What does a content designer do?
Michelle Jones on the musical range of ukuleles, the pride she feels in helping to shape product experiences, and the importance of a sense of humor
Illustration by Gracia Lam
What do you do?
I’m a cross-functional content strategist, on Adobe Design’s embedded content strategy team. I write UX content for the Creative Cloud Assets and Collaboration team where I collaborate often on Workspaces but Share for Review has really been my primary focus lately.
Share for Review brings the element of true collaboration to Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. It’s its own little feature but it's become more full-bodied as it intersects the other apps because they all have some means of sharing. Even if we can't get full alignment, because features or engineering vary, we can have some flavor of collaboration across the product ecosystem.
As part of that I try to be a consistent voice for collaboration efforts across many of Adobe’s apps. I see myself in the center of a Venn diagram touching anything related to collaboration.
What's your team working on?
We shipped a beta version of Share for Review, with its first bells and whistles, at Adobe MAX last year, so it's out in the world and people know about it. Now we’re working on ways to educate people about the feature so they can feel good about invoking the Share button—and since we’re doing it in the app, we're meeting them where they are. What's interesting is that we’re using analytics to better communicate in our applications.
We keep people using our products with the experiences we build and try to affect decision-making with words and logic in a very transparent, but not pushy, way (as a user I don't want anyone telling me what I should do, so I always advocate for guidance not insistence). It’s not often you get the opportunity to work on the words in an app—most content changes occur due to changes in direction or features—for the sole purpose of ensuring that the language, the UI, and the experience are working together.
What essential tool, product, or platform helps you do your best work?
By this time next year, it will probably be a different one, but right now I’m heavily leveraging Miro. We all have different ways of working, and some of my content design colleagues prefer using word processing apps, but because I’m a visual storyteller, and a visual learner, I prefer Miro because it helps me align with the design files and UI specs I get from designers (mine look like theirs to a certain extent and follow a similar sense of order).
If I’m doing a broad content audit, I also use Airtable, which lets me categorize, highlight, create rules, and do many other things that, because it’s really intended for raw data, are on the periphery for Excel. With extensions I can connect my Miro boards to Airtable which allows me to give people two ways to view content: in layout in a Miro board or as straightforward messaging in Airtable.
What skill do you consider a superpower?
For me, and probably content strategy in general, it’s being able to see beyond what we need a user to do at a particular moment. We need to be able to see the endpoint, how we’ll get to it, and what other spokes might be affected along the way (ideally, we're not working in a silo or breaking other experiences).
The superpower of my team is its sense of humor. Because we work with so many different people and teams, to be able to be lighthearted and assign some sort of humor to the work goes a long way toward protecting your peace of mind and well-being. My colleagues are all naturally curious and naturally humorous and when I joined this team, I found my tribe.
At a corporate level, Adobe’s superpowers are empathy and support. I’m new to Adobe, but based on my year-long experience, empathy and support exist here in ways that I've not experienced at any other place I’ve worked.
What's on your heads-down, time-to-focus playlist?
I don’t usually listen to music while I'm working. I typically listen to, and I really need to curb this because I aggravate myself, a couple of politically focused SiriusXM channels. One of them is called Urban View and during a couple of the shows I get my angst out by yelling at the broadcast whenever anyone calls in speaking some sort of nonsense. If I really must go heads down, and this happens most when I’m working in an office, I’ll choose either Classical or Hip Hop because I need the frenetic energy of them. But, since I’m a classically trained ballet dancer and spent many years practicing, going to auditions, and performing, I often still have that need to get up and move, so for those times I’ll throw in a little Missy Elliott, just so I can dance (I'm a horrible Hip Hop dancer but I ignore that).
What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
The best professional advice I’ve ever received was from a good friend who told me, “If you're unhappy where you are, go out and find a way to make yourself happy.” Right after he said it, I applied to an Adobe job posting, and here I am. It wasn’t that long ago, it sounds simplistic, and I’ve heard it before, but for some reason I was at a place in my life where it resonated with me.
I'm the kind of person who’s going to try and make something work, despite my needs or my feelings, because I made a commitment. Even when I know I should throw in the towel, I won’t walk away from something without first giving it my all—even when it’s obvious to everyone (including me) that it’s not going to work.
What excites you most about the work you're doing?
Now that I’m beginning to understand Adobe products from a vantage point other than being a practitioner, what excites me most is seeing a product come to life and knowing that in some small way, I had a hand in shaping what went to market.
I was completely humbled when I saw Share for Review featured during this year’s MAX keynote. It had been baking for a long time, and I swooped in to work on it toward the end for this first release, and the reception, gratitude, and excitement for it was profound. I've never really had an opportunity to see the work I've done or been a part of, represented in such a public way and I was so proud to have played a part in it… I sent the video to my mom.
What's a dream project you're currently involved with or want to take on?
It's not necessarily a singular project but a long-term goal to perform music at a small venue. I know I can perform in front of people if the audience is far enough away and the lighting makes it difficult to see, but one of the things that I’ve never had the confidence to do is perform at a small club during an open mic night.
Before the pandemic happened, I’d been working on building a set list so I could tell a story arc with music. And since I want to sing, and accompany myself, and I’m awful at doing it on the piano, I also taught myself to play the ukulele. At this point, I have a set list with everything from folk music to Prince (I have broad tastes in music and surprisingly there’s a lot you can do on a ukulele) so all I need to do now is find my footing and work on my confidence... hopefully sometime in Summer 2023 I'll perform at a local club.