Spotlight

Spotlight

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Spotlight

Spotlight

Torrey Podmajersky: Effective Strategic Writing for UX

Torrey Podmajersky: Effective Strategic Writing for UX

Torrey Podmajersky: Effective Strategic Writing for UX

Torrey Podmajersky: Effective Strategic Writing for UX

Torrey Podmajersky: Effective Strategic Writing for UX

Dec 4, 2023

Dec 4, 2023

Dec 4, 2023

Dec 4, 2023

Dec 4, 2023

Hamza Labrinssi

Founding Designer/ CEO

Hamza Labrinssi

Founding Designer/ CEO

Hamza Labrinssi

Founding Designer/ CEO

Hamza Labrinssi

Founding Designer/ CEO

Hamza Labrinssi

Founding Designer/ CEO

Torrey Podmajersky
Torrey Podmajersky
Torrey Podmajersky
Torrey Podmajersky
Torrey Podmajersky

Intro

Welcome to Spotlight, your gateway to the UX/ Content Design world, through a distinctive series of interviews that spotlight the industry's leading voices. Our succinct, direct-to-the-point approach poses ±10 sharp questions to veterans and rising stars, gathering insights and perspectives shaping the UX scene.


Meet our guest ⸻ Torrey Podmajersky, Author of Strategic Writing for UX, president of Catbird Content

With 20+ years of experience, Torrey has worked on different types of content (Technical Documentation, Internal/ External Communication, Gaming UX Writing, Education, you name it); she designed and executed content strategies for many products at different companies: Microsoft, Google, OfferUP, Sync, Pilda Pill Sorter alongside teaching at the School of Visual Concepts.

Torrey Podmajersky - Author of Strategic Writing for UX, president of Catbird Content


At Microsoft, she was pivotal in shipping UX for the Xbox One/ 360 launch and enhancing Windows 10 content. Torrey adeptly navigated complex collaborations with all stakeholders to develop user-friendly and trustworthy privacy experiences. She expanded the Xbox writing team's scope to include web and mobile applications and skillfully managed partnerships across diverse project management methodologies. Her leadership in UX writing and content strategy significantly boosted the adoption of Office 365 for Education, shaping the user experience for Microsoft's educational tools like Teams and OneNote and balancing consumer appeal with enterprise requirements.

She is now the president of Catbird Content, a content design agency to trust with your UX content, product content strategy, and content skills transformation. Catbird helps teams solve business and customer problems using UX and content.

In 2019, she shook up the UX community, especially the content designers, with her eye-opening book "Strategic Writing for UX." (📔 Buy the book ↗ )

Torrey Podmajersky's book-Strategic Writing For UX

She made a remarkable contribution to the UX community, especially in Content Design and strategy. Her work has shown the UX community that content creation is more than just filling spaces or crafting words creatively. It's a strategic endeavor that encompasses a comprehensive view of the user experience. This approach involves understanding users' challenges, empathizing with them, and addressing their needs through effective UX solutions while aligning with the overarching business objectives.

Today, we're thrilled to have Torrey share her insights, through 12 carefully crafted questions, about her experience leading big teams at Microsoft and other gems to uncover. Don't miss this one.

..., and believe it or not, she was a 🧑🏻‍🏫 Science Teacher for a good nine years, preparing thousands of high school students in physics and chemistry labs, lecturing and encouraging them to succeed.



Without further ado, let's get to the Q&A:

13 Questions with Torrey Podmajersky


  1. You have worked on different types of content (documentation, internal communication, gaming UX Writing, learning UX Writing); what are the main similarities and differences between all these types of content; isn’t all “just content”?

    The main similarities are in their purpose: It has all been content that helps people (users) do what they came to the experience to do. It takes pretty relentless focus to keep the user’s goals at the center of the content, so that each word gets them closer to their goal. This is true of help articles and content in the UI - every word must audition to be there (as my friend Elly Searle would say.) The main differences are in the patterns that are most effective: paragraphs and numbered lists work well in some places, and single-word buttons, headings, and labels work well in others. It is like having both a paintbrush and a palette knife - very different tools, both the right tools in their own circumstances.


  2. In your +20 years of experience designing and executing content strategies, what are people's most common mistakes regarding structuring, planning, designing, and publishing content across all mediums?

    (Quick clarification - It's been more than 20 years, but also, less than 20 years. I've been a UX writer, content designer, etc. since 2010, and was an internal communications manager before that, and a high school science teacher before that. My first website content job was with my family's business, then known as TechnoTeacher - before <img> tags were available.)

    The very most common mistake is that creating the content to meet the goal will be easy. First, the goal may be poorly defined - that's frequently the first thing to tackle. Once you know what the goal is, you can decide if content is the right way to get there (hint: sometimes it's not!) If one or more content methods are appropriate, then it's a matter of establishing the parameters, and creating efficiencies where we can. For example, if a financial services app wants to provide pop-up cards to define jargon or reassure customers about in-app decisions, what is the content model that will work well? Designing that model at the outset will save a lot of rewriting later. And then there's the writing. The most common way I stumble in my own projects is to get through the strategizing, and somehow temporarily forget that the actual writing will take its own time and effort–leaving me to wonder why progress is so slow. What's funny is I know to budget the time - and then somehow, I still expect to be able to write faster than I can. I just did this with the Content Design Skills survey and reports; for each skill, I'm writing up 250-500 words about the skill: definition, when to use it, the impacts to focus on making with it, and the circumstances necessary for a content designer to have success with that skill. I'm doing this for about 90 different skills, so that's a ton of writing! So it's not only a common problem, it's my problem. 😁.


  3. Teams often have an unfair "content-to-other" ratio. Smaller teams prioritize hiring those who “build” the product–– designers & developers, while much larger teams overlook the importance of having a well-staffed content team, leaving it all to whoever makes the content to take charge of all types of content. What is your take on that?

    I think it's important to realize that very few teams, of any discipline, think they are “overstaffed.” At best, every once in a while, a leadership team can say “yes! I have the right people, and the right number of people, with the right skills, and we’re ready to take this on! I think the gap in those hypothetical leaders’ understanding is how much content can do to help them meet their goals, if they were to apply it strategically. And a single person who works across all types of content for an organization can't deliver the kind of impact they would want to. They may be able to work at a strategic level, partnering with product, engineering, and design leadership - but then they won't have time to deliver or influence more than a tiny fraction of the content needed. Or conversely, they may work at a hyper-tactical level, speeding from emergency to emergency, possibly creating better content than non-content pros would do, but unable to achieve business-level strategic impacts (much less measure them!) There has been a LOT of digital ink spilled about whose fault this all is. It’s nobody's fault that a young discipline is young, honestly.


  4. In cases of disagreement over the best content version, what do you do? In your book, you discussed three common methods, “consensus, autonomous decisions, and hierarchical decisions,” that you witnessed in different organizations. Can you elaborate more on this with a simple example?

    I think I explained this more in the book, but they pretty much mean what they say. It also has a lot more to do with your team and your relationship with them than it does with any particular content decision! When a team (plus stakeholders, executives, etc.) comes to consensus, all of us (including the content designer!) become persuaded that a particular piece of content is the right thing to try. In an autonomous decision, the content designer or UX writer makes the call themselves; this requires a level of trust with the developer in whose code it will live, the product owner who has responsibility for the product’s success, and more. Most text falls into this category, because most UI text doesn’t require this level of discussion or disagreement. Hierarchical decisions are popularly known as “HiPPO” decisions - whatever the Highest-Paid Person’s Opinion is, is the decision that is made.


  5. You helped teams solve customer and business problems using UX and content. How might a team suffer if it doesn't value content as highly as other aspects of the business–– Design, Development, and Sales?

    I think I want to turn this question around: Can design, development and sales (or product, marketing, etc.) exist without content? When content is held separately from these pillars, there's going to be a problem. It's not that content is more important or less important to the functioning of any of these groups - all of them require content to do their work and in the delivery of experiences. We content folk need to be values not as a separate party, but as part of the design team, part of the development team, part of the sales team - etc. Because we specialize in making content be effective and efficient, we can make all of these groups work more effectively and efficiently.


  6. Based on your experience, companies adopt different collaboration processes in managing content. Can you tell us more about what methods you encountered? Was it easy or difficult for you to adopt and use them?

    It seems like there are as many ways to collaborate as there are fish in the sea. I've been tightly paired with product and design teams, a solo practitioner holding office hours and going to strategy meetings, and attending daily stand-ups. What has always worked best for me is to build what I will need to be effective: an understanding of what the team is working on, and why, and when. That information, plus my own understanding of how UX content can help us solve or avoid problems, and communication channels within the team - as long as I can put those pieces together, any collaboration method will work.


