Michael J. Metts

Image courtesy of Michael J. Metts

Image courtesy of Michael J. Metts



Senior UX Designer, The Nerdery

"The better we do at articulating what we do and why it matters, the more valuable we'll be."

Chicago, Illinois





What are three go-to resources you turn to for the latest content strategy thinking? 

If you're not following Kristina Halvorson on Twitter, you really should. She's constantly elevating content strategy voices around the world.

I also host a Slack group of UX-focused content professionals which has been an invaluable way to dig into deep conversations and talk with people about their work at length. 

Conferences are also a great way to wrap my head around the newest ideas people have. My favorite content strategy conference is Confab. While these can be expensive if your employer isn't paying for them, a great way to attend for free is to speak at one (something I encourage anyone working in this field to do). 

Describe a typical workday: 

I work for a consultancy, so no day is really typical, and I've been enjoying that. Each project has unique needs and concerns. A recent project involved a lot of contextual inquiry-style research at different locations around the country, but I spend plenty of time in front of a computer in the office as well. A big part of what I do is also advocating for content strategy and UX in general with our clients and throughout the company. The better we do at articulating what we do and why it matters, the more valuable we'll be. 

What's the best content strategy advice you've ever been given? 

Reframe the problem. I learned this from Scott Kubie when we worked together a couple years back (he now works at Brain Traffic). He helped me see how the problems people came to us with (like needing to create an email campaign or redesign a section of a website) were often the result of deeper concerns. Whenever I can, I try to ask higher-level questions about the work I'm doing and listen to clients, stakeholders, and teammates. This approach has often made my project contributions far more valuable.

You’re now a senior UX designer. How did you make that transition from content strategy?

I've never been able to separate user experience design from content strategy in my head, so I'm not even sure if I'd call it a transition. Designers should do content strategy and content strategists are already designers to the extent that they're solving problems by creating systems that meet user needs and business goals.

The two disciplines can and should learn a lot from each other. Designers should seek to understand how content will inform their design work and ask hard questions about it. If they don't, someone will have to address content concerns at a point where much less can be done about them. Content strategists (and other content professionals) should take a cue from the design world by communicating their work visually. Content conversations often take a back seat to other design conversations simply because they aren't represented in a way that makes an impact and is easy to understand.

Describe a recent challenge you solved. 

For that recent research project, there were a lot of raw research materials we wanted to have easy access to such as scans of paper notes, summaries, audio files, images, etc. I'm a huge believer in doing user research to inform content strategy and design decisions, but there's always a question of how to take advantage of those findings six months or a year down the road. It's awfully hard to look through files and make sense of them. What I did was create a research summary on a WordPress website using a new open source tool from the Nasdaq design team called Mosaiq. It has been a really nice way to present all of our findings and easily reference the raw materials. I'm hoping to do it again for more projects.  

How do you see content strategy evolving or changing in the next few years?  

Content challenges are everywhere. Recently we've seen lots of chat bots and "conversational UIs" come into the mainstream, and along with the proliferation of VR and video content in general, we're just going to be seeing more content in more places. What does this mean for the people who do the work? Rachel Lovinger did a great job covering that in her talk at CS Forum recently. Our work will get more specialized, and while not all of these people will be called "content strategists," content strategy will have to be a big part of what they do. To me it's exciting, because it allows people to specialize in doing what they love even more.

What would you advise someone who wants to get into this field?

Talk to the people who are doing the work you want to do. They are usually wonderful people who care very much about helping others get to the same place. Buy them coffee and pick their brains. Also: read books and articles as much as you can, with the caveat that once you actually start doing the work, you can't expect it to turn out perfectly. This stuff is really hard, and if we can make even a small difference for our clients and employers, that's amazing. Content strategy is really about organizational change, which is no small thing. The positive change you make with people, processes and projects will make a big difference for your users.