Natalie Dunbar - from solo to scaled

Natalie Dunbar - from solo to scaled

My guest in this episode is Natalie Dunbar, UX-focused content strategist with a unique blend of skills as a journalist, content writer, and user experience researcher. Natalie excels in balancing the creation of delightful user experiences with strategic content that supports the needs of a business or organization.

She has worked in various roles as a content writer and strategist for major brands and produced original content for many federal agencies.

Natalie is also an active member of Women Talk Design and was a founding member of the Content Strategy Los Angeles meetup group.

She is author of the newly released Rosenfeld Media book, From Solo to Scaled: Building a Sustainable Content Strategy Practice.

Here Natalie talks about the various flavours and roles of content, the challenges and key inflection points as content teams scale.

Thanks to Rosenfeld Media, listeners can get Natalie’s book at 20% off the purchase price when you purchase directly from them using the code, POWEROFTENSTS.


Note: This transcript is machine-generated and may contain some errors.

[00:00:00] Andy Polaine: Hi, and welcome to Power of 10, a podcast about design operating at many levels, zooming out from thoughtful detail through to organizational transformation and onto changes in society and the world. My name is Andy Pauline. I’m a service design and innovation consultant, design leadership coach, educator and writer.

My guest today is Natalie Dunbar, a UX focused content strategist with a unique blend of skills. As a journalist, content writer, and user experience researcher, she excels in balancing the creation of delightful user experiences with strategic content that supports the needs of a business or organiz.

She’s worked in various roles as a content writer and strategist for major brands and produced original content for many federal agencies. Natalie is also an active member of Women Talk Design and was a founding member of the Content Strategy Los Angeles Meetup group. She’s author of the newly released Rosenfeld Media book, from Solo to Scaled Building, a Sustainable Content Strategy Practice.

[00:01:05] Natalie Dunbar: Natalie, welcome to Power 10. Thank you for having me, Andy. I’m so glad to be here.

[00:01:10] Andy Polaine: So congratulations on getting the book done. I know we had a kind of, uh, a brief exchange sort of close to the end of it. Yes. And, uh, talked about the, the sweeping up. I always quote the sweeping up of the sort of last bits of getting a book done take a remarkable amount of time.

[00:01:24] Natalie Dunbar: Oh my goodness. Yes.

[00:01:26] Andy Polaine: So well done on getting it out. So how has the reception been of that? We’ll get onto the content of it in so far, but, um, how has it been landing so far?


[00:01:34] Natalie Dunbar: have been absolutely floored. Uh, by the reception, um, as we’re speaking, the book is still only available from Rosenfeld.

[00:01:46] Andy Polaine: Yeah.

[00:01:46] Natalie Dunbar: And in about 10 days it will be widely available from, you know, other book sellers like Amazon and others. Yeah. However, it is sitting, at least a week or so ago, it was at number one on Amazon for the most wished for new releases in content management.

[00:02:09] Andy Polaine: Nice. Well done.

[00:02:11] Natalie Dunbar: Um, I. I don’t even know how to receive that other than to have a lot of gratitude.

It’s been amazing.

[00:02:17] Andy Polaine: That’s great. So before we go into the book, I, I always think it’s useful for people, you know, they hear from people who are well established in their careers and, and you know, when people write a book as well, there’s a little bit of that. Oh, you know, I, I, I’d like to do that one day, or I kind of, I’m looking up to that person.

I think it’s always useful, particularly for more junior people to hear what your journey was, to hear. Usually not a straight line.

[00:02:40] Natalie Dunbar: Definitely not. I think I knew when I was very young that I wanted to be a writer of some kind, and then I went and did everything but writing as a career. stumbled into it as a marketing communications specialist decades ago actually, and what I really wanted to do was be a journalist.

So I went from marketing communications. into journalism. Worked for a local award-winning weekly here where I am in Pasadena, called the Pasadena Weekly and then ended up being a editor at another small town. Paper was kind of doing both at the same time actually, and really got into reporting and writing and, and that kind of.

And then I think it was SEO that first grabbed my attention as things were moving from the printed space to digital. I taught myself how to hand code. Those skills are very much obsolete now, but I knew that they would come in handy. I, I always make people laugh when I tell them I still can make letters blink on a page. Uh, that’s about the extent of my coding, um, these days, but, I think I had an inkling that online was the space that I wanted to be in. I was very curious about technology. So then I moved into the digital space and started to hear this phrase. Consumer experience, user experience. And I’m like, what’s that?

