Sara Wachter-Boettcher is leading a workshop at this year’s edUi conference on Compassionate Content & UX, in addition to presenting her keynote, Design for Real Life. Sara is an author, designer, and content strategist at a consultancy based in Philadelphia. We wanted to get to know her better, so we asked her a few questions. Here is what she had to say:
How did you first get started in content strategy and design?
When I was 22, I got a job as a copywriter at an ad agency. We did a lot of real estate marketing, so I was always writing headlines about “moving up to more house.” I got bored really quickly. One day, I saw a posting for a web writer at an agency, and I was intrigued: what did that entail, precisely? I got the job, and soon realized that our clients needed a lot of help to think about their content on the web. They were often either trying to shoehorn in content from print that didn’t make sense, or they would say, “we’ll worry about the content later,” and later would never come. I found that my skill set wasn’t really just writing, but guiding our clients to making good, sustainable content choices—and then thinking about how we could design experiences and information so it would make sense and be useful. So, I started a content strategy practice there and started doing a lot of information architecture and UX work as well, because that wasn’t a core skill on our staff back then. I was there for about five years before I started my own company.
If your professional life was a movie title, what would it be?
2 Fast 2 Furious
In only three words or phrases, what is your worst UX story?
Legal wrote content
What’s your favorite Pandora station?
I don’t have a Pandora account, but I really like the Discover Weekly playlist Spotify does. Their recommendations are often really good, and not things I would have found on my own.
If you could design any app, what would it be?
I would love an app that told me when to leave the house to catch the bus lines in my neighborhood. There IS an app for that, but the problem is, it runs off the bus schedule, not where the bus actually is. Knowing when the bus was really coming would be great—especially on those cold mornings!
What are you going to talk about at edUi?
I’ll be talking about designing for real life, and real people—and that means creating content and experiences that are inclusive to a broader range of users and that remove as much bias and assumption as possible. I think we’re in a really important moment for design and technology, where it’s embedded so deeply in our lives and mediating so many of our experiences. In every industry, we need to be thinking a lot more carefully about the ethics and implications of design.
What’s the biggest misconception about creating inclusive and compassionate content?
People often assume that being inclusive in content and design means you can’t have a target audience—that you’ll end up with the “try to please everyone, end up speaking to no one” problem. I think it’s a lot more helpful to remember that our audiences, no matter how well we think we know them or how specific we think they are, are never one monolithic thing—they are always a bunch of nuanced, unique people. Designing inclusively means respecting that users are all going to be different and allowing them the space to define themselves and interact with our sites on their own terms. I think that’s the biggest truth about inclusive design: it’s not so much that we have to anticipate every user’s unique background or needs. It’s that we have to take people as they come, and not make assumptions about what they want or why they want it.
About Sara Wachter-Boettcher
Sara Wachter-Boettcher runs a content strategy consultancy based in Philadelphia. She is also the author of Content Everywhere, a book about creating flexible, mobile-ready content. Sara works with clients like Trek Bicycles, The Associated Press, The Home Depot, and Harvard, and speaks at web conferences worldwide. Find her on Twitter @sara_ann_marie or at sarawb.com.