  7. At Microsoft's Windows team, you created content for many products: consoles, websites, mobile, and apps. Did you have to start from scratch for each platform design, or was there a tool to repurpose the content you had already prepared?

    I worked on Windows after I worked on Xbox, but I did work on all these platforms over the course of both (huge!) teams. Text for each product was stored so differently (think about Android vs. iOS - developers can’t reuse the same strings file), any overlap we had to track string consistency was in internal, bespoke tools, or in Word docs the content developer would maintain. This was pre-Figma, even pre-Sketch - designs were still happening in Illustrator and Photoshop, for the most part. One of the content designers I worked with had a background in SQL, and created a database of strings that were updated with developer check-in changes every night. We had another internal tool that let us see all the text for the product, sort it, and track when it was final or needed more work. That was about 10 years ago, and at some point tech changes made it stop working - but it was still the most powerful tool I’ve ever used for UI text management.


  8. How did you oversee Xbox's global content? Was localization part of your responsibilities? Can you elaborate on how it works, from validating the copy to ensuring localization matches the region (e.g., 🇨🇦 Canadian French/Quebec)? And what tools did you use for that?

    Let's be clear: I never managed Xbox’s global content! I was the content developer (aka UX writer) with responsibility for several features over a few years, not managing the team. That was where I learned the job, working with excellent writers and editors who came before me and taught me. While I was there, I got to work with the localization program managers. They were fantastic. Questions would come back to me (and the other writers) about individual strings, and sometimes we'd have to dig in deep to find a way to transcreate the experience in another language or culture. Testing of content was outside of my scope; while I sometimes got bugs to review or give feedback on from localization testing, I can't help them translate to any kind of French - or Portuguese, for example.


  9. Content designers and UX writers are involved at the very end. They are provided with a high-fidelity UI prototype and asked to write or improve the copy with little context, if any. How does this process cause problems and difficulties?

    More and more, content designers and UX writers are involved before the very end, thankfully. When they are only asked to come in at the end, frequently there’s not much they can do. Like any professional, they should point this out. It’s like when a gasoline-powered car is brought to a mechanic after it has run with an empty oil tank for thousands of miles. The mechanic can’t be as effective as if the car had been brought in when the leak first developed. In the same way, sometimes the best thing the UX writer (or car mechanic) can do is to say, “Bring it to me sooner next time - if you want to get this working well, it’s going to take a complete overhaul.”


  10. As a seasoned Senior Content Designer & UX writer, what profiles did you use to work with the most (UX designers, developers, content peers, PMs, etc.)? How did you collaborate and communicate with them? And how did you hand over your work to them?

    I work with whoever is designing and building the experience. That means the PMs, developers, designers, attorneys, privacy professionals, technical writers, and more. To collaborate with them, we’ve worked in Figma, product documents, slide decks, meetings, white papers, patent applications, design systems, style guides, voice charts, and more. “Handing off” work seems antiquated, somehow. I’m never working solo, throwing my finished product over the proverbial fence. My work is embedded in the group work, wherever that group work is. Sometimes I’m driving that work, and then it culminates in “final” design files or Figma pages, or in prototypes, or in documents. Sometimes I need to record my explicit approval - say, by adding my name to a table in a product document, with the data, signing off officially.


  11. What tools (Software) do you have on your Mac for writing, planning, and collaborating with the rest of the team (UX designers, developers, content peers, PMs, etc.)? Just put them all—even the ones not on your dock :)

    Funny, I don’t have a Mac anymore. Since I don’t need to run Mac-only design software, I can have cheaper, powerful, and lighter-weight computers around. For my own work, I tend toward Google Workspace (Docs, Sheets, Slides), and I find that many of my customers do, too. I also use Microsoft Word and Excel if I need more power. And of course Figma - all of this works with Figma! Separately, I use Autodesk Fusion for 3D design of physical objects, Inkscape for vector design, Snagit/Camtasia and Loom for video capture and delivery.



  12. Helping newcomers⸻When transitioning to a career in content design, what skills should someone develop? I'd like to hear more about the practical side of things?

    The long answer: I’m working on a project about this right now, actually. I ran a first test of my Content Design Skills Survey for 24 hours, asking respondents questions about 87 different skills. Since then, I’ve done a lot of analysis, and interviewed survey takers from around the world on what they thought about the survey and a report I could make for them about their top 5 strengths (as they report them), and the top 5 skills they may want to consider building. I’ll be opening that survey up again in the new year, and people will be able to get personalized reports based on my analysis.

    The short answer: People tend to bring very transferable skills with them into content design. Everybody’s background is different! There is a lot to learn, and so many ways to make impact for our organizations and our users. Stay tuned for more information about that by following Catbird Content on LinkedIn - that’s where I’ll be posting when the survey is open again.


  13. Finally— at Punkt, we are revolutionizing the UX industry by building the Content-First UX Platform where Content Designers and UX Writers lead the product UX/Design decisions. We believe a Content-First UX approach will fix too many daily issues most product teams deal with. Is it possible to give the Content Team the lead in guiding the entire UX process??

    When the content team leads UX, it has to take responsibility for all parts of the UX - just like when visual or interaction design leads UX, they have to take responsibility for the content, research, sound design, motion design, etc. It is definitely possible to lead content-first, and would likely have advantages in driving users’ nuanced understanding and rapid onboarding into experiences. It would also have disadvantages, like needing to make sure that visual and other forms of design were still invested in and valued.



👋 Don't forget to follow Torrey Podmajersky

LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/torrey-podmajersky
Cardbird Content https://catbirdcontent.com
Listen to her UX Cake episode https://tinyurl.com/ycuar6kj


Intro

Welcome to Spotlight, your gateway to the UX/ Content Design world, through a distinctive series of interviews that spotlight the industry's leading voices. Our succinct, direct-to-the-point approach poses ±10 sharp questions to veterans and rising stars, gathering insights and perspectives shaping the UX scene.


Meet our guest ⸻ Torrey Podmajersky, Author of Strategic Writing for UX, president of Catbird Content

With 20+ years of experience, Torrey has worked on different types of content (Technical Documentation, Internal/ External Communication, Gaming UX Writing, Education, you name it); she designed and executed content strategies for many products at different companies: Microsoft, Google, OfferUP, Sync, Pilda Pill Sorter alongside teaching at the School of Visual Concepts.

Torrey Podmajersky - Author of Strategic Writing for UX, president of Catbird Content


At Microsoft, she was pivotal in shipping UX for the Xbox One/ 360 launch and enhancing Windows 10 content. Torrey adeptly navigated complex collaborations with all stakeholders to develop user-friendly and trustworthy privacy experiences. She expanded the Xbox writing team's scope to include web and mobile applications and skillfully managed partnerships across diverse project management methodologies. Her leadership in UX writing and content strategy significantly boosted the adoption of Office 365 for Education, shaping the user experience for Microsoft's educational tools like Teams and OneNote and balancing consumer appeal with enterprise requirements.

She is now the president of Catbird Content, a content design agency to trust with your UX content, product content strategy, and content skills transformation. Catbird helps teams solve business and customer problems using UX and content.

In 2019, she shook up the UX community, especially the content designers, with her eye-opening book "Strategic Writing for UX." (📔 Buy the book ↗ )

Torrey Podmajersky's book-Strategic Writing For UX

She made a remarkable contribution to the UX community, especially in Content Design and strategy. Her work has shown the UX community that content creation is more than just filling spaces or crafting words creatively. It's a strategic endeavor that encompasses a comprehensive view of the user experience. This approach involves understanding users' challenges, empathizing with them, and addressing their needs through effective UX solutions while aligning with the overarching business objectives.

Today, we're thrilled to have Torrey share her insights, through 12 carefully crafted questions, about her experience leading big teams at Microsoft and other gems to uncover. Don't miss this one.

..., and believe it or not, she was a 🧑🏻‍🏫 Science Teacher for a good nine years, preparing thousands of high school students in physics and chemistry labs, lecturing and encouraging them to succeed.



Without further ado, let's get to the Q&A:

13 Questions with Torrey Podmajersky


  1. You have worked on different types of content (documentation, internal communication, gaming UX Writing, learning UX Writing); what are the main similarities and differences between all these types of content; isn’t all “just content”?

