Content Design: Skills, Salary, & Career Guide [2023]

Become a content designer with our essential guide to content design. Learn content design skills and how to get started.

You might already know that great design is about much more than making something look pretty. In graphic design, the objective is to communicate a message in the most effective way possible. And in UX, great design means creating a user experience that’s intuitive, efficient, and satisfying for people to use.

In a space somewhere between these two disciplines lies content design.

In recent years, user-focused design thinking has defined the evolution of many design disciplines. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these principles have started showing up in the way organizations create written content. Brands and businesses are realizing how important a focus on user experience is in the realm of content. They’re now hiring dedicated content designers to help them create content that hits the mark when it comes to messaging and usability. 

What is content design?

Like other design skills, designing content goes beyond aesthetic considerations. It’s also more than the words and text within the copy. Effective content design is a way of thinking about the content itself, as well as the needs of the audience. It’s about designing a complete experience that people understand easily and clearly and also enjoy engaging with.

Broadly defined, content design is the process of creating and organizing content that effectively communicates a specific message to a specific audience. At first glance, this seems similar to the responsibilities of content creators and marketers, but there’s an emphasis on the “organizing” part. Rather than the content itself, a content designer’s focus is on organizing and presenting this content in the most effective way possible.

Content design is the process of creating and organizing content that effectively communicates a specific message to a specific audience.

Like pixels arranged in a pleasing way, words are just words without considering their form and function. This not only includes writing nuances, such as choosing the appropriate language and tone, but it also entails the use of hierarchy in the content’s structure and creating engaging visual elements such as images and infographics. 

Relative to other design disciplines, content design is a newcomer to the field. You can trace its inception to 2014, when a design team at the United Kingdom’s Government Digital Service transformed more than 400 government websites into a single platform to serve users better. The team’s leader, Sarah Richards, also wrote the literal book on content design

Why is content design important? 

Content design helps ensure the digital content a brand or business publishes is effective in achieving its goals. Well-designed content results in information that’s easy to understand, enjoyable to consume, and engaging for those consuming it. Like great digital products, content infused with design sensibilities means more clarity, better understanding, and higher chances that content produces the desired result. In short, design increases the value of content across the board.

content designers

Content Designer Roles & Responsibilities

Despite its profound impact, content design is an emerging role that’s not as well-defined as other skill sets in design. It’s also unique in that it draws from other disciplines that, while related, don’t often work closely together. This means the role of a content designer can vary, with different companies leaning in different directions in terms of content and design. But in general, content designers participate in varying degrees of the following: 

  • User research: Researching the needs and goals of the target audience to facilitate the production of content that solves users’ problems and provides value
  • Brand messaging: Making sure content adheres to appropriate language and tone based on user research and brand voice.
  • Information architecture & hierarchy: Organizing content logically and intuitively, using headings, subheadings, and other formatting techniques to help guide the reader
  • Graphic design: Using visual elements, such as photographs, illustrations, and infographics, to help convey information, provide guidance, and make the content more engaging while adhering to the brand style guide.
  • Clarity: Ensuring the content is clear, both in terms of writing quality and in the design and flow of the writing’s presentation

A content designer may also be responsible for maintaining and updating existing content to keep it relevant and accurate. In some cases, a content designer may also be involved in creating a content strategy and planning the overall direction and goals for a content project.

Content Designer Skills

Content design draws from a variety of skills, both inside and outside the realm of design disciplines. Since it’s an emerging field, the skills required can vary from team to team and company to company. But it’s safe to assume that content designers are creative problem solvers and strong collaborators that keep the user experience front and center.

👤 Understanding of UX design principles

While its function is slightly different from a design perspective, consuming content is a user experience. How that content is organized, presented, and consumed sits squarely in the realm of UX design. In fact, many UX design skills directly apply to content design, including wireframing, prototyping, and understanding user needs through research and user journey mapping.

But with content design, these principles cross over from design into content creation. Just as UX designers focus on discovering and meeting users’ needs, desires, and expectations, content designers do the same by collaborating with marketers, content strategists, and creators to ensure the content serves the user. This requires a deep understanding of the audience and an ability to sculpt content that speaks to this understanding.

✏️ Writing, editing, and publishing

Given their close collaboration with content creators, content designers need strong writing skills. Even for teams with dedicated writers, a good understanding of the writing, editing, and publication process is essential to ensure messaging meets business goals and serves the user. 

Content designers should be capable of topic ideation, research, and content strategy. Although these responsibilities typically fall within the realm of marketing, if content fails to land with its audience, it leads to a poor user experience.

While they don’t need to be a novelist, content designers should be familiar enough with content strategy and creation to produce content on their own. 

