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From graphic design to content design: Make your mark in the ‘Big Content’ era

This article was written by Bunny Tharpe, Vice President of Marketing at Quark Software, Inc.—the global provider of content design, automation, and intelligence software.

I’m a journalism school graduate and proud “word freak” who’s worked in marketing for 30 years. But as clever as my words might be, I know they could be ignored if not for the right packaging. Thankfully, I’ve worked with some amazing graphic designers and art directors throughout my career and enjoy collaborating with them to bring content to life—from a brochure or annual report to an email campaign or entire website.

I have even more respect and appreciation for graphic designers now that I run marketing for the software company that revolutionized professional desktop publishing. During the last year, I’ve learned a lot more about the design craft and the tools used to help me develop sales and marketing collateral. But I’m also learning about the other types of content graphic designers are involved in producing, many I hadn’t even considered, like the statements I get from my 401(k) provider, the manual for my new washing machine, and the medication guides that come with my prescriptions.

It’s a Big Content world, and all kinds of organizations need design talent to help them communicate effectively.

Given my new perspective on critical, non-marketing content that’s connected across an enterprise, I’d like to offer some advice and encouragement to those designers just coming out of school as well as design pros looking to expand their skillsets: It’s a Big Content world, and all kinds of organizations need design talent to help them communicate effectively and share important information with their stakeholders, including employees, customers, prospects, shareholders, partners, and vendors.

✏️ Thanks to our friends at Quark for sponsoring this blog post!

See content through a broader lens

The inspiration for a particular project can originate at anytime from anywhere and take shape in many ways. How many napkin sketches have given way to award-winning campaigns? By nature, graphic designers are “artists,” experts in visual communications who put images, typography, and graphics in motion to create compelling designs for print and digital projects.

As a corporate marketer, I rely on a team of seasoned designers for their creativity in producing the content assets I need to raise brand awareness and generate interest in the company I work for and the value our software solutions provide. Creative art is an indispensable success factor, which is why more than 70% of businesses invest in professional design to help their brands stand out against the competition.

Business-critical content comes in many forms, including PPT, Word, and Excel files plus structured documents like investment prospectuses, technical manuals, and pharmaceutical labels.

The rise of content marketing as a specialized practice has put more focus on the creation of white papers, e-books, how-to guides, and infographics because these assets are key to attracting and nurturing audiences—especially in B2B marketing. And digital transformation has been a major catalyst for content development as more organizations evolve their content strategies to create and deliver online experiences for deeper, more meaningful interactions with their various audiences. More emphasis on optimized content for web and mobile engagement—plus apps—provides opportunities to drive creative for all these channels.

But the good ole PowerPoint presentation is still an important tool for clients like me. Business-critical content comes in many forms, including PPT, Word, and Excel files plus structured documents like investment prospectuses, technical manuals, and pharmaceutical labels. Even bots, powered by AI and ML, need to reflect corporate brand standards.

And more organizations in sectors that are often slow to change are starting to move online, so they can transform how they go to market with products, services, or information. For example, government agencies are digitizing their forms, legislative documents, and codes and standards. All of these documents require layouts, so graphic design doesn’t always involve fancy collateral, ad campaigns, or apps. In fact, a designer’s touch can make these less glamorous but important forms of content more impactful.


Become a key business partner

Organizations need talented designers to help them communicate with and influence their target audiences. Although print is by no means dead, we now live and work in a digital-first world. The number of canvases on which you have to work has expanded, and this shift creates more opportunities. As marketers have assumed more strategic roles within organizations, design professionals are poised to do the same.

A lot of power is unleashed when content and design collide. I invite our designer to work directly with subject-matter experts (SMEs) across the company—from product managers to R&D to the CEO. She becomes part of the multidisciplinary team producing the content that’s required at any given time, whether that’s a product video, new iconography for the product itself, or a PPT for a board meeting. While the SMEs explain how a product addresses a market need, I’m figuring out which words to use to build the narrative—and our designer is thinking about which visual elements will have the most impact. Together, our words and images work together to tell a compelling story that we hope educates, entertains, or influences the audiences who’ll experience it in various ways.

Digital has given consumers more power and control over how and when they shop, search for information, read the news, or watch their favorite shows. Because they can bring their own devices, organizations can reach more people regardless of geography and that can translate into more influence and potential growth. This is all great, but expectations are high; even B2B organizations and their stakeholders appreciate not only accurate and consistent information but also attractive colors, interesting images, and interactive elements. The lines between B2C and B2B design are blurred, and that’s good news because the “B” in B2B doesn’t stand for boring.

As marketers have assumed more strategic roles within organizations, design professionals are poised to do the same.

But with all these new channels, and those yet to emerge, does that equate to double, triple or quadruple the work? No, even more good news: you don’t have to recreate every design for every channel. Automated omnichannel publishing makes it possible to replace that one-to-one effort with a one-to-many effort. Create a single piece of content and publish it to all channels simultaneously, without compromising design integrity. You’re more productive, and your client gets its message into the hands or onto the screens of the intended audiences faster too. Time to market is key in the modern business environment that’s hypercompetitive.