And I started working with, what were, they call them? Human factors engineers. Oh. And UX designers and so on and so forth. And when I, I kind of veered off into product management, the user researcher, and then I made my way back to content and content strategy. Became a thing and I was like, oh, that’s what I do.

And here we are.

[00:04:42] Andy Polaine: So it sounds to me, and you talk about this a little bit in the book, you were doing content strategy or content. I’m gonna come back to actually the differences between them kind of before it had the name. Is that fair to say? Or did you already have in your head like, this is, this is content strategy, this is content design.

[00:04:59] Natalie Dunbar: I had definitely did not have content design in my brain at that time. Hmm. I had been exposed to, and I think this might be the part in the book you’re talking about. There was a, a, a group of content strategists who came in from an agency to help work on a project at the online directory where I used to work, and I didn’t know what a content strategist was and they didn’t really tell us what, what it was that they did. It was like, it was like a secret society that was existing. They didn’t really share a lot of artifacts. They were just doing their thing in the background and then would tell us, you know, you need to do this, you need to do that. But I was curious about it more than just like having someone tell me, like, I guess if there was an equivalent, I was the UX writer to them.

So they were doing strategy work and then we were supposed to execute by writing whatever it was. , they felt like we should write, but I think I first encountered Kristina Halvorson’s book during that time, but I, I don’t think I read it immediately because I was just like, oh, I don’t know what that means. Content strategy. Am I really equipped to do that?

Then I went off and did the product and the user research and came all the way back around. And then the, the, um, discipline was maturing. I left my, uh, position as a user researcher, not voluntarily company was bought, you know, positions were eliminated.

And then, uh, I had to rebrand myself. And I kept saying content strategy and all the job listings. And I’m like, okay, let me look at this really closely now. And I, I picked up like a temporary assignment and the hiring manager handed me Christina’s book and Richard Sheffield’s book and literally said, okay, what I need you to do is this, read these books and then do this with this site that we’re building and I’m like, okay. And I literally was like learning as I was like, how does the saying go? You’re like building the plane while you’re flying it or something like that. Yeah, it was. . That was my introduction. It was a, definitely a fast and furious, but uh, I fell in love with the work.

[00:07:27] Andy Polaine: Yeah, that’s great. So, Kristina wrote the forward to your book as well. It’s a nice kind of full circle.

[00:07:31] Natalie Dunbar: Yes, she did. Yes she did.

[00:07:33] Andy Polaine: Yeah. So I’m a, I’m a huge secret kind of admirer, not that secret, I’m a huge admirer of, of content people in general. I, I always have said, I think every design team should have a content person on it. Mm-hmm. in a way that you probably wouldn’t have a design team without someone who is a visual designer, whether it’s, you know, graphic or UI designer.

And yet I would always see like a, a smattering of them wherever I went. Or as you’ve talked about from, you know, solo person. But I’m really interested to get onto the scaled bit because I don’t know if I’ve ever worked in an organization where it’s or worked for a client even where it’s been sort of properly scaled.

I think I’ve always encountered, you know, the one or two, or if I’m lucky, three people who are kind of working away kind of in content with a lot of, nobody really understands what I do here, but it’s so important. Mm-hmm. , which it is. So we’ll get onto that. I, I want to come back to, because people may not know, or I dunno, if it’s a sub perennial kind of argument and conversation, what’s the difference between content strategy, content design and/ or UX writing?

[00:08:37] Natalie Dunbar: Oh my goodness, . It depends on who you ask.

[00:08:41] Andy Polaine: What’s your, because you talk about you, you do have a, a sort of table of it in the book. So what is your kind of definition of it? What’s the difference?

[00:08:48] Natalie Dunbar: I have to lean on the, uh, I think I have the diagram about the front end and back end content strategist, but yes.

Over the years I think that that’s really kind of been, uh, and, and that, that, that Venn diagram. and Hadley wrote an article for content or con Yeah, I think that’s the website. I can’t remember right now. And it was a really good conversation about, you know, the front end work that focuses on, you know, the user and, uh, works with research and visual design, and then kind of that middle space where there’s.

