How do you become a digital content designer, writer, or strategist? What skills do you need, and what does a content designer actually do? Like so many creative careers, there’s no set pathway to content design. 

Six of our content designers and writers share their journeys. They each got here by different routes, but what they all have in common is a love of well-organised information that is user-focused. 

We’re often looking for content design contractors, so if you’re thinking about moving into content design, check out Careers or get in touch.

Claire, theatre-maker turned writer

Claire with some books in the air

What I do

I focus mostly on our case studies and sales proposals, where we pitch for work from potential clients. This often involves writing and editing long, detailed documents that respond to specific questions. My mantra is always “answer the question." I love to write clearly and specifically.

How I got into content design

I’d never worked at a digital agency before Springload. After studying Theatre at university, I spent 10 years making experimental live performances like participatory human whale strandings. I also did a lot of fundraising and producing, which involves a lot of writing.

I believe three things specifically helped me get into this job at Springload: 

  1. My Masters in Creative Writing. It taught me to write well, fast, and a lot!
  2. Developing a writing niche. For me, this was grant writing. It taught me to write persuasively, keep to word limits and meet deadlines, all of which is applicable to proposal writing and web content.
  3. Being nice and helpful. A previous manager (and good friend) recommended me to Bron, and that’s how I met Springload. NZ is small, most people know someone who knows you, so be nice!

What I love about it

I love that I get to write for hours at a time, and am part of a team that genuinely cares about which dash to use. I also love collaborating with people from other disciplines in design and tech. The collaboration makes the writing better because I get to see the wider context of how the words will be used and understood. Putting myself in the end-user's shoes resonates with my theatre-making experience, where you never forget the audience. Words communicate, and communication should be joyous.

Putting myself in the end-user's shoes resonates with my theatre-making experience, where you never forget the audience.

Claire O'Loughlin

Senior Writer

Cate, front-end developer turned content designer

Cate looking at a toy

What I do

I only recently started a content role at Springload, and so far I’ve been working as a content designer on the Massey University site rebuild. I work directly with subject matter experts to come to an understanding of what information a section needs to include and how to structure that information into pages, and then draft the pages with a focus on meeting the user needs for clarity, accuracy, ease of understanding, and relevance. 

How I got into content design

I took quite an unusual route into content — I learned to code at Enspiral Dev Academy a few years ago, and my original role at Springload was as a front-end developer. I held that role for just over two years before I made the switch into content.

That might seem like a strange move, but if you look further back in my history, it doesn’t look quite so strange. I’ve always loved writing, and since I was a kid I’ve wanted to be a fiction writer. I did an MA in creative writing here in Wellington, and then I went to the US to do an MFA. When I came back to New Zealand I decided I needed to train in something so I could get a ‘real’ job, and although I’d done some freelance writing and I’d always had great feedback on my work, I was a bit naïve and thought no one hired creative writers. In retrospect, it all seems very silly because writing skills are so useful in so many fields, and I can absolutely see how my training in creative writing informs what I’m doing now. I did learn a lot from my time as a developer though – it was challenging and interesting, and it gave me an understanding of the technical side of building websites that is undeniably useful in the content space.

What I like about it

I love writing of all kinds, so even just the fact that writing is such a big part of my job makes me happy. I find the process of figuring out what information needs to be conveyed on a page and then thinking about how to do that in a way that best meets user needs very satisfying – a lot more thought goes into a well-designed page than you’d realise, because good content design tends to become invisible. 

I’m fascinated by the differences between content design and fiction writing. Learning to think in terms of user needs and how to convey information in the simplest way possible has been eye-opening for me, because it’s very different from how fiction writers tend to think. Content design has made me realise that in my creative writing projects, I’m still writing for a user and it’s important that I think about their experience. I love that what I do at work feels like it gives me a relevant and useful perspective on the projects I work on in my spare time, and vice versa.

I can absolutely see how my training in creative writing informs what I’m doing now.

Cate Palmer

Content Designer

Cat, communications specialist turned content strategist

Cat with boxing gloves.jpg

What I do

My focus is understanding business aims and user needs, finding the common ground between the two, and marrying this with what’s feasible. That might be what’s achievable in scope. What’s technically possible, for example, what a client’s CMS can ‘do’. Or it might be from an operational point of view, such as whether a client has someone to keep a particular content type up to date. Part of content strategy is designing a website’s information architecture. This is how content is organised on the site. It’s a big chunk of my work.

How I got into content design

I started out in marketing and communications. The bits I loved were writing and studying audience motivations and needs. Then, collaborating with others, turning these into targeted (and I’d like to think delightful) campaigns. Analysing campaign activities’ to see how they performed was also important. All skills I use now.

In between having children, I did freelance strategy and writing work. I then joined business design agency Empathy, where I worked for about three years. This was my introduction to human-centred design, which I applied to designing strategies and content. Day to day I was immersed in prototyping, customer conversations (both in-depth and ‘intercepts’, which are quick conversations on the street), stakeholder workshops and collaboratively designing and testing content. I also helped with the storytelling of design projects. All this was a good foundation for my work at Springload, who also takes a human-centred approach to content and website design.  

What I like about it

I love being proved wrong. It’s easy to make assumptions based on your own experiences, or what you think is logical. Talking to customers and stakeholders often flips these assumptions on their head. I love seeing the design challenge from different points of view and finding the crossovers, then figuring out what might work best. On testing, these are often flipped again. It’s like being a detective, little by little getting closer to the truth!