    The main similarities are in their purpose: It has all been content that helps people (users) do what they came to the experience to do. It takes pretty relentless focus to keep the user’s goals at the center of the content, so that each word gets them closer to their goal. This is true of help articles and content in the UI - every word must audition to be there (as my friend Elly Searle would say.) The main differences are in the patterns that are most effective: paragraphs and numbered lists work well in some places, and single-word buttons, headings, and labels work well in others. It is like having both a paintbrush and a palette knife - very different tools, both the right tools in their own circumstances.


  2. In your +20 years of experience designing and executing content strategies, what are people's most common mistakes regarding structuring, planning, designing, and publishing content across all mediums?

    (Quick clarification - It's been more than 20 years, but also, less than 20 years. I've been a UX writer, content designer, etc. since 2010, and was an internal communications manager before that, and a high school science teacher before that. My first website content job was with my family's business, then known as TechnoTeacher - before <img> tags were available.)

    The very most common mistake is that creating the content to meet the goal will be easy. First, the goal may be poorly defined - that's frequently the first thing to tackle. Once you know what the goal is, you can decide if content is the right way to get there (hint: sometimes it's not!) If one or more content methods are appropriate, then it's a matter of establishing the parameters, and creating efficiencies where we can. For example, if a financial services app wants to provide pop-up cards to define jargon or reassure customers about in-app decisions, what is the content model that will work well? Designing that model at the outset will save a lot of rewriting later. And then there's the writing. The most common way I stumble in my own projects is to get through the strategizing, and somehow temporarily forget that the actual writing will take its own time and effort–leaving me to wonder why progress is so slow. What's funny is I know to budget the time - and then somehow, I still expect to be able to write faster than I can. I just did this with the Content Design Skills survey and reports; for each skill, I'm writing up 250-500 words about the skill: definition, when to use it, the impacts to focus on making with it, and the circumstances necessary for a content designer to have success with that skill. I'm doing this for about 90 different skills, so that's a ton of writing! So it's not only a common problem, it's my problem. 😁.


  3. Teams often have an unfair "content-to-other" ratio. Smaller teams prioritize hiring those who “build” the product–– designers & developers, while much larger teams overlook the importance of having a well-staffed content team, leaving it all to whoever makes the content to take charge of all types of content. What is your take on that?

    I think it's important to realize that very few teams, of any discipline, think they are “overstaffed.” At best, every once in a while, a leadership team can say “yes! I have the right people, and the right number of people, with the right skills, and we’re ready to take this on! I think the gap in those hypothetical leaders’ understanding is how much content can do to help them meet their goals, if they were to apply it strategically. And a single person who works across all types of content for an organization can't deliver the kind of impact they would want to. They may be able to work at a strategic level, partnering with product, engineering, and design leadership - but then they won't have time to deliver or influence more than a tiny fraction of the content needed. Or conversely, they may work at a hyper-tactical level, speeding from emergency to emergency, possibly creating better content than non-content pros would do, but unable to achieve business-level strategic impacts (much less measure them!) There has been a LOT of digital ink spilled about whose fault this all is. It’s nobody's fault that a young discipline is young, honestly.


  4. In cases of disagreement over the best content version, what do you do? In your book, you discussed three common methods, “consensus, autonomous decisions, and hierarchical decisions,” that you witnessed in different organizations. Can you elaborate more on this with a simple example?

    I think I explained this more in the book, but they pretty much mean what they say. It also has a lot more to do with your team and your relationship with them than it does with any particular content decision! When a team (plus stakeholders, executives, etc.) comes to consensus, all of us (including the content designer!) become persuaded that a particular piece of content is the right thing to try. In an autonomous decision, the content designer or UX writer makes the call themselves; this requires a level of trust with the developer in whose code it will live, the product owner who has responsibility for the product’s success, and more. Most text falls into this category, because most UI text doesn’t require this level of discussion or disagreement. Hierarchical decisions are popularly known as “HiPPO” decisions - whatever the Highest-Paid Person’s Opinion is, is the decision that is made.


  5. You helped teams solve customer and business problems using UX and content. How might a team suffer if it doesn't value content as highly as other aspects of the business–– Design, Development, and Sales?

    I think I want to turn this question around: Can design, development and sales (or product, marketing, etc.) exist without content? When content is held separately from these pillars, there's going to be a problem. It's not that content is more important or less important to the functioning of any of these groups - all of them require content to do their work and in the delivery of experiences. We content folk need to be values not as a separate party, but as part of the design team, part of the development team, part of the sales team - etc. Because we specialize in making content be effective and efficient, we can make all of these groups work more effectively and efficiently.


  6. Based on your experience, companies adopt different collaboration processes in managing content. Can you tell us more about what methods you encountered? Was it easy or difficult for you to adopt and use them?

    It seems like there are as many ways to collaborate as there are fish in the sea. I've been tightly paired with product and design teams, a solo practitioner holding office hours and going to strategy meetings, and attending daily stand-ups. What has always worked best for me is to build what I will need to be effective: an understanding of what the team is working on, and why, and when. That information, plus my own understanding of how UX content can help us solve or avoid problems, and communication channels within the team - as long as I can put those pieces together, any collaboration method will work.


  7. At Microsoft's Windows team, you created content for many products: consoles, websites, mobile, and apps. Did you have to start from scratch for each platform design, or was there a tool to repurpose the content you had already prepared?

    I worked on Windows after I worked on Xbox, but I did work on all these platforms over the course of both (huge!) teams. Text for each product was stored so differently (think about Android vs. iOS - developers can’t reuse the same strings file), any overlap we had to track string consistency was in internal, bespoke tools, or in Word docs the content developer would maintain. This was pre-Figma, even pre-Sketch - designs were still happening in Illustrator and Photoshop, for the most part. One of the content designers I worked with had a background in SQL, and created a database of strings that were updated with developer check-in changes every night. We had another internal tool that let us see all the text for the product, sort it, and track when it was final or needed more work. That was about 10 years ago, and at some point tech changes made it stop working - but it was still the most powerful tool I’ve ever used for UI text management.


  8. How did you oversee Xbox's global content? Was localization part of your responsibilities? Can you elaborate on how it works, from validating the copy to ensuring localization matches the region (e.g., 🇨🇦 Canadian French/Quebec)? And what tools did you use for that?

    Let's be clear: I never managed Xbox’s global content! I was the content developer (aka UX writer) with responsibility for several features over a few years, not managing the team. That was where I learned the job, working with excellent writers and editors who came before me and taught me. While I was there, I got to work with the localization program managers. They were fantastic. Questions would come back to me (and the other writers) about individual strings, and sometimes we'd have to dig in deep to find a way to transcreate the experience in another language or culture. Testing of content was outside of my scope; while I sometimes got bugs to review or give feedback on from localization testing, I can't help them translate to any kind of French - or Portuguese, for example.


  9. Content designers and UX writers are involved at the very end. They are provided with a high-fidelity UI prototype and asked to write or improve the copy with little context, if any. How does this process cause problems and difficulties?

    More and more, content designers and UX writers are involved before the very end, thankfully. When they are only asked to come in at the end, frequently there’s not much they can do. Like any professional, they should point this out. It’s like when a gasoline-powered car is brought to a mechanic after it has run with an empty oil tank for thousands of miles. The mechanic can’t be as effective as if the car had been brought in when the leak first developed. In the same way, sometimes the best thing the UX writer (or car mechanic) can do is to say, “Bring it to me sooner next time - if you want to get this working well, it’s going to take a complete overhaul.”


  10. As a seasoned Senior Content Designer & UX writer, what profiles did you use to work with the most (UX designers, developers, content peers, PMs, etc.)? How did you collaborate and communicate with them? And how did you hand over your work to them?

    I work with whoever is designing and building the experience. That means the PMs, developers, designers, attorneys, privacy professionals, technical writers, and more. To collaborate with them, we’ve worked in Figma, product documents, slide decks, meetings, white papers, patent applications, design systems, style guides, voice charts, and more. “Handing off” work seems antiquated, somehow. I’m never working solo, throwing my finished product over the proverbial fence. My work is embedded in the group work, wherever that group work is. Sometimes I’m driving that work, and then it culminates in “final” design files or Figma pages, or in prototypes, or in documents. Sometimes I need to record my explicit approval - say, by adding my name to a table in a product document, with the data, signing off officially.