Taxonomy and, um, nomenclature and labeling and wayfinding and in the backend where you’re working more with like URL redirects and working with, uh, you know, content modeling and content modeling documentation. I definitely live on the left side of that space more. I’m a purist when it comes to content strategy.

I struggle with the difference between content strategy and content design because so many organizations have started with the name content strategy and then have rebranded whatever that team looks like to content design. I think it’s partially because. because there’s this niche of product content strategy where you’re working in lockstep with designers, and as our co-author friends have written, writing is designing.

Yeah. So we’re designing the interface with words instead of, you know, visual elements, although we do get involved with that. So I still think that there’s, you know, Uh, I think the relationship between content strategy and content design, and I may get in trouble with some folks for saying this, but I think that’s still a little bit closer.

If I were to isolate, uh, UX writing, I really feel like that’s the interface writing the, the, the u i ux writing that makes an experience usable also makes it come alive. It’s to me, within. product or feature experience that you’re building, whereas content strategy and content design and really more content strategy looks across the ecosystem.

And in many cases, content strategists do not write at all. They don’t create any copy. Yeah. There’s a UX writing team that they may hand off to, and then they execute on the.

[00:11:25] Andy Polaine: UI writing, would it kind of make more, almost more sense of the way you’ve just described it?

[00:11:29] Natalie Dunbar: Yeah.

[00:11:29] Andy Polaine: And this really is the kind of tangible thing that someone interacts with or sees or reads

[00:11:34] Natalie Dunbar: Exactly.

[00:11:35] Andy Polaine: Versus the kind of structural stuff.

[00:11:37] Natalie Dunbar: And it’s very important work. Because that, that’s not to say that it’s not also strategic, but I think it’s strategic at. It’s in the weed strategic, whereas content strategy is kind of more, you know, the 30,000 foot view across all the things. Mm. I could say maybe.


[00:11:58] Andy Polaine: So as the, the, the theme of this show, and basically the thing I always just bang on about is this idea of kind of zooming in and out, a difference of levels of zoom. Mm-hmm. One of the things, as you were just talking about this in the book, I was very pleased to see you talked about service design and service blueprints and, and that whole kind of front end and back end thing that you were just talking about. Obviously maps to that. And part of the job is to map out all of those different front end and back end aspects that are going on. You know, in what you were saying, I often talk about how those two zoom levels interact with each other. So you might have a strategic shift or you might have a str, you know, a strategy.

And then the question is, how does that get expressed across all the touchpoints? And so how does that ex get expressed in the words that people are reading and vice versa, right? How are those words in, in touch points that may not have been thought of in terms of connecting to the strategy. How are they either deliberately or accidentally, you know, saying something about the, the bigger picture?

So, you know, uh, I’ve got a really banal example actually, which is I have a, uh, a robot vacuum cleaner, and, uh, it sends me notifications. But, uh, the notifications are written in this style, like a project manager who is kind. irritated with me, so water tank needs emptying asap. And I’m like, okay, yeah, I better go.

And I feel like I’ve become a slave to this robot . And, and then I, I keep saying God, someone that they really need a decent content writer here because it feels like someone has not really thought about what it’s like to be dinged with these notifications. But you know, it’s a classic example of, you know, the personality of a absolutely.

Product or service, them being expressed through those tiny things. I actually hate kind of Apple’s fitness stuff of like great job and all that kind of mo. I hate that kinda motivational speech that, you know, the watch tells me when I happened to have walked a long way or something.

You’ve done it, you’ve stood up, you know, 10 times the day. Okay. So, you know, that sort of backward back and forth. Yes. I’ve always felt this, there’s quite a lot of relationship between the sort of thinking and service design and also content strategy and content design.

[00:14:00] Natalie Dunbar: Absolutely, absolutely. And I think mapping touchpoints is, uh, I’m, you know, I’m still a novice.

Thanks to your book and, and a few others, I’ve been able to at least speak to it, I hope, in a way that was accurate. I think, uh, I’ve, I’ve had actually an opportunity in my last couple of roles to talk about and then introduce, um, doing a, uh, blueprint, service blueprint. Yeah. Where we. Think about touchpoints along whatever journey we were mapping out and think about what’s appropriate to say and when and what format is most appropriate to say it in.

So another way to say that that content strategist will definitely relate to have tip to Christina getting the right content to the right people at the right time and nice in the right format. and on the right device. . Right. . So cuz our book was content strategy for the web. Yeah. And you know, we’ve, we’ve got all these other things that we, that we work with now.