I started out in marketing and communications. The bits I loved were writing and studying audience motivations and needs.

Cat Chappell-Harrison

Senior Content Strategist

Ruth, zoologist turned content director

Ruth making a cup of tea

What I do

I support an excellent team of content designers and content strategists at Springload, who help our clients create content that their customers want and need. In amongst creating digital content, we also help our clients with their digital and channel strategies. Oh, and we throw in a bit of Google Analytics and SEO support too. We work with people through 1-1 training, consultancy, and in-depth content design and content strategy. It’s the variety that keeps it interesting! (If you’d like to find out more about how we can help you, get in touch.)

How I got into content design

I started out working in conservation, in places like Belize and St Lucia, after getting a degree in Zoology. Working in conservation was exciting, tiring, interesting and soul-destroying. The experience of making complex scientific concepts easy to understand helped shape how I write and communicate today. After working for a conservation charity on their digital content, I realised I’d found my home. Since then, I’ve been working in content design, content strategy, and user experience for not-for-profits in the UK, and Te Papa and Stats NZ in Aotearoa, before coming to Springload. 

What I like about it

I love helping people communicate and understand each other better, for the benefit of everyone. I also love solving complex problems, such as large information architectures, or unravelling the ‘but, why?’ of content production. Content strategy is the sweet spot of creativity and logical thinking, from the small minutiae of style to the deep understanding of what people need.

Content problems are usually process or business problems – by making an effort to communicate clearly in digital products, we’re often supporting teams to work more collaboratively and harmoniously: a joyful feeling! We get to upskill our clients and others across Aotearoa, spreading the love of good, people-centred content, one product at a time. 

I’m also lucky to work with an amazing team of content designers and content strategists at Springload – I learn something from them every day. Also, their book recommendations are the best.

The experience of making complex scientific concepts easy to understand helped shape how I write and communicate today.

Ruth Hendry

Content Director

Virginia, Te Ara editor turned content product owner

Virginia with her arms crossed.

What I do

Since joining Springload I’ve been focused on one very large multi-year client website redevelopment project. My role on the project is a Content Product Owner. I get to guide a terrific team of content designers to flesh out all the content to fill the structure (information architecture) that our other strategists have developed. I also get to work closely with our designers, developers and the client to bring our vision for the website to life. 

How I got into content design

I studied broadly as an undergrad, emerging with majors in Psychology and English. After doing postgrad studies in English, I went on to do a Master’s in Information Studies with a focus on archival work and digitisation of heritage materials and texts — which gave me great systems and structural awareness. But I really wanted to work in publishing. 

Being brave as a 20-something-year old and saying yes to an opportunity to fill in for one of the Production Editors on the first release of Te Ara (Aotearoa New Zealand’s online encyclopedia) was my first major stepping stone into what I do now. 

My job on Te Ara was to mark up all the encyclopedia entries (half of which were written in te reo Māori) in XML so they could be published online. I also got to absorb knowledge from career writers and editors who taught me my way around a style guide and other foundational skills. 

The rest is literally history. I’ve had the privilege of working on big digital projects across Aotearoa’s galleries, libraries, archives, and museum sector for most of my career, and lots of small ones too. Some have been pure information. Others, pure data. And others still, creative or educational.

What I like about it

I enjoy operating in a cross-disciplinary way and at the points where technology, content, design and people intersect. Content design lets me bring together the scientific and systematic part of my brain with the creative and curious side – it’s part poetry and a lot psychology. 

Springload is my first experience of being agency-side. I am literally in my happy place – working with smart and committed people to make useful and beautiful things.

On Te Ara I discovered a love of working on complex projects with high stakes and tight deadlines. In my current role I get to problem solve on a daily basis, and figure out what makes a well-oiled content machine. I feel like I will never stop learning.

On Te Ara I discovered a love of working on complex projects with high stakes and tight deadlines. In my current role I get to problem solve on a daily basis.

Virginia Gow

Content Strategy Lead

Kate, science communicator turned content strategy lead

Kate Whitley holding a green bottle

What I do

As content strategy lead at Springload, I get to work with people from across the organisation to develop accessible, relevant and beautiful content for our clients and their communities. 

How I got into content design

Like Ruth, I started out in life with a Zoology degree and a love for the natural world. Working as a researcher for UCL in London though, I realised that my passion was to make science easy to understand, rather than working in the lab. Once I changed disciplines to move into the world of science communication, I never looked back! My work since then has revolved around digital communication and story-telling, for organisations such as The Wellcome Trust (UK), Te Papa and the Ministry of Health. 

Working in the digital space is exciting – the technology is always evolving. Understanding data about your content illustrates how people are interacting with it. Combining analytics with qualitative research helps build a strong picture of what’s working well and where you need to improve either the journey for users, or the content. It also helps to ensure the content is discoverable, which is important. Great content is meaningless if no-one ever engages with it. The ability to iteratively improve the experience is what makes developing content for digital platforms so powerful. It’s a dynamic space to work in and I’m constantly learning, which makes me hum.

What I like about it

Good content is always the result of a great collaborative process. It involves listening and holding the user at the centre of the journey. User-testing, engaging with communities, failing, and iterating to land on a result that is clear and meaningful is what I love about content development. It’s often about distilling information down to its essence – almost a process of alchemy. 

My passion was to make science easy to understand … my work has revolved around communication and story-telling.

Kate Whitley

Content Strategy Lead

Get in touch

Let’s make the things that matter, better.