InVision is a digital design prototyping tool that more than 5 million people—at tens of thousands of companies—use. But InVision is also a content-producing powerhouse. They offer tons of free resources to help designers, and anyone doing design-related work. They have built a multi-pronged content strategy that includes in-depth ebooks, documentary films, and a podcast that features major design leaders and thinkers with more than one million listens. 

InVision’s content success didn’t happen overnight. 

When InVision’s Director of Design Stories Eli Woolery came on board four years ago, the content team was still getting up and running. His first job was to write a book, three books in fact—InVision’s first books. They now offer eight comprehensive books such as Remote Work for Design Teams and the Design Systems Handbook. Woolery is a regular author of blogs and books, plus co-host of InVision’s super successful podcast. And, the small content crew he joined in 2016 is now a full-blown content operation.

Content Science Review spoke with Woolery about InVision’s evolving approach to content and his own take on creating content users crave.  

How have companies’ views of the value of and approach to content changed over time?

WOOLERY: I was trying to think of what are the earliest examples of what we would now call content strategy and a quick Google search turned up the Farmer’s Almanac by Benjamin Franklin, so definitely not a new thing. But it has certainly changed over recent decades and definitely within the last decade or so become its own domain. I view it from a designer’s lens because that has been my career for most of my adult life. I feel like, over time, we have gotten more in tune with the needs of the user, and are being more mindful about developing content that is actually really useful to them, and that is actionable. 

Do you think companies have a greater appreciation for the value of content now?

WOOLERY: I think so. It has been demonstrably effective in a lot of different industries. My sense is that perhaps there still isn’t an understanding that doing content marketing is not going to lead to overnight success. It’s a very long-term game. If we think about this in regard to the podcast that we have now been doing for three-plus years, it took awhile for it to get traction, it wasn’t this thing that came out of the gate, and we had thousands of listeners. But, now we have had over a million downloads, and we are, within our niche, a pretty successful podcast. But it took time. You have to be willing to invest over the longer term to make these things work. 

What companies do you think are doing content strategy really well?

WOOLERY: The companies that are doing this well are often taking a designer’s approach, where—and in our case, we certainly do this—they are interviewing the people who use the content. How are they consuming the content? Where are they consuming it? What things are most helpful? We pair that qualitative approach with a more quantitative approach of what’s getting the most traffic, those types of things. Doing that and kind of iterating are the only ways at the moment [to do content strategy well], just given the sheer magnitude of content that is out there and being created every day. I think that is one of the few ways you can stay ahead of the curve a little bit is being really in tune with your users. 

I think IDEO does a really good job. They obviously have a very well-known brand within the world of design, and they are continually pumping out educational stuff through their IDEO U, and I think they do a good job of that. And this isn’t a company, but I think as far as a guru to lean on, Seth Godin is just amazing in the way that he thinks about content strategy, and as a one-man content machine, he is pretty amazing. He blogs every day, he has a pretty frequent podcast, and he seems to be on every business or marketing podcast out there too. And I think he really understands the designer’s mindset of making things that are valuable to your audience, and people will come back to you. 

What are the biggest pain points between designers and content professionals? And, what can content professionals like content strategists and content marketers do to work well with designers?

WOOLERY: Historically, I come from a product design background, so I was on the design side of the fence for a long time. The thing to realize about many design teams is that they are kind of outnumbered. They have a lot of requests coming their way, and to keep up with that can be really challenging at times. So, I think building into your strategy a way to recognize that there is going to be a design bottleneck at a certain point, and you need to build processes around that. Even here at InVision, we obviously invest in a lot of design, but it can still be a challenge. But there are ways to build out infrastructure to make the rollout of your content easier. 

And, this relates to building out a new site, for example, but back in my product design days, I might have built that out with Lorem Ipsum or fake content and now, being on the content side, I realize you are doing a disservice to the content creators by doing that. It needs to be more of a partnership. There needs to be a real understanding of what the hierarchy is and what needs to be important. So it needs to be a more agile, iterative approach versus a more traditional waterfall approach. 

As a designer and design educator, how do you view content strategy?

WOOLERY: I feel lucky to be on a team where we have a lot of liberty to spend big chunks of time on content that takes a lot of time to produce. The podcast is sort of a medium-lift thing to produce, and then we produce books, which are a heavier lift. Just given the fact that some portion of the results of that is going to be hard to track, especially in the podcast realm, which is pretty notorious for that, I think just having a team that has some faith that these efforts are producing results is important. Then the more you can back that up with data, that is great. 

And, having a background in education too, I am pretty biased toward giving people free education content as much as you can, and much of our content is not even gated with an email address. We publish our books online, and the only reason you have to enter your email is if you want to download the book, which seems like a relatively good trade-off. 

Again, this is about leaning on the assumption that if you do something valuable for people, they will respond by coming back and leaning on you for more of the same content or for your product offering or whatever it may be. 

When you started with InVision’s design education program, how did you approach and think about your content strategy?

WOOLERY: I started as the second person on the Design Education Team with my boss at the time, Aarron Walter [VP of Design Education]. Aarron has a pretty illustrious design background, worked at MailChimp, he’s a great designer, great people leader, and he was largely responsible for setting the vision for our team in those early days. And the first thing we did was we were tasked with writing three books. There was a lot of heads-down time doing that. And that was the first time I had written really extensively for work, and I found I liked it more than I thought I would. 

What does your team look like now? What roles come together to create InVision’s design education content?

WOOLERY:  Our team grew over time but still stayed small up until the past year, we were a small agile team within a larger marketing organization. The structure has since shifted a bit, and now Aarron leads the whole Content Team (that includes the blog Inside Design), and I am now part of a smaller team called the Feature Stories Team, which works on more in-depth, longer-form content. It was great to have a small, super agile team, to begin with, it was very productive. And now it’s nice to have a bigger team, with more resources—things that we didn’t have internal to our team before. 

What’s the biggest content challenge you face in your role?

WOOLERY: Balancing quality with speed because we produce a lot of content, and at the same time, we want that content to be high-quality. There is always going to be some trade-off there. That is always something that is in the back of my mind. 

InVision has always been an all-remote company. Any tips for how content teams can best collaborate from afar?

WOOLERY: I think there are a huge number of benefits to working remotely. A lot of it is similar to what a high-performing team would be in person. It’s just about building trust. You have to be able to trust. And to get trust, I would credit my colleague Richard Banfield, VP of Design Transformation, with this idea of flywheel. The flywheel is: You get a request to do something, you deliver results, then you gain trust. If that cycle keeps going, then it shouldn’t matter if you are tied to your screen all day or if you have to go pick up your kids or drop them off, or exercise—it’s about building that trust and delivering results. 

The Authors

Eli Woolery is the Director of Design Stories at InVision. Previously, he was Director of Design Education. His design career spans both physical and digital products, and he is a lecturer in the Product Design program at Stanford University.

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