Dr. Guiseppe Getto, Ph.D.

Become Your Audience: An Interview with Jerry Cao, UX Content Strategist at UXPin

Jerry Cao, content strategy extraordinaireJerry Cao is a UX Content Strategist at UXPin where he creates in-app content and e-books for the free design library. In the past, he has worked on improving website experiences through better content, design, and information architecture. He previously worked at Brafton, DDB San Francisco, and Level Studios. His published work on product design and UX design can be found on TheNextWeb, VentureBeat, DesignModo, WebDesignLedger, and Speckyboy. You can follow him on Twitter @jerrycao_uxpin.

GG: Can you describe your work as a content strategist? What are you mostly responsible for within your organization?

JC: As a content strategist, it’s my job to oversee (and at times, co-create) any content associated with UXPin. That includes everything we publish online for free to the public through our design library, as well as reviewing and planning content delivery within our app.

Between the online and in-app side, I would say the online part definitely occupies most of my time. Releasing our thoughts and advice on UX design has been a part of the company culture since its early days, when our CEO actually wrote the books himself.

So, I’d say that what I do on a daily basis mostly consists of:

  • Planning, researching, and outlining our e-books
  • Editing and writing e-books with our team of designers
  • Working with our publishers to best decide which content makes the most sense for their audience
  • Reviewing and editing landing pages
  • Reviewing and editing any in-app changes to make sure that the content flow makes sense, and that the content and design compliment one another

GG: What’s it been like working with an emerging company like UXPin? How would you describe your experiences there?

JC: I’ll be honest, working at a startup is the single hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life so far.

It is exciting, rewarding, intellectually challenging, and at times nerve-wracking. When I started, we really didn’t have much of a process for planning and creating content, so it was pretty much a blank slate. The most difficult part was building the process and workflow for the content so we can keep releasing interesting pieces for people. I’m given a lot of responsibility and freedom to create content. When you’re given that flexibility, it can be refreshing but also terrifying – some days you wish you could just “follow orders” and clock out, but then you wouldn’t have the same level of creative control over your work.

Overall, it’s a great experience. My coworkers are fantastic, and it truly is a horizontally structured environment. We’re all pitching in to help on projects, and there’s a strong collegial atmosphere in encouraging new ideas and fast action. We’re all friends first – once I even crashed on my CEO’s couch after we had a little too much fun with our coworkers. When you’re at a startup, you really need to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset. Everyone is given freedom over their tasks, so you have to own what you do and run it like it’s your own mini-business.

GG: What role do you see content strategy playing in the broader field of UX? What is the relationship between content strategy and UX, in your mind?

Great question!

Content is only going to grow in importance in UX. It’s already incredibly important, as seen by the content-first design philosophies.

Bottom line, content is UX in the digital world. People use apps and visit websites for the content first, not because they want to see pretty pictures and compositions. UX design needs to frame that content in the best way to help users accomplish their goals.

I’m very passionate about content-first design because it’s so easy to make the mistake of thinking that content is something you dump into the design after you’ve reached mid- or high-fidelity. Even at UXPin, we’re trying to adopt this content-first mindset because I’ve run into a few instances where we had to revamp the design because it just didn’t make sense based on the structure and layout for the real copy.

Content and design must work in parallel, since that’s how their relationship works on the page. Otherwise, if you take the “Lorem Ipsum” approach, you’ll either need to sacrifice content quality, or risk last-minute design revamps.

GG: What would you identify as some of the key elements of developing a content strategy for an organization?

JC: Before UXPin, when I was working with clients, I’d always tell them to start with their audience and work your way back.

It’s a common trap for companies to just focus on themselves and treat content as marketing collateral. Don’t do that. Just like the UX disciplines, think about the audience, and write whatever is most interesting to them.

First, get buy-in from everyone on creating a content-focused culture. Explain that you’ll be bugging some people periodically for their subject matter expertise.

Secondly, research what your audience is interested in. What are the hot topics, and why? Curiosity is the strongest quality to any content strategist. Dig as deep as you can, and then start thinking of how you can add to that conversation.

Filter those topics through your own experience, and now you suddenly matter to people.

GG: Is there anything you’ve learned over the years that you’d like to share with people who are new to content strategy? Lessons learned?

JC: My philosophy has always been to treat content as your opportunity to create a unique publication.

I’m a huge fan of A List Apart, Smashing Magazine, UX Mag, and all the other great publications out there. When I create content, I’m focused first and foremost on releasing something helpful to people. Trimming the fat, and really providing value to readers.

These are my top tips for anyone interested in content strategy/creation:

  1. Know your audience like an old friend – Filter every piece through your personas. If you think what your writing is too surface-level or just feels like a shell for marketing, then follow your gut and improve it. People detect insincerity, so write honestly.
  2. Become your audience – The saying “Knowledge without mileage is BS” could not be truer. The next level is to slowly become the people you’re writing for. For instance, at UXPin I’m sketching, wireframing, and prototyping because it puts me closer to the designer mindset. I try to join meetings and workshops for our design team. In any content role, unless you slowly become the people you write for, your level of expertise will burn out eventually.
  3. Content comes first – When it comes to the term “content marketing,” don’t think too much about the marketing side. If your content is naturally good, then people will want to share it. So focus on the meat, and everything else will fall into place.
  4. Don’t fear controversy – For example, when we went about redesigning Yelp as an exercise, we knew that some people would probably disagree with our design decisions. But we went through with it anyway because we thought it was valuable to show how usability testing can help you improve design. Don’t be afraid to push the envelope, just do it smartly (e.g. don’t say “X sucks” just to make waves).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *