in leading organizations. They handle the high-level aspects of content design. This phrase is being subsumed into the wider umbrella of “content design,” just like “UX writer.”
Here’s how to identify UX content strategists in the wild:
- They hold mid-senior positions in UX teams.
- They use Figma for design work, most often.
- They lead group sessions with tools like FigJam or Miro.
- They help create content-heavy design components.
- They govern centralized platform terminology.
- They create and manage content style guides.
- They help set translation processes, if needed.
- They organize learning and social opportunities for the discipline within a company.
- They partner with product leaders to help set high-level direction.
Ultimately this is a set of responsibilities more than a clearly defined role. It’s quite common to find content designers who have to take on both UX writing and UX content strategy responsibilities, so I would recommend staying away from “UX content strategist” as a formal title.
Where do content design and strategy overlap?
Having said everything above, there are areas of overlap between content designers and both types of content strategist—that’s part of how I transitioned from content marketing to content design, after all.
Both roles take on some shared high-level responsibilities. For example, you’ll often see both roles produce things like:
- Flow charts for user journeys.
- Brand guidelines for voice, tone, and messaging.
- Information architecture.
- Positioning statements.
- Product page copy.
They both rely on similar writing skills and emotional intelligence too, but they apply those skills in different scenarios. Content marketing strategists focus on managing schedule, deliverables, freelancers, as well as distributing content to generate leads.
On the other hand, content designers and UX content strategists craft products (and closely related experiences) to make the smoothest, most compelling experience possible. Their goal is to win through product excellence.
People in all three roles tend to share high-functioning writing skills, and they all engage in elements strategy to a degree. Yet their goals, tools, and functions are substantially different.
I hope that was helpful! Remember to think carefully about the responsibilities of content design vs. content strategy before hiring for a role or applying to one. Make sure you understand if you’re looking for a UX professional or a marketer, and note the points of overlap to make sure you’re finding a match for the kind of role you have in mind!