So I reiterate the importance of continuous innovation when it comes to your design acumen and toolbox. Understanding technology trends and staying current on how to incorporate them into your work—or your work into them—will set you apart, enabling you to pursue more opportunities and deliver greater value to clients.

Success in the Big Content era means being curious and willing to learn new technologies and processes while forging relationships with everyone who plays a role in content creation. Each design project involves creative exploration, so technology should be part of your exploratory process too. You’ll be a stronger partner to your in-house or external clients if you can do the work—or ensure you can bring in the right vendors to support you with the right skills and proper scope.


Understand content complexity and compliance

Like Big Data before it, the Big Content era is also marked by volume, variety, and velocity. Companies create huge amounts of content in various formats, and they need to produce it quickly to meet stakeholder demands—whether that’s giving employees in the customer support department the standard operating procedures they need to enroll customers in a new service or updating an app so customers can see the menus from their favorite restaurants in order to place their orders and have them delivered to their homes.

Creating and managing enterprise content is complex. For example, hundreds of data sources might be required to power a website—especially if it has an e-commerce platform. And that data manifests itself in many formats, including copy, charts, forms, videos, shopping carts, etc. Now think about all the people involved in supplying the data as well as reviewing and approving just the front-end copy and creative before it can be published. As the website designer, you will have to interact with people from marketing plus IT, product management, finance, and legal as well as operations, distribution, and customer support. You’ll also want to make sure the final design translates across the numerous web browsers and that it scales up and down correctly on tablets and mobile phones.

As the consumable form of data, content is a valuable asset and competitive differentiator that must reach target audiences in the right format, at the right time, in the right place, and on-brand. If you’ve worked to brand or rebrand an organization, you’ve developed a logo and color scheme, selected fonts, and established a tone of voice. Then you’ve documented these important decisions, aka brand elements, in a brand guide to enable marketing and all departments to put forward a consistent image, and, in so doing, increase brand awareness and equity. Brand compliance is part of corporate compliance, and it’s important to reputation, value, and growth.

Regulatory compliance is another form of corporate compliance, and these standards vary by industry and geography. Not only do they apply to health, safety, and manufacturing controls, but they also apply to content! “According to Life Science Leader,” it costs between $800 million and $1.2 billion to bring a new drug to market. Meeting regulatory requirements for the associated content is a quarter of that cost. Consider that a pharmaceutical company might have to make more than 30,000 label changes during the course of a year, and complex label changes can take more than a year.

What about companies in other manufacturing sectors, not to mention financial services, insurance, and government? From their websites and apps to offline documents, regulatory compliance is a key consideration when creating, managing, and publishing this content.


Content is a big deal

We all love content and appreciate its value. That’s why we do what we do, right? But hopefully, you see how much broader the content spectrum is and how it’s even more strategic. It, in fact, drives modern business. But the larger the organization, the more complex its content will be and the more regulations it will have to comply with.

Factoring in stakeholder expectations and competitive concerns, today’s content must be dynamic, personalized, rich with interactivity, and accessible anywhere, anytime, and from any device. With that being said, organizations across all industries are changing how they approach content lifecycle management.

Content automation and intelligence are at the heart of this transformation to ensure content ecosystems—all the technologies and associated processes that underpin content creation, collaboration, and publishing—are able to meet current needs and support new requirements tomorrow. As valuable members of content teams, it’s important to understand what your colleagues and/or clients are dealing with. Meeting modern information needs is not easy, much less being future-ready.

Organizations across all industries are changing how they approach content lifecycle management.

That’s why they’re examining their organizational objectives, making sure their content strategies align, and then investing in new technology to streamline how mission-critical content ends up in the right hands or on the right screens. With content automation software, companies can streamline all their content processes, from production through consumption.

That includes determining if the content they generate yields the desired results, or if it needs to be reworked or retired. Content intelligence solutions for comparing consumption and engagement metrics against production costs enable organizations to understand true content ROI based on data not just gut instincts. But don’t worry! Organizations still need designers to create their document templates and help facilitate online and/or offline delivery. Content design and publishing are ripe with more opportunities than ever before—especially when you can see the bigger content picture with both its challenges and opportunities.

Invest in content design and automation tools

Quark has been at the forefront of content for more than 40 years. While you may know us best for our content design and desktop publishing software, QuarkXPress, we have a lot more technology up our content sleeve. Quark Publishing Platform (QPP) NextGen is software-as-a-service that unifies content creation, automation, and intelligence for closed-loop content lifecycle management. Quark. Brilliant content that works the way you and your clients need it to for digital transformation, customer satisfaction, revenue growth, and regulatory compliance.

About the Author: Bunny Tharpe is vice president of marketing at Quark Software, the global provider of content design, automation, and intelligence software. Bunny has more than 30 years of marketing communications experience that includes helping global B2B technology companies successfully position themselves to accelerate growth.

🎨 Illustrations by Olga Filatova from Ouch!

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