🎨 Visual design

In terms of visual design, traditional designers will find the elements of content design familiar. Color theory, typography, composition, and even illustration all have applications in content design. And while there’s a fair amount of word processing involved, there’s plenty of work that happens in design tools such as the usual Adobe suspects. 

The differences in content design are in its bias toward long-form readability. Designers need to know how to organize written content logically and intuitively, using information architecture to guide the reader. Traditional designers experienced with print publications, such as newspapers or magazines, will feel right at home.

🤝 Collaboration

Content designers are nothing if not collaborators, and content design requires exceptional teamwork. Working in the content production circle also means adhering to a publishing schedule. This is more of an ongoing process than a series of noteworthy milestones that other design roles are accustomed to. For this ongoing content design process to run smoothly, open, free-flowing communication between team members is essential. 

Content Designer Salary

Since content design is a relatively new job, pinning down exact salaries is still a little challenging. For example, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t have content design listed as a career yet. Add this to the fact that the skills and responsibilities often differ considerably between companies, and gauging salaries for this emerging discipline becomes tough. 

That said, the median salary of a content designer, according to Glassdoor, is $67,727, ranging from below $50,000 to over $100,000 per year for experienced professionals and those working in higher-paying markets. This puts it on par with other design professions, although these numbers could fluctuate in the coming years and months.

Career Opportunities for Content Designers

Even though finding precise numbers on salary and opportunities is difficult for content design, the industry as a whole is in a golden age of opportunity. With a growth rate of 23% through 2030, digital design has a bright future. If other emerging design roles, such as UX writer, are an indication, content design career opportunities will be bountiful. 

In the UK, for example, content design took the number nine spot on LinkedIn’s most in-demand jobs for 2022, which isn’t too shabby for a newly minted job. There are plenty of opportunities available in marketing agencies, product teams, media brands, and just about any business that sees the value in user-focused design thinking. 

It’s also worth mentioning that many content designers work on a freelance basis. With gig work becoming more prevalent in the work economy, content design is yet another opportunity for entrepreneurial-minded professionals with the right skills to leap on — especially designers who’ve been penning the content for their own freelance businesses.

How to become a content designer

Whether it’s on an app, website, or social media, every piece of content is immeasurably important. It can make or break any digital experience. For this reason, content designers continue to grow in demand.

Given its unique position in digital design teams, there are plenty of paths to content design for professionals already working in the field. There aren’t many direct paths to this new role for those just starting, but possessing an eye for design and a penchant for the written word is a great start. If you work on developing the right skills, you can carve out a career in this exciting new field. 

✔️ Develop the necessary skills

The first step to becoming a content designer is developing your skills in design thinking, UX principles, copywriting, and visual design. Many content designers come from media fields, such as journalism, marketing, and communications. A degree in any one of those fields provides a strong foundation in writing and research, which are essential for content design. Others make their way in from user-centric design disciplines, such as UX or product design.

If you’re just starting or switching from an unrelated career, a degree in one of the fields above is the best traditional route. If you’re unable to pursue a traditional degree, there are also plenty of online design courses available, although you may need to dabble in more than one to develop the necessary combination of skills.

✔️ Build a content design portfolio

Skills, course certificates, and degrees aside, content designers are still designers, and that means their most effective career tool is their portfolio. Whatever path you choose to level up your skills, the first step to landing a job is building a great design portfolio. Even once you’ve landed a job, your portfolio represents your skills at any given moment, so it’s something you should maintain throughout your career.

Like a UX writing portfolio, a content design portfolio is a blend of copywriting and design work that shows prospective employers what you’re capable of. Keep in mind that while quality is important, so is illustrating your thought process. A content designer’s portfolio should be exceptionally strong, as it’s a content design project in and of itself. In short, ensure you’re designing and writing for your audience — your future employers.

✔️ Get practical work experience

Projects you worked on during an internship that demonstrate your thought processes are excellent portfolio pieces to start with. The same goes for work in adjacent fields. If you have published writing, you could design around it, demonstrating your ability to write great content and think about this content in terms of design. Lastly, nonprofit organizations most definitely qualify as real work, and donating your time and talent to help yourself and others is a perfect portfolio-building strategy.

Content design is growing

In the last few years, design as an industry has sprouted and blossomed into exciting new opportunities. With the spread of technology, creating value in the form of digital products and business is easier than ever before. As a result, brands are realizing that good content design is the only way to differentiate themselves from the competition. 

With content as the leading marketing tool, it makes perfect sense that design sensibilities would seep into the content creation and publication processes. All things equal, the best design and user experience always win. But the real trophy is another possibility in a growing list of opportunities for designers.