  11. What tools (Software) do you have on your Mac for writing, planning, and collaborating with the rest of the team (UX designers, developers, content peers, PMs, etc.)? Just put them all—even the ones not on your dock :)

    Funny, I don’t have a Mac anymore. Since I don’t need to run Mac-only design software, I can have cheaper, powerful, and lighter-weight computers around. For my own work, I tend toward Google Workspace (Docs, Sheets, Slides), and I find that many of my customers do, too. I also use Microsoft Word and Excel if I need more power. And of course Figma - all of this works with Figma! Separately, I use Autodesk Fusion for 3D design of physical objects, Inkscape for vector design, Snagit/Camtasia and Loom for video capture and delivery.



  12. Helping newcomers⸻When transitioning to a career in content design, what skills should someone develop? I'd like to hear more about the practical side of things?

    The long answer: I’m working on a project about this right now, actually. I ran a first test of my Content Design Skills Survey for 24 hours, asking respondents questions about 87 different skills. Since then, I’ve done a lot of analysis, and interviewed survey takers from around the world on what they thought about the survey and a report I could make for them about their top 5 strengths (as they report them), and the top 5 skills they may want to consider building. I’ll be opening that survey up again in the new year, and people will be able to get personalized reports based on my analysis.

    The short answer: People tend to bring very transferable skills with them into content design. Everybody’s background is different! There is a lot to learn, and so many ways to make impact for our organizations and our users. Stay tuned for more information about that by following Catbird Content on LinkedIn - that’s where I’ll be posting when the survey is open again.


  13. Finally— at Punkt, we are revolutionizing the UX industry by building the Content-First UX Platform where Content Designers and UX Writers lead the product UX/Design decisions. We believe a Content-First UX approach will fix too many daily issues most product teams deal with. Is it possible to give the Content Team the lead in guiding the entire UX process??

    When the content team leads UX, it has to take responsibility for all parts of the UX - just like when visual or interaction design leads UX, they have to take responsibility for the content, research, sound design, motion design, etc. It is definitely possible to lead content-first, and would likely have advantages in driving users’ nuanced understanding and rapid onboarding into experiences. It would also have disadvantages, like needing to make sure that visual and other forms of design were still invested in and valued.



👋 Don't forget to follow Torrey Podmajersky

LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/torrey-podmajersky
Cardbird Content https://catbirdcontent.com
Listen to her UX Cake episode https://tinyurl.com/ycuar6kj


Intro

Welcome to Spotlight, your gateway to the UX/ Content Design world, through a distinctive series of interviews that spotlight the industry's leading voices. Our succinct, direct-to-the-point approach poses ±10 sharp questions to veterans and rising stars, gathering insights and perspectives shaping the UX scene.


Meet our guest ⸻ Torrey Podmajersky, Author of Strategic Writing for UX, president of Catbird Content

With 20+ years of experience, Torrey has worked on different types of content (Technical Documentation, Internal/ External Communication, Gaming UX Writing, Education, you name it); she designed and executed content strategies for many products at different companies: Microsoft, Google, OfferUP, Sync, Pilda Pill Sorter alongside teaching at the School of Visual Concepts.

Torrey Podmajersky - Author of Strategic Writing for UX, president of Catbird Content


At Microsoft, she was pivotal in shipping UX for the Xbox One/ 360 launch and enhancing Windows 10 content. Torrey adeptly navigated complex collaborations with all stakeholders to develop user-friendly and trustworthy privacy experiences. She expanded the Xbox writing team's scope to include web and mobile applications and skillfully managed partnerships across diverse project management methodologies. Her leadership in UX writing and content strategy significantly boosted the adoption of Office 365 for Education, shaping the user experience for Microsoft's educational tools like Teams and OneNote and balancing consumer appeal with enterprise requirements.

She is now the president of Catbird Content, a content design agency to trust with your UX content, product content strategy, and content skills transformation. Catbird helps teams solve business and customer problems using UX and content.

In 2019, she shook up the UX community, especially the content designers, with her eye-opening book "Strategic Writing for UX." (📔 Buy the book ↗ )

Torrey Podmajersky's book-Strategic Writing For UX

She made a remarkable contribution to the UX community, especially in Content Design and strategy. Her work has shown the UX community that content creation is more than just filling spaces or crafting words creatively. It's a strategic endeavor that encompasses a comprehensive view of the user experience. This approach involves understanding users' challenges, empathizing with them, and addressing their needs through effective UX solutions while aligning with the overarching business objectives.

Today, we're thrilled to have Torrey share her insights, through 12 carefully crafted questions, about her experience leading big teams at Microsoft and other gems to uncover. Don't miss this one.

..., and believe it or not, she was a 🧑🏻‍🏫 Science Teacher for a good nine years, preparing thousands of high school students in physics and chemistry labs, lecturing and encouraging them to succeed.



Without further ado, let's get to the Q&A:

13 Questions with Torrey Podmajersky


  1. You have worked on different types of content (documentation, internal communication, gaming UX Writing, learning UX Writing); what are the main similarities and differences between all these types of content; isn’t all “just content”?

    The main similarities are in their purpose: It has all been content that helps people (users) do what they came to the experience to do. It takes pretty relentless focus to keep the user’s goals at the center of the content, so that each word gets them closer to their goal. This is true of help articles and content in the UI - every word must audition to be there (as my friend Elly Searle would say.) The main differences are in the patterns that are most effective: paragraphs and numbered lists work well in some places, and single-word buttons, headings, and labels work well in others. It is like having both a paintbrush and a palette knife - very different tools, both the right tools in their own circumstances.


  2. In your +20 years of experience designing and executing content strategies, what are people's most common mistakes regarding structuring, planning, designing, and publishing content across all mediums?

    (Quick clarification - It's been more than 20 years, but also, less than 20 years. I've been a UX writer, content designer, etc. since 2010, and was an internal communications manager before that, and a high school science teacher before that. My first website content job was with my family's business, then known as TechnoTeacher - before <img> tags were available.)

    The very most common mistake is that creating the content to meet the goal will be easy. First, the goal may be poorly defined - that's frequently the first thing to tackle. Once you know what the goal is, you can decide if content is the right way to get there (hint: sometimes it's not!) If one or more content methods are appropriate, then it's a matter of establishing the parameters, and creating efficiencies where we can. For example, if a financial services app wants to provide pop-up cards to define jargon or reassure customers about in-app decisions, what is the content model that will work well? Designing that model at the outset will save a lot of rewriting later. And then there's the writing. The most common way I stumble in my own projects is to get through the strategizing, and somehow temporarily forget that the actual writing will take its own time and effort–leaving me to wonder why progress is so slow. What's funny is I know to budget the time - and then somehow, I still expect to be able to write faster than I can. I just did this with the Content Design Skills survey and reports; for each skill, I'm writing up 250-500 words about the skill: definition, when to use it, the impacts to focus on making with it, and the circumstances necessary for a content designer to have success with that skill. I'm doing this for about 90 different skills, so that's a ton of writing! So it's not only a common problem, it's my problem. 😁.


  3. Teams often have an unfair "content-to-other" ratio. Smaller teams prioritize hiring those who “build” the product–– designers & developers, while much larger teams overlook the importance of having a well-staffed content team, leaving it all to whoever makes the content to take charge of all types of content. What is your take on that?

    I think it's important to realize that very few teams, of any discipline, think they are “overstaffed.” At best, every once in a while, a leadership team can say “yes! I have the right people, and the right number of people, with the right skills, and we’re ready to take this on! I think the gap in those hypothetical leaders’ understanding is how much content can do to help them meet their goals, if they were to apply it strategically. And a single person who works across all types of content for an organization can't deliver the kind of impact they would want to. They may be able to work at a strategic level, partnering with product, engineering, and design leadership - but then they won't have time to deliver or influence more than a tiny fraction of the content needed. Or conversely, they may work at a hyper-tactical level, speeding from emergency to emergency, possibly creating better content than non-content pros would do, but unable to achieve business-level strategic impacts (much less measure them!) There has been a LOT of digital ink spilled about whose fault this all is. It’s nobody's fault that a young discipline is young, honestly.


  4. In cases of disagreement over the best content version, what do you do? In your book, you discussed three common methods, “consensus, autonomous decisions, and hierarchical decisions,” that you witnessed in different organizations. Can you elaborate more on this with a simple example?

    I think I explained this more in the book, but they pretty much mean what they say. It also has a lot more to do with your team and your relationship with them than it does with any particular content decision! When a team (plus stakeholders, executives, etc.) comes to consensus, all of us (including the content designer!) become persuaded that a particular piece of content is the right thing to try. In an autonomous decision, the content designer or UX writer makes the call themselves; this requires a level of trust with the developer in whose code it will live, the product owner who has responsibility for the product’s success, and more. Most text falls into this category, because most UI text doesn’t require this level of discussion or disagreement. Hierarchical decisions are popularly known as “HiPPO” decisions - whatever the Highest-Paid Person’s Opinion is, is the decision that is made.


  5. You helped teams solve customer and business problems using UX and content. How might a team suffer if it doesn't value content as highly as other aspects of the business–– Design, Development, and Sales?

    I think I want to turn this question around: Can design, development and sales (or product, marketing, etc.) exist without content? When content is held separately from these pillars, there's going to be a problem. It's not that content is more important or less important to the functioning of any of these groups - all of them require content to do their work and in the delivery of experiences. We content folk need to be values not as a separate party, but as part of the design team, part of the development team, part of the sales team - etc. Because we specialize in making content be effective and efficient, we can make all of these groups work more effectively and efficiently.


  6. Based on your experience, companies adopt different collaboration processes in managing content. Can you tell us more about what methods you encountered? Was it easy or difficult for you to adopt and use them?

    It seems like there are as many ways to collaborate as there are fish in the sea. I've been tightly paired with product and design teams, a solo practitioner holding office hours and going to strategy meetings, and attending daily stand-ups. What has always worked best for me is to build what I will need to be effective: an understanding of what the team is working on, and why, and when. That information, plus my own understanding of how UX content can help us solve or avoid problems, and communication channels within the team - as long as I can put those pieces together, any collaboration method will work.


  7. At Microsoft's Windows team, you created content for many products: consoles, websites, mobile, and apps. Did you have to start from scratch for each platform design, or was there a tool to repurpose the content you had already prepared?

    I worked on Windows after I worked on Xbox, but I did work on all these platforms over the course of both (huge!) teams. Text for each product was stored so differently (think about Android vs. iOS - developers can’t reuse the same strings file), any overlap we had to track string consistency was in internal, bespoke tools, or in Word docs the content developer would maintain. This was pre-Figma, even pre-Sketch - designs were still happening in Illustrator and Photoshop, for the most part. One of the content designers I worked with had a background in SQL, and created a database of strings that were updated with developer check-in changes every night. We had another internal tool that let us see all the text for the product, sort it, and track when it was final or needed more work. That was about 10 years ago, and at some point tech changes made it stop working - but it was still the most powerful tool I’ve ever used for UI text management.


  8. How did you oversee Xbox's global content? Was localization part of your responsibilities? Can you elaborate on how it works, from validating the copy to ensuring localization matches the region (e.g., 🇨🇦 Canadian French/Quebec)? And what tools did you use for that?

    Let's be clear: I never managed Xbox’s global content! I was the content developer (aka UX writer) with responsibility for several features over a few years, not managing the team. That was where I learned the job, working with excellent writers and editors who came before me and taught me. While I was there, I got to work with the localization program managers. They were fantastic. Questions would come back to me (and the other writers) about individual strings, and sometimes we'd have to dig in deep to find a way to transcreate the experience in another language or culture. Testing of content was outside of my scope; while I sometimes got bugs to review or give feedback on from localization testing, I can't help them translate to any kind of French - or Portuguese, for example.


  9. Content designers and UX writers are involved at the very end. They are provided with a high-fidelity UI prototype and asked to write or improve the copy with little context, if any. How does this process cause problems and difficulties?

    More and more, content designers and UX writers are involved before the very end, thankfully. When they are only asked to come in at the end, frequently there’s not much they can do. Like any professional, they should point this out. It’s like when a gasoline-powered car is brought to a mechanic after it has run with an empty oil tank for thousands of miles. The mechanic can’t be as effective as if the car had been brought in when the leak first developed. In the same way, sometimes the best thing the UX writer (or car mechanic) can do is to say, “Bring it to me sooner next time - if you want to get this working well, it’s going to take a complete overhaul.”


  10. As a seasoned Senior Content Designer & UX writer, what profiles did you use to work with the most (UX designers, developers, content peers, PMs, etc.)? How did you collaborate and communicate with them? And how did you hand over your work to them?

    I work with whoever is designing and building the experience. That means the PMs, developers, designers, attorneys, privacy professionals, technical writers, and more. To collaborate with them, we’ve worked in Figma, product documents, slide decks, meetings, white papers, patent applications, design systems, style guides, voice charts, and more. “Handing off” work seems antiquated, somehow. I’m never working solo, throwing my finished product over the proverbial fence. My work is embedded in the group work, wherever that group work is. Sometimes I’m driving that work, and then it culminates in “final” design files or Figma pages, or in prototypes, or in documents. Sometimes I need to record my explicit approval - say, by adding my name to a table in a product document, with the data, signing off officially.


  11. What tools (Software) do you have on your Mac for writing, planning, and collaborating with the rest of the team (UX designers, developers, content peers, PMs, etc.)? Just put them all—even the ones not on your dock :)

    Funny, I don’t have a Mac anymore. Since I don’t need to run Mac-only design software, I can have cheaper, powerful, and lighter-weight computers around. For my own work, I tend toward Google Workspace (Docs, Sheets, Slides), and I find that many of my customers do, too. I also use Microsoft Word and Excel if I need more power. And of course Figma - all of this works with Figma! Separately, I use Autodesk Fusion for 3D design of physical objects, Inkscape for vector design, Snagit/Camtasia and Loom for video capture and delivery.



  12. Helping newcomers⸻When transitioning to a career in content design, what skills should someone develop? I'd like to hear more about the practical side of things?

    The long answer: I’m working on a project about this right now, actually. I ran a first test of my Content Design Skills Survey for 24 hours, asking respondents questions about 87 different skills. Since then, I’ve done a lot of analysis, and interviewed survey takers from around the world on what they thought about the survey and a report I could make for them about their top 5 strengths (as they report them), and the top 5 skills they may want to consider building. I’ll be opening that survey up again in the new year, and people will be able to get personalized reports based on my analysis.

    The short answer: People tend to bring very transferable skills with them into content design. Everybody’s background is different! There is a lot to learn, and so many ways to make impact for our organizations and our users. Stay tuned for more information about that by following Catbird Content on LinkedIn - that’s where I’ll be posting when the survey is open again.


  13. Finally— at Punkt, we are revolutionizing the UX industry by building the Content-First UX Platform where Content Designers and UX Writers lead the product UX/Design decisions. We believe a Content-First UX approach will fix too many daily issues most product teams deal with. Is it possible to give the Content Team the lead in guiding the entire UX process??

    When the content team leads UX, it has to take responsibility for all parts of the UX - just like when visual or interaction design leads UX, they have to take responsibility for the content, research, sound design, motion design, etc. It is definitely possible to lead content-first, and would likely have advantages in driving users’ nuanced understanding and rapid onboarding into experiences. It would also have disadvantages, like needing to make sure that visual and other forms of design were still invested in and valued.



👋 Don't forget to follow Torrey Podmajersky

LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/torrey-podmajersky
Cardbird Content https://catbirdcontent.com
Listen to her UX Cake episode https://tinyurl.com/ycuar6kj


Intro

Welcome to Spotlight, your gateway to the UX/ Content Design world, through a distinctive series of interviews that spotlight the industry's leading voices. Our succinct, direct-to-the-point approach poses ±10 sharp questions to veterans and rising stars, gathering insights and perspectives shaping the UX scene.


Meet our guest ⸻ Torrey Podmajersky, Author of Strategic Writing for UX, president of Catbird Content

With 20+ years of experience, Torrey has worked on different types of content (Technical Documentation, Internal/ External Communication, Gaming UX Writing, Education, you name it); she designed and executed content strategies for many products at different companies: Microsoft, Google, OfferUP, Sync, Pilda Pill Sorter alongside teaching at the School of Visual Concepts.

Torrey Podmajersky - Author of Strategic Writing for UX, president of Catbird Content


At Microsoft, she was pivotal in shipping UX for the Xbox One/ 360 launch and enhancing Windows 10 content. Torrey adeptly navigated complex collaborations with all stakeholders to develop user-friendly and trustworthy privacy experiences. She expanded the Xbox writing team's scope to include web and mobile applications and skillfully managed partnerships across diverse project management methodologies. Her leadership in UX writing and content strategy significantly boosted the adoption of Office 365 for Education, shaping the user experience for Microsoft's educational tools like Teams and OneNote and balancing consumer appeal with enterprise requirements.

She is now the president of Catbird Content, a content design agency to trust with your UX content, product content strategy, and content skills transformation. Catbird helps teams solve business and customer problems using UX and content.