But I think about this example that you brought up about your, uh, robot that vacuums and. I would be irritated beyond belief if I was like I, the whole reason why you would get something like, well the whole reason why I would get something like that is I have two dogs and I just don’t wanna deal with.

[00:15:29] Andy Polaine: That’s why I got one.

[00:15:30] Natalie Dunbar: Exactly. Right. So it’s a chore. Hmm. And understand the chores are not fun. So there’s an opportunity Right. instead of preaching about what needs to be refilled or whatever, give the thing some personality. It’s funny because, uh, you know, family friend has a, has a tortoise named Roomba , and immediately I’m just like, you know, the exact opposite of, you know what that little thing goes around and, and does.

But there, right there is like an opportunity. It’s to, to to be playful. and to make something that really should be a delightful experience. You’ve got a robot vacuuming your floor. Like there’s, there’s a, a, an opportunity there to not spice it up, but like make it fun, you know? Yeah.

[00:16:23] Andy Polaine: Yeah. And it, it feels like there’s been a, um, That notifications are equated with alert messages, right? Because I think when, and you know, even alert messages don’t have to be like that, but there’s that. Yeah. I’m gonna be a bit mean to engineers, but I think from a sort of engineering perspective, you know, in the program it’s basically the kind of same thing, which is kind of tell the user a thing, but a notification feels different because, you know, because it’s a it kind of feels like a personal message in a way that alert, an alert box doesn’t. Right. And that’s the sort of contextual paradigm. And do you know, a friend of mine, Simon Waterfall once said this thing I thought was really good. He said, you know, I could, um, I could send you a text message about something, you know, inviting you to a party and, you know, but that you would take it and, and read it and you know, whatever.

He said, if I wrote the same message in hand calligraphy and a, a uniformed messenger came in with that on a silver platter. The contents there is the same, but the context of which is really changes, obviously, the way you react and respond to that message. And I, I kind of feel like one of the things that content strategists spend a lot of time doing what you’re just talking about across those different devices is really thinking about the context someone is in at that point. Yes. Um, rather than it’s just a kind of, all text is equal. Mm-hmm. .

[00:17:41] Natalie Dunbar: Yeah, I’ve, that is definitely spot on. You know, there are definitely situations. You wanna think about whether your messaging should be more straightforward. Say if you’re a retailer and you’ve gotten an order wrong or something like that, and the person you know, um, Tries to set up, you know, return or something like that. That’s not necessarily the time to be celebratory or, you know, selling them something.

Yeah, upselling. Yeah, exactly. Hey, we messed this up. Let’s you know, why don’t you buy this other thing? It’s like, no, let’s take care of the, the situation at hand and leave that person feeling like. , even if they got a push notification or an email that they were heard without stumbling over, you know, too many apologies and that kind of things, that there’s just such a delicate balance.

I think that’s where ux writing really shines, because you’re thinking about like the, the moment that that message is received. And really considering the mental state and the mental model that that person might be in. Not saying that content strategy doesn’t do that, because again, we’re looking across and we’re looking at content strategy is looking at where might we.

You know, reach out to a person, you know, who’s going in this path and this thing happens. So what is this use case and what is the most effective way and the most appropriate way to reach out to this person? What, what touchpoint should we use? And then the UX writer can come in and say, you know, this should be celebratory.

This should be an acknowledgement. This should be confirmational, not confrontational, , and so on and so forth. Both disciplines. all dis, all of our content disciplines consider voice and tone. I think more so at the ui, ux writing level, and even the content design piece of all of those disciplines.

And then for content strategy, the way I like to explain it is, um, when I’m faced with digital, uh, experience where there might be more than one persona that I need talk to, let’s say, how does my tone need to shift for each audience member? I may not write the words exactly, but I’ll decide or, or recommend this tone with this touchpoint for that use case and that tone for that touchpoint, and then leave it to the U I U X writer to express that in words.

[00:20:29] Andy Polaine: I have seen those huge spreadsheets.

