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How to Level Up in Content Design

Jane Palash
7 min readNov 20, 2023


Where to look and what to learn when you’re trying to prove you deserve the next title.

I had a recent interview with a company I’ve been applying to since 2018, once every few years, for the same position: Senior Content Designer. I haven’t heard back until now and I told them so to get a laugh, adding that I thought it’s fair: in 2018 I definitely wasn’t ready to operate at a Senior or, god forbid, Staff level.

“So what has changed?” They asked me. “What have you done since that made you sure you’re finally there?”

Since I’m fairly comfortable as a Senior and can happily take on Staff responsibilities if needed, I thought about it for a moment. It wasn’t just years of experience, of course. You can sit squarely on your pretty ass for a decade and not grow one inch above your current level. It wasn’t the Senior title that I got at Shopify. Titles are nice and they do reflect your growth within the company but they’re also arbitrary and vary from project to project. A few years ago, before I was promoted, I had two managers tell me diametrically opposed things at the same time:

“You’re not quite at the Senior level.”

“Your work in scale and impact is easily Staff level.”

Go figure.

After a good think, I believe I’ve identified a few key skills in Content Design growth—the large and often abstract steps you’re climbing have names and links and price tags. And the higher you get, the more you see, the easier it gets to navigate chaotic, heavy projects. So let’s take a look at what these skills are.

1. Figma and Design Systems

My Figma course of choice

I’ve always felt a gaping chasm when it came down to actually putting together good-looking prototypes and flows. I spent absurd amounts of time figuring out grids, components, instances, and variants. Most of Content Designers I’ve spoken to are in a similar boat. We know some Figma, enough to get by, but when it comes to quickly showcasing our thinking or meddling with existing designs, auto-layouts and constraints drive us up the wall and eat away at our sanity. You might say:

“Well, we’re not designers, it’s not in our direct job description to be proficient in Figma. Moreover, Product Design bootcamps are long and expensive, ain’t nobody got time for that.”

And to that I say: you’re wrong. I’m sorry, I’m really tired of listening how Content Designers are not Designers. Look at your title, it’s right there. Learn to design, at least a little bit. Basic UI rules are straightforward and simple, no grad school maths here. Just look at this brilliant article by Adham Dannaway on rules that make a big impact.

As for Figma, this is even more direct. You really don’t need $4,000 courses to master the tool and be able to put together simple flows. Find a Udemy/Coursera tutorial and complete like 50% of it. It will suffice, trust me. For instance, here’s an extremely affordable Udemy course by Daniel Walter Scott, Advanced Figma.

Course curriculum

Yes, it will take a good 10–20 hours of your time. But dedicate 1–2 hours to it a week and in a few months you won’t recognize your skillset. The mystery of the tool will be permanently lifted and the tooth-and-nail fights you’re having with it will become a distant memory. That was the old you, who didn’t know the difference between fill container and hug contents.

My scrappy little designs in progress. They shabby but they MINE.

I have poor visual design skills, I have no “eyeing it” in terms of typography or color pallets, I struggle with shadows and gradients and iconography. But I’ve figured out one and only trick: you just keep doing it until it gets better. One sunny day you’ll be finally able to say “hey, the spacing is all wrong here, lemme fix it.”

2. Hands-on User Research

The course Shopify content folk took after the change

When Shopify went on a restructuring spree and disbanded the discipline of User Research across the board, I was not happy. Their reasoning was that Product and Content needs to run their own research, collect their own data, and analyze their own insights because we’re too removed from customers. I genuinely thought the quality and quantity of research will plummet, as we won’t be able to perform it as well and as often, because we are not trained for it. We were told to figure it out. We grunted.

We were partially wrong. The truth was somewhere in the middle. The amount of research we were able to perform regularly definitely went down, as we had other tasks to carry out. The quality of analysis, I’m sure, was also subpar in comparison to people who trained to do it for five years.


Talking to people directly for every project was incredible. Running an IA tree test that you have personally designed was so illuminating you had to squint. Having your own card sorting sessions, your own prototype walkthroughs, your own in-depth heart-to-heart with people who use your platform was irreplaceable.

That’s when I understood Shopify’s motivation for the big change. We were indeed too far removed from our customers. Collecting insights from the research someone else had done for you is nice. It’s easy, it’s fast. But it shouldn’t be. This is the case where longer and harder is better (get your mind out of the gutter).

So how do you learn, where do you start? Well, for one, there are tons of great reads on the subject. About five million of them on Nielsen Norman group website, of course. If you want to dive deeper and you have some education budget at your job, spend it on UX Content Collective course in Content Research and Testing. It’s extremely well-structured and covers pretty much anything you might need to confidently run your research.

Finally, let’s get to the last frontier.

3. Business Acumen

I know, I know, the very word business makes me a little queasy. Pair it with acumen and boy, do I feel full-on nauseous.

I want to make things good, you think to yourself, I want to make things useful and comfortable, and friendly. I don’t want to make them addictive, annoying, obnoxious, misleading, omitting, shady, sly, hard-selling, pushy, intrusive, and other adjectives you imagine when you think of improving the bottom line and growing a business.

And yet, so many of the metrics your job is judged by will be conversion metrics, onboarding metrics, purchases, subscriptions, enrollments, and checkouts. You thought you escaped marketing by choosing Product but it’s always catching up to you like a bad game of tag. How do you work with that?

  1. Don’t work for Evil Corp. Sounds very basic and I’m expecting a lot of you just huffed a chuckle. And yet, I know a lot of Content Designers who feel ashamed of pushing their product to customers because they don’t believe in it. They took the job because they needed the job and it shows. I know in recession + layoffs party mode it’s a luxury to actually choose a job but don’t take one where the thought of sending a push notification feels like asking people to join a pyramid scheme. Like your product, want it to grow.
  2. Corner Product Managers. Befriend your PMs and ask them all about the stuff they focus on. Ask them what the product is supposed to do on the market, what is their rainbow-colored vision dream for it. Don’t limit yourself to UX managers and Product Designers, definitely don’t expect business insight from your engineers. But do lean into PMs and PMMs and Product Owners if you have them. Ask them for the docs and decks they’re relying on when they make their decisions. In a lot of cases, they’ll be very glad to share.
  3. Learn a lil business. Riding on the coattails of #2, look into the figures and terms that define product success. You can have a wonderfully designed product that is a business failure, why? What went wrong? Could it have been remedied? Look into product case studies, read a bit about your niche and what the products around you are doing, how they’re expanding, into which areas, what features they’re focusing on and why. Don’t just look at their content guidelines and design choices, don’t just screenshot their onboarding flows.

In conclusion, leveling up is about growing the hat of your T. While your focus remains on content, your generalist skills have to get thicker or you’ll always feel lacking.

I haven’t mentioned the eng side of things, even though it’s crucial to the work of a good content designer, because I’m assuming most of you already know that, but just in case:

Quick PSA: pls do figure out how your product works under the hood to the best of your understanding.

I also haven’t mentioned playing office politics and making friends with the right people because I’m a starry-eyed idealist who will always fight for meritocracy, sue me.

That’s about it, please do comment if you have more advice. I’d love to know what your experience has been and what helped you grow!