In 2019, she shook up the UX community, especially the content designers, with her eye-opening book "Strategic Writing for UX." (📔 Buy the book ↗ )

Torrey Podmajersky's book-Strategic Writing For UX

She made a remarkable contribution to the UX community, especially in Content Design and strategy. Her work has shown the UX community that content creation is more than just filling spaces or crafting words creatively. It's a strategic endeavor that encompasses a comprehensive view of the user experience. This approach involves understanding users' challenges, empathizing with them, and addressing their needs through effective UX solutions while aligning with the overarching business objectives.

Today, we're thrilled to have Torrey share her insights, through 12 carefully crafted questions, about her experience leading big teams at Microsoft and other gems to uncover. Don't miss this one.

..., and believe it or not, she was a 🧑🏻‍🏫 Science Teacher for a good nine years, preparing thousands of high school students in physics and chemistry labs, lecturing and encouraging them to succeed.



Without further ado, let's get to the Q&A:

13 Questions with Torrey Podmajersky


  1. You have worked on different types of content (documentation, internal communication, gaming UX Writing, learning UX Writing); what are the main similarities and differences between all these types of content; isn’t all “just content”?

    The main similarities are in their purpose: It has all been content that helps people (users) do what they came to the experience to do. It takes pretty relentless focus to keep the user’s goals at the center of the content, so that each word gets them closer to their goal. This is true of help articles and content in the UI - every word must audition to be there (as my friend Elly Searle would say.) The main differences are in the patterns that are most effective: paragraphs and numbered lists work well in some places, and single-word buttons, headings, and labels work well in others. It is like having both a paintbrush and a palette knife - very different tools, both the right tools in their own circumstances.


  2. In your +20 years of experience designing and executing content strategies, what are people's most common mistakes regarding structuring, planning, designing, and publishing content across all mediums?

    (Quick clarification - It's been more than 20 years, but also, less than 20 years. I've been a UX writer, content designer, etc. since 2010, and was an internal communications manager before that, and a high school science teacher before that. My first website content job was with my family's business, then known as TechnoTeacher - before <img> tags were available.)

    The very most common mistake is that creating the content to meet the goal will be easy. First, the goal may be poorly defined - that's frequently the first thing to tackle. Once you know what the goal is, you can decide if content is the right way to get there (hint: sometimes it's not!) If one or more content methods are appropriate, then it's a matter of establishing the parameters, and creating efficiencies where we can. For example, if a financial services app wants to provide pop-up cards to define jargon or reassure customers about in-app decisions, what is the content model that will work well? Designing that model at the outset will save a lot of rewriting later. And then there's the writing. The most common way I stumble in my own projects is to get through the strategizing, and somehow temporarily forget that the actual writing will take its own time and effort–leaving me to wonder why progress is so slow. What's funny is I know to budget the time - and then somehow, I still expect to be able to write faster than I can. I just did this with the Content Design Skills survey and reports; for each skill, I'm writing up 250-500 words about the skill: definition, when to use it, the impacts to focus on making with it, and the circumstances necessary for a content designer to have success with that skill. I'm doing this for about 90 different skills, so that's a ton of writing! So it's not only a common problem, it's my problem. 😁.


  3. Teams often have an unfair "content-to-other" ratio. Smaller teams prioritize hiring those who “build” the product–– designers & developers, while much larger teams overlook the importance of having a well-staffed content team, leaving it all to whoever makes the content to take charge of all types of content. What is your take on that?

    I think it's important to realize that very few teams, of any discipline, think they are “overstaffed.” At best, every once in a while, a leadership team can say “yes! I have the right people, and the right number of people, with the right skills, and we’re ready to take this on! I think the gap in those hypothetical leaders’ understanding is how much content can do to help them meet their goals, if they were to apply it strategically. And a single person who works across all types of content for an organization can't deliver the kind of impact they would want to. They may be able to work at a strategic level, partnering with product, engineering, and design leadership - but then they won't have time to deliver or influence more than a tiny fraction of the content needed. Or conversely, they may work at a hyper-tactical level, speeding from emergency to emergency, possibly creating better content than non-content pros would do, but unable to achieve business-level strategic impacts (much less measure them!) There has been a LOT of digital ink spilled about whose fault this all is. It’s nobody's fault that a young discipline is young, honestly.


  4. In cases of disagreement over the best content version, what do you do? In your book, you discussed three common methods, “consensus, autonomous decisions, and hierarchical decisions,” that you witnessed in different organizations. Can you elaborate more on this with a simple example?

    I think I explained this more in the book, but they pretty much mean what they say. It also has a lot more to do with your team and your relationship with them than it does with any particular content decision! When a team (plus stakeholders, executives, etc.) comes to consensus, all of us (including the content designer!) become persuaded that a particular piece of content is the right thing to try. In an autonomous decision, the content designer or UX writer makes the call themselves; this requires a level of trust with the developer in whose code it will live, the product owner who has responsibility for the product’s success, and more. Most text falls into this category, because most UI text doesn’t require this level of discussion or disagreement. Hierarchical decisions are popularly known as “HiPPO” decisions - whatever the Highest-Paid Person’s Opinion is, is the decision that is made.


  5. You helped teams solve customer and business problems using UX and content. How might a team suffer if it doesn't value content as highly as other aspects of the business–– Design, Development, and Sales?

    I think I want to turn this question around: Can design, development and sales (or product, marketing, etc.) exist without content? When content is held separately from these pillars, there's going to be a problem. It's not that content is more important or less important to the functioning of any of these groups - all of them require content to do their work and in the delivery of experiences. We content folk need to be values not as a separate party, but as part of the design team, part of the development team, part of the sales team - etc. Because we specialize in making content be effective and efficient, we can make all of these groups work more effectively and efficiently.


  6. Based on your experience, companies adopt different collaboration processes in managing content. Can you tell us more about what methods you encountered? Was it easy or difficult for you to adopt and use them?

    It seems like there are as many ways to collaborate as there are fish in the sea. I've been tightly paired with product and design teams, a solo practitioner holding office hours and going to strategy meetings, and attending daily stand-ups. What has always worked best for me is to build what I will need to be effective: an understanding of what the team is working on, and why, and when. That information, plus my own understanding of how UX content can help us solve or avoid problems, and communication channels within the team - as long as I can put those pieces together, any collaboration method will work.


  7. At Microsoft's Windows team, you created content for many products: consoles, websites, mobile, and apps. Did you have to start from scratch for each platform design, or was there a tool to repurpose the content you had already prepared?

    I worked on Windows after I worked on Xbox, but I did work on all these platforms over the course of both (huge!) teams. Text for each product was stored so differently (think about Android vs. iOS - developers can’t reuse the same strings file), any overlap we had to track string consistency was in internal, bespoke tools, or in Word docs the content developer would maintain. This was pre-Figma, even pre-Sketch - designs were still happening in Illustrator and Photoshop, for the most part. One of the content designers I worked with had a background in SQL, and created a database of strings that were updated with developer check-in changes every night. We had another internal tool that let us see all the text for the product, sort it, and track when it was final or needed more work. That was about 10 years ago, and at some point tech changes made it stop working - but it was still the most powerful tool I’ve ever used for UI text management.


  8. How did you oversee Xbox's global content? Was localization part of your responsibilities? Can you elaborate on how it works, from validating the copy to ensuring localization matches the region (e.g., 🇨🇦 Canadian French/Quebec)? And what tools did you use for that?

    Let's be clear: I never managed Xbox’s global content! I was the content developer (aka UX writer) with responsibility for several features over a few years, not managing the team. That was where I learned the job, working with excellent writers and editors who came before me and taught me. While I was there, I got to work with the localization program managers. They were fantastic. Questions would come back to me (and the other writers) about individual strings, and sometimes we'd have to dig in deep to find a way to transcreate the experience in another language or culture. Testing of content was outside of my scope; while I sometimes got bugs to review or give feedback on from localization testing, I can't help them translate to any kind of French - or Portuguese, for example.


  9. Content designers and UX writers are involved at the very end. They are provided with a high-fidelity UI prototype and asked to write or improve the copy with little context, if any. How does this process cause problems and difficulties?

    More and more, content designers and UX writers are involved before the very end, thankfully. When they are only asked to come in at the end, frequently there’s not much they can do. Like any professional, they should point this out. It’s like when a gasoline-powered car is brought to a mechanic after it has run with an empty oil tank for thousands of miles. The mechanic can’t be as effective as if the car had been brought in when the leak first developed. In the same way, sometimes the best thing the UX writer (or car mechanic) can do is to say, “Bring it to me sooner next time - if you want to get this working well, it’s going to take a complete overhaul.”


