Now available: Design for Impact by Erin Weigel

Excerpt: Chapter One of our Newest Title, From Solo to Scaled by Natalie M. Dunbar


Chapter 1

The Content Strategy Practice Blueprint

I’m fascinated by buildings: single family structures, high-rise dwellings, and especially office towers. As such, I’ve always had a healthy curiosity about the construction process. For example, Figure 1.1 shows a Habitat for Humanity building that I worked on. From the initial breaking of ground to the completion of a building’s façade, I find comfort in both the art and order of construction—how foundations support columns, columns support beams, and beams support floors. When the building plans are followed as written, every element comes together perfectly to create a strong structure that is capable of withstanding natural elements like wind and earthquakes.

In my career as a content strategist, I’ve heard colleagues speak about “standing up a team,” or “standing up a practice.” There was familiarity in the concept of building a figurative structure that had a specific function or purpose. And, of course, that familiarity stemmed from my fascination with buildings, so the construction metaphor made sense to me.

That metaphor also reminded me of one of my favorite books, Why Buildings Stand Up, by Mario Salvadori. Before writing and content strategy became my full-time job, I worked in various roles in residential and commercial real estate. All of those roles exposed me to various phases of building construction and tenant improvements, and reading Salvadori’s book helped me understand construction and architecture in an engaging way.

The familiarity I felt when hearing the phrase “stand up a practice” in the digital experience world often stopped short of the idea of the building metaphor. For example, practices were “stood up” with no attention to order. Foundations were poured before soil tests were completed, often resulting in skipping the addition of the footings that might be needed to support the foundation, or in the case of the practice, doing the work to ensure that the practice followed the necessary processes to create digital experiences that met the needs of users as well as the goal of the client or business. And inevitably, the structure—or the practice—began to crumble.

And sometimes those practices failed completely.

From the Ground Up

Having had the opportunity to build an agency-based content strategy practice from the ground up, and later expanding and maintaining an existing practice within a mid-to-large sized organization, I began to see that failures often happened because steps crucial to supporting the structure had been skipped. Or perhaps the structure had been compromised because the framework used to build it—if one was used at all—couldn’t withstand the constant stress of tension and compression.

When I started to think about what caused these seemingly strong practices to crumble—I returned to the building and construction metaphor to look for possible answers. That’s because it’s sometimes easier to, er, construct a mental model that’s more tangible than the nebulousness nature of digital information spaces.

If the building metaphor still feels a bit weird to you, then try this: think of the last time someone asked what you did for a living. If you’re a UX practitioner, or if you collaborate with members of a UX team, you’ve likely experienced the feeling of the listener’s eyes glazing over as you tried to explain the concept of user experience—or as I once saw it described, “making websites and apps stink less.” Then think of what might happen if you described the user experience using a more relatable metaphor, such as one of the following:

  • The internet is a space.
  • A website or mobile app is a destination within that space (and in the case of websites, a space complete with its own address).
  • The work you do helps people avoid getting lost in that space.

In keeping with this theme, now imagine that the opportunity that’s immediately in front of you—that of building a UX-focused content strategy practice—is a pristine plot of land. Provided you have a solid plan and the right materials and tools, this untilled soil is ready for you to break ground and to stand up a healthy content strategy practice.

So this figurative plot of land you’ve been given needs someone—you—to till the soil and prepare the space for a structure to be built. And the creation of the plans for that structure, as well as sourcing the building materials and the tools you’ll need to build it, has also fallen to you.

Lucky for you, this book is your blueprint.

To continue reading, order your copy of From Solo to Scaled!