[00:20:31] Natalie Dunbar: Yeah. And sometimes I have to do both. It’s like, yeah. Hey me, I recommend this, and then I, I go and I write it. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:20:40] Andy Polaine: So, you know, content… given that it’s such, I mean, it’s such a, It’s really at the pointy end of, of user customer experience. Right. It is a very direct thing that people experience. I, you know, I have a bit of a theory, a bit like talking about my vacuum cleaner that, you know, as humans we are, we are kind of deeply narcissistic race and that we kind of anthropomorphize everything including companies. And so content you, because it’s, it’s words and because we are used to speaking words with other, you know, other human beings, content fuels. I think that’s why we kind of feel it’s a very personal thing and why, you know, this company’s talking to me in this way that seems really inappropriate and all that stuff, you know? And in German, I live in Germany, and there’s a formal and informal mm-hmm. version of German, you know, and who companies, some companies switch to the informal cause they want to be more sort of useful and trendy and sometimes it seems, seems appropriate and sometimes. But given all of that, it, it feels like content sometimes just happens in organizations. Has that been your experience? I mean, is that basically the fact that that’s going on, is that what means you have a job?

[00:21:43] Natalie Dunbar: Yes. ask my family members who all come to me and go, I don’t know what this means, what is, what are they trying to get me to do on this website? You’re always going to have a job.

[00:21:55] Andy Polaine: I mean, why do you think it is that content this…. because, you know, I wanna get onto, cuz you actually talk a lot about the kind of the business, bit of, of content strategy and stuff, which, uh, I want to get onto next. But why do you think it is that it’s, whilst it’s very much the first thing often that customers or users experience, it often seems to be the last thing that businesses or organizations get a handle on?

[00:22:16] Natalie Dunbar: Oh, that’s so well said. It’s a mystery to me because, I can’t think of a product or service or experience or white paper or website or anything that’s going to make a difference for a brand without words. Right? And giving some thought to the appropriateness of. I don’t know, tooting your own horn in a white paper or, you know, a positioning kind of document in, in the marketplace versus, you know, uh, some kind of use case of, of a user encountering your brand digitally and how you would speak to them. I can’t believe that this conversation is still so relevant in 2022. It’s, and like it’s it, you know, I hear on, you know, all different meetup calls and different, you know, webinars that I’m either attending or speaking at. There’s so many jobs out there and for content design and content strategy, and I’m like, how is that possible? Like, I understand that it is possible, but. Don’t brands get it by now that it’s central to everything that they do. How you, even if you decide not to come across more conversational and informal, it’s the words that you use to describe what it is that you do that are going to make people either decide to do business with you or not. how is that not important?

[00:23:50] Andy Polaine: Maybe it’s the universality of, it’s like we all do words, so, you know, I think, I think just is kind of an invisible thing.

[00:23:56] Natalie Dunbar: Yeah. And I giggle with my design partners all the time when, you know, we’re doing design workshops and you know, design sprints and things like that. And they’re like, okay, we want you to sketch out. And I’m like, have you seen my stick figures? They’re awful. So, and I definitely. I am not a visual designer that said I have a good sense or I’m developed a good sense of what works visually in terms of how all the pieces come together. So content to me is not just words content to me and I think to most of us in this space, it’s, it’s about the visual elements.

Can you tell a story here with an infographic or can you tell a story with a video? You know, what’s most appropriate in this space? I’m surely not going to tell a designer how to design a visual element, but there could be one visual element that’ll be more impactful than another. That’s content. That’s content.

[00:25:02] Andy Polaine: And so in your book you talk a lot, I mean, you reference, you’re saying if you want to learn how to do content strategy or content design here, here’s a great list of books and they are a great list of books, but there’s also much more here about the process and frameworks and kind of governance that’s going on in how content sort of makes its way through the process and who does what and and ways to kind of go about that governance as you scale. So the book is called From Solo to Scaled. You have this building metaphor. Tell me if… I love metaphors, and my favorite one’s gardens actually for sort of ecosystems. But tell me about your building metaphor, cuz it’s uh, and, and compression and tension.

[00:25:41] Natalie Dunbar: Oh my goodness. Yes. So a long, long time ago, uh, in another career I worked in building and, uh, project management and I was trying to understand like, The, uh, construction manager would be talking about when he was talking about tenant improvements becasue we, I worked in a high rise in downtown LA and we had all these commercial tenants and, uh, I was like the admin to this particular construction manager. And I stumbled on a book, why Building Stand Up And I was like, that’s interesting. I’d love to know why they stand up. I also like to know why they fall down, but maybe not be in them when that’s happening, especially in earthquake country where I live. But there was something about that book that just stayed with me over the years. I got the book, I read it, and it made construction make sense. It’s. It feels like, as I’ve gone back to look, as I’ve referred to it in the, in my book, it’s more about a story about construction, like how construction works.

