A Lesson from My 1st Content Design Project 

My journey to content design began with technology consulting. In 2008, as a technology consultant, I started writing about SharePoint. By the time I joined Microsoft as a content developer in 2016, I’d written 200 blog posts and co-authored two books on SharePoint. As a new Microsoft employee, I wrote the first articles about the new SharePoint apps. Eventually, I took responsibility for writing the words in the app, as well.  

SharePoint’s a critical, but often hidden part of Microsoft’s cloud productivity suite. SharePoint’s where the files are. People add more than 2 billion files to Microsoft 365 every day and SharePoint’s the service storing the files. I know people depend on SharePoint. I was happy to work in content design for the brand-new apps for iPhone and Android. 

On the SharePoint mobile app team, I collaborated with a few product managers, a few designers, and many software engineers. And those were just the people dedicated to making these new apps. The larger SharePoint engineering team involved thousands of people. As I learned to be a productive designer on the largest engineering team I’d ever joined, I also learned content design lessons that still help me and the teams I work with today. One of the most important early lessons I learned is to partner with others when writing. 

A screenshot of the listing for the Microsoft SharePoint app in the Apple App Store showing an average rating of 4.6 from 113,000 ratings
The SharePoint app store listing on iPhone

Create space for contribution

Many of my peers at Microsoft have been focused on content design longer than I have. They’ve taught me many tips and tricks starting with one critical tool – the text review notebook, a safe space for anyone to contribute ideas about content in the app and store decisions.

The simplest version of the notebook looks something like the following. First, a visual of the starting draft of the design and then a table for working together on the strings. We used Microsoft OneNote to share the table because it was easy for more than one person to make updates to the table at the same time, encouraging collaboration. 

A part of the sign in experience marked up for brainstorming during a review of the text
The sign in form, 2016
ID Starting text Brainstorm Comments Approved text 
Sign in * Login
* Get started 
[PM] I see Login other places 
[Tom] Sign in is the Microsoft Writing Style 
Sign in 
Email * Username
* User name
* User name or email
[PM] Sometimes the username isn’t an email address
[Tom] The definition for username in the American Heritage Dictionary matches this use
Username

In the fictional example above, the product manager (PM) has added options for strings based on their understanding of the user needs. The comments column captures the PM’s reasoning and the content design response. This simple tool, a table that can be edited easily by anyone on the team, provides both a way to easily allow input from team members and capture decisions made. 

Writers at Microsoft have learned that product managers are important stakeholders in content design. A critical part of the PM role at Microsoft is understanding who the product is for and what the users need and writing about it in the product’s specifications.  Involving any important stakeholders early in a project provides additional perspective. In PMs designers have a partner who writes about user needs. That’s invaluable! Also, by including the PM in the process, they become advocates for the decisions made along the way. 

Conclusion

Some things have changed in the 8 years since I started on the design team for the SharePoint mobile apps. For example, OneNote’s been mostly replaced by Figma for collaboration on designs. Also, the most involved contributors in my daily content design work are other designers (including other content designers) and user researchers. PMs, engineers, and customer success specialists are key contributors at milestones.

Yes. I’m an expert on content design. However, I’m not the only one on the team who writes. To deliver the best user experience, I rely on a diverse set of partners in writing. I make room for contributions from partners in whatever ways I can.

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