  10. As a seasoned Senior Content Designer & UX writer, what profiles did you use to work with the most (UX designers, developers, content peers, PMs, etc.)? How did you collaborate and communicate with them? And how did you hand over your work to them?

    I work with whoever is designing and building the experience. That means the PMs, developers, designers, attorneys, privacy professionals, technical writers, and more. To collaborate with them, we’ve worked in Figma, product documents, slide decks, meetings, white papers, patent applications, design systems, style guides, voice charts, and more. “Handing off” work seems antiquated, somehow. I’m never working solo, throwing my finished product over the proverbial fence. My work is embedded in the group work, wherever that group work is. Sometimes I’m driving that work, and then it culminates in “final” design files or Figma pages, or in prototypes, or in documents. Sometimes I need to record my explicit approval - say, by adding my name to a table in a product document, with the data, signing off officially.


  11. What tools (Software) do you have on your Mac for writing, planning, and collaborating with the rest of the team (UX designers, developers, content peers, PMs, etc.)? Just put them all—even the ones not on your dock :)

    Funny, I don’t have a Mac anymore. Since I don’t need to run Mac-only design software, I can have cheaper, powerful, and lighter-weight computers around. For my own work, I tend toward Google Workspace (Docs, Sheets, Slides), and I find that many of my customers do, too. I also use Microsoft Word and Excel if I need more power. And of course Figma - all of this works with Figma! Separately, I use Autodesk Fusion for 3D design of physical objects, Inkscape for vector design, Snagit/Camtasia and Loom for video capture and delivery.



  12. Helping newcomers⸻When transitioning to a career in content design, what skills should someone develop? I'd like to hear more about the practical side of things?

    The long answer: I’m working on a project about this right now, actually. I ran a first test of my Content Design Skills Survey for 24 hours, asking respondents questions about 87 different skills. Since then, I’ve done a lot of analysis, and interviewed survey takers from around the world on what they thought about the survey and a report I could make for them about their top 5 strengths (as they report them), and the top 5 skills they may want to consider building. I’ll be opening that survey up again in the new year, and people will be able to get personalized reports based on my analysis.

    The short answer: People tend to bring very transferable skills with them into content design. Everybody’s background is different! There is a lot to learn, and so many ways to make impact for our organizations and our users. Stay tuned for more information about that by following Catbird Content on LinkedIn - that’s where I’ll be posting when the survey is open again.


  13. Finally— at Punkt, we are revolutionizing the UX industry by building the Content-First UX Platform where Content Designers and UX Writers lead the product UX/Design decisions. We believe a Content-First UX approach will fix too many daily issues most product teams deal with. Is it possible to give the Content Team the lead in guiding the entire UX process??

    When the content team leads UX, it has to take responsibility for all parts of the UX - just like when visual or interaction design leads UX, they have to take responsibility for the content, research, sound design, motion design, etc. It is definitely possible to lead content-first, and would likely have advantages in driving users’ nuanced understanding and rapid onboarding into experiences. It would also have disadvantages, like needing to make sure that visual and other forms of design were still invested in and valued.



👋 Don't forget to follow Torrey Podmajersky

LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/torrey-podmajersky
Cardbird Content https://catbirdcontent.com
Listen to her UX Cake episode https://tinyurl.com/ycuar6kj


Intro

Welcome to Spotlight, your gateway to the UX/ Content Design world, through a distinctive series of interviews that spotlight the industry's leading voices. Our succinct, direct-to-the-point approach poses ±10 sharp questions to veterans and rising stars, gathering insights and perspectives shaping the UX scene.


Meet our guest ⸻ Torrey Podmajersky, Author of Strategic Writing for UX, president of Catbird Content

With 20+ years of experience, Torrey has worked on different types of content (Technical Documentation, Internal/ External Communication, Gaming UX Writing, Education, you name it); she designed and executed content strategies for many products at different companies: Microsoft, Google, OfferUP, Sync, Pilda Pill Sorter alongside teaching at the School of Visual Concepts.

Torrey Podmajersky - Author of Strategic Writing for UX, president of Catbird Content


At Microsoft, she was pivotal in shipping UX for the Xbox One/ 360 launch and enhancing Windows 10 content. Torrey adeptly navigated complex collaborations with all stakeholders to develop user-friendly and trustworthy privacy experiences. She expanded the Xbox writing team's scope to include web and mobile applications and skillfully managed partnerships across diverse project management methodologies. Her leadership in UX writing and content strategy significantly boosted the adoption of Office 365 for Education, shaping the user experience for Microsoft's educational tools like Teams and OneNote and balancing consumer appeal with enterprise requirements.

She is now the president of Catbird Content, a content design agency to trust with your UX content, product content strategy, and content skills transformation. Catbird helps teams solve business and customer problems using UX and content.

In 2019, she shook up the UX community, especially the content designers, with her eye-opening book "Strategic Writing for UX." (📔 Buy the book ↗ )

Torrey Podmajersky's book-Strategic Writing For UX

She made a remarkable contribution to the UX community, especially in Content Design and strategy. Her work has shown the UX community that content creation is more than just filling spaces or crafting words creatively. It's a strategic endeavor that encompasses a comprehensive view of the user experience. This approach involves understanding users' challenges, empathizing with them, and addressing their needs through effective UX solutions while aligning with the overarching business objectives.

Today, we're thrilled to have Torrey share her insights, through 12 carefully crafted questions, about her experience leading big teams at Microsoft and other gems to uncover. Don't miss this one.

..., and believe it or not, she was a 🧑🏻‍🏫 Science Teacher for a good nine years, preparing thousands of high school students in physics and chemistry labs, lecturing and encouraging them to succeed.



Without further ado, let's get to the Q&A:

13 Questions with Torrey Podmajersky


  1. You have worked on different types of content (documentation, internal communication, gaming UX Writing, learning UX Writing); what are the main similarities and differences between all these types of content; isn’t all “just content”?

    The main similarities are in their purpose: It has all been content that helps people (users) do what they came to the experience to do. It takes pretty relentless focus to keep the user’s goals at the center of the content, so that each word gets them closer to their goal. This is true of help articles and content in the UI - every word must audition to be there (as my friend Elly Searle would say.) The main differences are in the patterns that are most effective: paragraphs and numbered lists work well in some places, and single-word buttons, headings, and labels work well in others. It is like having both a paintbrush and a palette knife - very different tools, both the right tools in their own circumstances.


  2. In your +20 years of experience designing and executing content strategies, what are people's most common mistakes regarding structuring, planning, designing, and publishing content across all mediums?

    (Quick clarification - It's been more than 20 years, but also, less than 20 years. I've been a UX writer, content designer, etc. since 2010, and was an internal communications manager before that, and a high school science teacher before that. My first website content job was with my family's business, then known as TechnoTeacher - before <img> tags were available.)

    The very most common mistake is that creating the content to meet the goal will be easy. First, the goal may be poorly defined - that's frequently the first thing to tackle. Once you know what the goal is, you can decide if content is the right way to get there (hint: sometimes it's not!) If one or more content methods are appropriate, then it's a matter of establishing the parameters, and creating efficiencies where we can. For example, if a financial services app wants to provide pop-up cards to define jargon or reassure customers about in-app decisions, what is the content model that will work well? Designing that model at the outset will save a lot of rewriting later. And then there's the writing. The most common way I stumble in my own projects is to get through the strategizing, and somehow temporarily forget that the actual writing will take its own time and effort–leaving me to wonder why progress is so slow. What's funny is I know to budget the time - and then somehow, I still expect to be able to write faster than I can. I just did this with the Content Design Skills survey and reports; for each skill, I'm writing up 250-500 words about the skill: definition, when to use it, the impacts to focus on making with it, and the circumstances necessary for a content designer to have success with that skill. I'm doing this for about 90 different skills, so that's a ton of writing! So it's not only a common problem, it's my problem. 😁.


  3. Teams often have an unfair "content-to-other" ratio. Smaller teams prioritize hiring those who “build” the product–– designers & developers, while much larger teams overlook the importance of having a well-staffed content team, leaving it all to whoever makes the content to take charge of all types of content. What is your take on that?