It does break down different terms like tension and compression, but, It just, it’s, it’s a layperson’s book, I think, and it’s, it’s so beautifully written and it just stayed with me. And there is a follow up why buildings fall down . But you know, if in terms of, of the building metaphor in the book and content strategy, uh, I talk about how… I would often hear leaders in the UX space talk about standing up a practice. Hmm. And there would be all this effort into like, let’s stand up a content strategy practice or this or that. You know, UX design, whatever it is. But particularly with content strategy, I would see these grand methods of standing up a practice only to have it fall down later on and falling down could be, you know, there’s budget cuts or you know, new business priorities. So one of the first things to go is this elaborate practice that’s been stood up, right? Or it gets absorbed into a marketing function because I’m very decidedly a UX content strategist, and that’s no dis, as we would say to content marketing strategists, but it is a different thing.

For listener edification, the work that we do in UX content strategy is usually internal to the brand’s digital experiences, whereas content marketing strategy is more about creating content that you’re going to put on third party websites or social media or that kind of thing, so it’s more external. It’s still content created by the brand, but it’s very different usages.

[00:28:31] Andy Polaine: Yeah. You make the thing and they tell everyone about it.

[00:28:33] Natalie Dunbar: Right. Exactly. Yeah. As far as tension and compression we’re thinking of here, you know, uh, tension and being pulled in different directions that may weaken a structure, whereas hopefully I’m getting this right, it’s early in the morning here. I’m like, is that the right ? And compression being, being squeezed right and, and compacted, uh, where it becomes difficult to do the work of content strategy because there’s so much pressure coming from usually top down, uh, pressure where doing the work becomes difficult. I’ll leave it at that so I don’t trip up on my own words.

[00:29:18] Andy Polaine: Can you give me an example of maybe how people can deal with that? Cause I, you know, that’s a pretty common refrain, right? We don’t have enough time or if resources or whatever it is.

[00:29:29] Natalie Dunbar: Yeah. The, the tension piece is just, you know, being pulled in many different directions and having different expectations from different partners you may work with.

So you may have one expectation from. More technical partners where there’s a need to have, you know, um, content strategy and, you know, the end product of that, the, the actual copy done. In a certain way that’s, you know, I would say fast without a lot of attention to detail so that you know the content. So whatever it is that’s being built can, can, uh, the level of effort can be estimated.

Sometimes that’s where you’ll find your lorem ipsum and that kind of thing. And then later on you’ve got this great experience, got this beautiful design, and poof, the content just breaks everything because maybe they didn’t consider that. It’s not just, you know, the, this block of text, a headline and some buttons, but it also requires a paragraph of disclaimer text, and it’s like…

[00:30:41] Andy Polaine: Or you write it in German.

[00:30:42] Natalie Dunbar: Yeah, yeah. We don’t have room for that disclaimer. What do you mean you don’t have room? It’s like it’s a regulatory thing. We have to have this there. So there’s that tension of just being pooled maybe in one direction by, you know, maybe your engineering partners where. Your marketing partners may be, if you have any dependencies on them, you might be waiting for, you know, uh, what the product marketing is gonna sound or look like.

So then you can take some of that language and, you know, incorporate that into the ux. So the experience is seamless. I’m a big fan of the marketing funnel. I have no idea where that happened or why, but when I think about. A marketing funnel, the top of the funnel where you’re people are doing their discovery and they’re, you know, just starting to learn about a brand or a service or a product.

And in that middle where they’re starting to make that decision, you go from the marketing of a thing into the user experience, cuz you’re going deeper into that digital experience, right? Mm-hmm. . And along the way you’re building that trust and there’s kind of a, hopefully a seamless handoff where, Marketing has done their, the work of bringing the people in, and then we’ve got to, you know, make sure the experience that they’re having, that they convert to whatever it is that you’re trying to convert them to, whether it’s a customer or a member or whatever. Sometimes that’s really kind of, it’s not a technical term, but janky , it’s just like, it’s not..

[00:32:18] Andy Polaine: Yeah. I love the term, so I, I, I’ve wrote a whole thing about jank actually. I love that. I love that term.

[00:32:22] Natalie Dunbar: Yes. It’s just not smooth. Yeah. And that’s kind of, again, where that tension happens. Compression on the other hand is the, a good example of that is the, education of a leadership that just doesn’t understand. It’s like, well, we’ve given you, you know, the the green light to go ahead and build this content strategy thing that you’re building.

When is the content strategy going to be done? Yeah. And the answer is never. And then you start to feel that, that pressure, that compression, like you hired this team, it’s like, well, well, we didn’t hire them to, and this is particularly in-house. We didn’t hire them to to be one and done and then go away.

This is a cyclical thing. So we talk about the content life cycle. Somebody’s gotta be paying attention to why this. experience on the site, and this copy on the site is from 1998. Why is it still here? Is it still relevant? Really , you know, so yeah, it’s, uh, those two things are, and it’s, it’s a, it’s a give and take either way you look at it, whether it’s pressure coming from the sides or pressure coming top.

[00:33:35] Andy Polaine: Yeah, this is why I like the metaphor of gardens, because no one ever says the garden is done. Right. We’ve shipped a garden. It’s just this kind of ongoing thing. Uh, when you talk about alliance, there’s a really good section in the book about alliances and how to kind of build them and stuff, and it’s almost like a, you talk about different departments or disciplines within the organization.

Mm-hmm. , it’s kind of like a phrase book, which I guess makes sense from sort of content person of, you know, the language that these people use and how to kind of speak to these people. Mm-hmm. about content. And it’s a, you know, going back to what you were saying, I think there about leadership, there’s a lot in there and that, that’s a bit I can really recommend. I actually don’t think it’s just for content people. It’s kind of a section of the book that I feel like anyone working in an organization that is designing stuff and making stuff could really, uh, benefit from.

But you also talk, you know, the book is solo to scaled you, you talk about these sort of moments of growth and I’m wondering, you know, when people, there’s a thing that happens when I say people start an agency or something and you know, getting to five people is pretty easy. Sort of 10 people. Fairly similar and there’s like an inflection point as you go from 10 to 20 and then there’s kind of somewhere around from sort of 20 to 50 where you start to have to have HR practices and you know, people and, and a full-time accountant and all that kind of stuff.

And sometimes, you know, people find it really hard to escape the sort of escape velocity to get to the next stage. Are there any kind of . Step moments in scaling content strategy practice where there’s like, yeah, there’s an inflection point here that’s really hard to get from this bit to the next?

[00:35:06] Natalie Dunbar: It, in my experience, it’s usually when the demands for content strategy or content strategists is beyond the size of the team that you have. all of a sudden everybody wants a piece of this content strategy and it could look different. So going back to those different partners that you might encounter as a content strategist, whether it be, you know, a dis, a visual designer, which is more typically the person that you’re gonna be partner or the the discipline you’ll be partnered with the most.

But there’s also the engineers, there’s also instructional designers. There’s so many ways that we can partner. with different disciplines to, you know, look at if you’re working with engineering, for example, uh, which is fascinating to me. I’m in no way an engineer. I told you about my coding skills at the beginning. But I still feel like I can sit in a room or zoom room with engineers. And I have done this in a recent, uh, job that I had and be the only. Not only the only content person, the only creative or UX person in the room, and still be able to hold a conversation. Hmm. And that’s, you know, that’s because I listen to what they’re saying. I may not understand all of the tools and, and, and some of the phraseology that they use, but I get the gist of, of what they’re talking about, the thing that I want to create, the experience that I want to create, using content as kind of a lever to, you know, Get to the next point of the experience. Maybe it can’t be built. So maybe I need to be able to articulate in a different way how we can, can create an experience that that is frictionless when that starts happening exponentially. And there’s, you know, people and disciplines from across the organization, you know, want this service and you know, you’ve got all the office hours and you’ve got all these different ways that people can kind of get a little piece of it.

That’s when you know, it’s like, oh, we’ve reached that inflection point. We need more bodies. We need more people who are going to excel in this content space. Whether it’s an embedded model where you have a content strategist, you know, per line of business or how you know, The organization is set up, or you set up like a, a kind of a content strategy agency within, you know, design ops or whatever.