    I think it's important to realize that very few teams, of any discipline, think they are “overstaffed.” At best, every once in a while, a leadership team can say “yes! I have the right people, and the right number of people, with the right skills, and we’re ready to take this on! I think the gap in those hypothetical leaders’ understanding is how much content can do to help them meet their goals, if they were to apply it strategically. And a single person who works across all types of content for an organization can't deliver the kind of impact they would want to. They may be able to work at a strategic level, partnering with product, engineering, and design leadership - but then they won't have time to deliver or influence more than a tiny fraction of the content needed. Or conversely, they may work at a hyper-tactical level, speeding from emergency to emergency, possibly creating better content than non-content pros would do, but unable to achieve business-level strategic impacts (much less measure them!) There has been a LOT of digital ink spilled about whose fault this all is. It’s nobody's fault that a young discipline is young, honestly.


  4. In cases of disagreement over the best content version, what do you do? In your book, you discussed three common methods, “consensus, autonomous decisions, and hierarchical decisions,” that you witnessed in different organizations. Can you elaborate more on this with a simple example?

    I think I explained this more in the book, but they pretty much mean what they say. It also has a lot more to do with your team and your relationship with them than it does with any particular content decision! When a team (plus stakeholders, executives, etc.) comes to consensus, all of us (including the content designer!) become persuaded that a particular piece of content is the right thing to try. In an autonomous decision, the content designer or UX writer makes the call themselves; this requires a level of trust with the developer in whose code it will live, the product owner who has responsibility for the product’s success, and more. Most text falls into this category, because most UI text doesn’t require this level of discussion or disagreement. Hierarchical decisions are popularly known as “HiPPO” decisions - whatever the Highest-Paid Person’s Opinion is, is the decision that is made.


  5. You helped teams solve customer and business problems using UX and content. How might a team suffer if it doesn't value content as highly as other aspects of the business–– Design, Development, and Sales?

    I think I want to turn this question around: Can design, development and sales (or product, marketing, etc.) exist without content? When content is held separately from these pillars, there's going to be a problem. It's not that content is more important or less important to the functioning of any of these groups - all of them require content to do their work and in the delivery of experiences. We content folk need to be values not as a separate party, but as part of the design team, part of the development team, part of the sales team - etc. Because we specialize in making content be effective and efficient, we can make all of these groups work more effectively and efficiently.


  6. Based on your experience, companies adopt different collaboration processes in managing content. Can you tell us more about what methods you encountered? Was it easy or difficult for you to adopt and use them?

    It seems like there are as many ways to collaborate as there are fish in the sea. I've been tightly paired with product and design teams, a solo practitioner holding office hours and going to strategy meetings, and attending daily stand-ups. What has always worked best for me is to build what I will need to be effective: an understanding of what the team is working on, and why, and when. That information, plus my own understanding of how UX content can help us solve or avoid problems, and communication channels within the team - as long as I can put those pieces together, any collaboration method will work.


  7. At Microsoft's Windows team, you created content for many products: consoles, websites, mobile, and apps. Did you have to start from scratch for each platform design, or was there a tool to repurpose the content you had already prepared?

    I worked on Windows after I worked on Xbox, but I did work on all these platforms over the course of both (huge!) teams. Text for each product was stored so differently (think about Android vs. iOS - developers can’t reuse the same strings file), any overlap we had to track string consistency was in internal, bespoke tools, or in Word docs the content developer would maintain. This was pre-Figma, even pre-Sketch - designs were still happening in Illustrator and Photoshop, for the most part. One of the content designers I worked with had a background in SQL, and created a database of strings that were updated with developer check-in changes every night. We had another internal tool that let us see all the text for the product, sort it, and track when it was final or needed more work. That was about 10 years ago, and at some point tech changes made it stop working - but it was still the most powerful tool I’ve ever used for UI text management.


  8. How did you oversee Xbox's global content? Was localization part of your responsibilities? Can you elaborate on how it works, from validating the copy to ensuring localization matches the region (e.g., 🇨🇦 Canadian French/Quebec)? And what tools did you use for that?

    Let's be clear: I never managed Xbox’s global content! I was the content developer (aka UX writer) with responsibility for several features over a few years, not managing the team. That was where I learned the job, working with excellent writers and editors who came before me and taught me. While I was there, I got to work with the localization program managers. They were fantastic. Questions would come back to me (and the other writers) about individual strings, and sometimes we'd have to dig in deep to find a way to transcreate the experience in another language or culture. Testing of content was outside of my scope; while I sometimes got bugs to review or give feedback on from localization testing, I can't help them translate to any kind of French - or Portuguese, for example.


  9. Content designers and UX writers are involved at the very end. They are provided with a high-fidelity UI prototype and asked to write or improve the copy with little context, if any. How does this process cause problems and difficulties?

    More and more, content designers and UX writers are involved before the very end, thankfully. When they are only asked to come in at the end, frequently there’s not much they can do. Like any professional, they should point this out. It’s like when a gasoline-powered car is brought to a mechanic after it has run with an empty oil tank for thousands of miles. The mechanic can’t be as effective as if the car had been brought in when the leak first developed. In the same way, sometimes the best thing the UX writer (or car mechanic) can do is to say, “Bring it to me sooner next time - if you want to get this working well, it’s going to take a complete overhaul.”


  10. As a seasoned Senior Content Designer & UX writer, what profiles did you use to work with the most (UX designers, developers, content peers, PMs, etc.)? How did you collaborate and communicate with them? And how did you hand over your work to them?

    I work with whoever is designing and building the experience. That means the PMs, developers, designers, attorneys, privacy professionals, technical writers, and more. To collaborate with them, we’ve worked in Figma, product documents, slide decks, meetings, white papers, patent applications, design systems, style guides, voice charts, and more. “Handing off” work seems antiquated, somehow. I’m never working solo, throwing my finished product over the proverbial fence. My work is embedded in the group work, wherever that group work is. Sometimes I’m driving that work, and then it culminates in “final” design files or Figma pages, or in prototypes, or in documents. Sometimes I need to record my explicit approval - say, by adding my name to a table in a product document, with the data, signing off officially.


  11. What tools (Software) do you have on your Mac for writing, planning, and collaborating with the rest of the team (UX designers, developers, content peers, PMs, etc.)? Just put them all—even the ones not on your dock :)

    Funny, I don’t have a Mac anymore. Since I don’t need to run Mac-only design software, I can have cheaper, powerful, and lighter-weight computers around. For my own work, I tend toward Google Workspace (Docs, Sheets, Slides), and I find that many of my customers do, too. I also use Microsoft Word and Excel if I need more power. And of course Figma - all of this works with Figma! Separately, I use Autodesk Fusion for 3D design of physical objects, Inkscape for vector design, Snagit/Camtasia and Loom for video capture and delivery.



  12. Helping newcomers⸻When transitioning to a career in content design, what skills should someone develop? I'd like to hear more about the practical side of things?

    The long answer: I’m working on a project about this right now, actually. I ran a first test of my Content Design Skills Survey for 24 hours, asking respondents questions about 87 different skills. Since then, I’ve done a lot of analysis, and interviewed survey takers from around the world on what they thought about the survey and a report I could make for them about their top 5 strengths (as they report them), and the top 5 skills they may want to consider building. I’ll be opening that survey up again in the new year, and people will be able to get personalized reports based on my analysis.

    The short answer: People tend to bring very transferable skills with them into content design. Everybody’s background is different! There is a lot to learn, and so many ways to make impact for our organizations and our users. Stay tuned for more information about that by following Catbird Content on LinkedIn - that’s where I’ll be posting when the survey is open again.


  13. Finally— at Punkt, we are revolutionizing the UX industry by building the Content-First UX Platform where Content Designers and UX Writers lead the product UX/Design decisions. We believe a Content-First UX approach will fix too many daily issues most product teams deal with. Is it possible to give the Content Team the lead in guiding the entire UX process??

    When the content team leads UX, it has to take responsibility for all parts of the UX - just like when visual or interaction design leads UX, they have to take responsibility for the content, research, sound design, motion design, etc. It is definitely possible to lead content-first, and would likely have advantages in driving users’ nuanced understanding and rapid onboarding into experiences. It would also have disadvantages, like needing to make sure that visual and other forms of design were still invested in and valued.



👋 Don't forget to follow Torrey Podmajersky

LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/torrey-podmajersky
Cardbird Content https://catbirdcontent.com
Listen to her UX Cake episode https://tinyurl.com/ycuar6kj


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A few of our early adopters

Leading international companies have joined our early access program.

A few of our early adopters

Leading international companies have joined our early access program.

A few of our early adopters

Leading international companies have joined our early access program.

A few of our
early adopters

Leading international companies have joined our early access program.

A few of our early adopters

Leading international companies have joined our early access program.

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