And, you know, there’s an intake and whoever’s available works on the thing. When those projects and those people, when those numbers start to grow, that’s when you know it’s time to start. Right, and that’s the only way that you’re gonna be able to survive or the, the, the, the hard work that you did to start the practice in the first place kind of starts to disintegrate because now you can’t, you’ve talked about how great content strategy is and you’ve built this great reputation, but now you can’t give the people what they want because there’s not enough for you to go around.

[00:38:24] Andy Polaine: So you’re a victim of your own success.

[00:38:26] Natalie Dunbar: Exactly yeah, yeah.

[00:38:27] Andy Polaine: You mentioned, uh, you have Candy Williams, who’s the author and, and head of content design at uh, or a, an author and head of contact design at, at Bumble, and she used, there’s a bit, it says for her, "alignment comes down to showing a keen and genuine interest in other people’s roles and what they do."

I underlined it because it’s just like, yeah, it, you know, we think of alignment sometimes, as they just don’t get it. I need to kind of make them understand rather than, you know, coming from the other direction of and I would bet it’s partly because you’re a content person. You’re like, how can I rephrase this so that this person, you know, it’s my fault that it’s not landing with them. How can I rephrase this so that they kinda get it?

So listen, we are coming up to time. It felt like that was quite a nice place to, uh, to end. The show is called. Power of Ten after the Eames film Powers of Ten about this relative size of things in the universe. And I’m always fascinated, we talked a bit about this before, around the kind of relationship between things at that very micro scale and their effect on the Macron and vice versa. So the, the final question is always what one small thing you think is, you know, overlooked or underrated that could be designed or re-designed to make a or to have an outsize impact on the world?

[00:39:39] Natalie Dunbar: Oh, definitely. Uh, it’s kind of related to what we were just talking about. It’s listening, active listening. I am guilty of being in conversation, especially with loved ones because you think you, you kind of, you, you just anticipate what it is they’re gonna say or how they’re gonna react or something.

And you’re listening to respond rather than listening to understand Active listening is the thing. Just the, just the act of listening, but active listening, like really hearing mm-hmm. so important because we have so much information coming at us from so many different channels and it’s hard to sometimes discern what is the useful bit from all the other noise.

Um, and I think listening actively, uh, is. is a skill that it, I wrote an article about this, so I’m very passionate about this. The gentleman who coined that phrase wrote a, like a booklet to management. I forget what the management, what the company was, but it was like early 1950s, U.S., you know, corporate America. And when I found their, like a reprint of their booklet, everything was still written in the pronouns of him, right? You know, when a manager is doing this, he blah, blah, blah. But when I stripped that all away and just focused on what they were talking about, just the act of not trying to solve something before you fully understand what the problem is, that’s where active listening comes in. So whether it’s alignment with a teammate or cross-functional partner, whether it is hearing from your users or customers, whether it’s your loved ones at home, just so important to focus on, really listening to understand rather than listening to be heard.

[00:41:46] Andy Polaine: I think that would make the world a much better place. Where can people find you online?

[00:41:52] Natalie Dunbar: I am on Twitter and Instagram. My handle is theliterati. I am on LinkedIn. I welcome anyone’s with questions about content strategy. Who’s curious about what this work is to please reach out? I have, uh, people who I have, not a formal mentoring, but just, you know, we have a lot of these, um, UX boot camps and different things that are, they’re quite ubiquitous and, and quite popular. And many of those people will come out wondering, like if they’re focused on content, like, well, what is this content strategy? And I love talking with them about how many different ways that you can get involved with this work? Uh, so yeah, hit me up on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram. I’m there.

[00:42:48] Andy Polaine: Okay. Good. Well, I’ll put all the links in the show notes. Uh, Natalie, thank you so much for being my guest on Power of Ten.

[00:42:55] Natalie Dunbar: Thank you for having me, Andy. I love talking with you, and I hope we get a chance to talk again soon.

[00:43:01] Andy Polaine: Take care.

[00:43:02] Natalie Dunbar: Thank you.

Andy Polaine: As I’m sure you’re aware, you’ve been listening to Power of Ten. My name is Andy Polaine. You can find me at @apolaine on Twitter, or where you can find more episodes and sign up for my newsletter Doctor’s Note. If you like the show, please take a moment to give it a rating on iTunes. It really helps others find us. And as always get in touch. If you have any comments, feedback or suggestions for guests. All the links are in the show notes. Thanks for listening and see you next time.