Writers of Silicon Valley Podcast: Ben Barone-Nugent transcript

Writers of Silicon Valley Podcast: Ben Barone-Nugent transcript

In this conversation with Patrick and Ben Barone-Nugent, they cover: what’s it like to work at Netflix, do you succeed as a UX writer / content designer there and much more.

Patrick Stafford
September 10, 2020


Writers of Silicon Valley is a UX writing podcast featuring interviews with content strategists and UX writers from around the world.

The UX Writers Collective is proud to host transcripts for every episode.

Ben Barone-Nugent has been everywhere. Facebook, Whatsapp, creative agencies like R/GA. He even hails from Patrick’s own home town of Melbourne, Australia. Instant bonding. Lovely.

In this conversation Patrick and cover: what’s it like to work at Netflix? How do you succeed as a UX writer / content designer there? What are the specific design challenges you have when it comes to using words in an app like Netflix? And what is A/B testing like there?

To listen to this episode, find Writers of Silicon Valley wherever you listen to podcasts:

This episode was originally hosted at Writers of Silicon Valley.

Are you interested in becoming a UX writer? Check out our online, self-paced range of courses

———————————————-

Patrick:

Before I start the podcast, I want to make a quick announcement. There are a lot of UX design conferences. I think if you wanted to attend a UX conference every month of the year, you would have multiple options. But there isn’t really a space for UX writers and content designers to come together and share their craft and talk with each other and just learn from each other. And for so long, there hasn’t been a space like that. But I’m happy to say that’s changed. I’m thrilled to announce that the UX writing and content design summit is now selling tickets for a conference in late August. This is going to be a must attend event. If you’re a UX writer or a content designer, if you’re a freelancer, if you’re in a team, if you’re in a massive team, if you’re working on your own, this is a conference you need to attend.

So I’m one of the co-organisers along with Bobby Wood in the UX writers collective and Kathryn Strauss, the organiser of the San Francisco UX Writers Meetup. And this event is shaping up to be an amazing time. We have speakers like Jen Schaefer. She’s the content design manager at Netflix. We have Eric Wong, he’s a senior UX writer at Google, Hillary Black, who’s been on the podcast before. She’s going to be doing a workshop on creating a chatbot. We have Andy Welfle from Adobe who was on the podcast last month. He’s going to be a speaker as well. This is going to be a jam-packed event and it’s happening on August 28th, one day only. Friday, August 28th, 2020 in San Francisco. Early bird tickets are on sale now, so if you buy a ticket now, you can save $100 off the normal price.

On this day, you’re going to get speakers and workshops from expert UX writers. You’re going to be meeting people in the industry. You’re going to be learning from them. You’re going to walk away with slide decks and materials that you can start implementing in your day-to-day work straight away. So if there is a reason to tell your boss that they should pay for your ticket instead of you, that’s it. I can’t tell you how excited I am about this. It’s one day only Friday, August 28th, 2020. Tickets are on sale now. Check out the website, uxwcdsummit.com please be quick early bird tickets are not going to last forever, uxwcdsummit.com the link is in the show notes. Hope to see you there.

Now, onto today’s interview. A few years ago when Netflix started making shows like House of Cards and I can’t remember what else they did at the time, everyone thought it was weird. It was strange. It was changing the way television was made. Is everyone really going to watch original shows by Netflix? Are they going to be any good? Does it matter? Obviously with the explosion of streaming services since then, the most recently, Disney Plus and then all the rest of them coming this year, that gamble proved correct and every streaming service is now investing in original content. These services are now part of our daily lives. They’re just like television was 30, 40 years ago. With that huge user base comes some interesting design challenges. And today we’re going to be talking about those.

So I’m speaking with Ben Barone-Nugent. He’s a UX writer in Netflix. In fact he’s job title is principal content designer. So there you go. He and I talked about what it’s like to work in Netflix. He was at Facebook before he was at Netflix, so we talk about that as well. It’s fun to talk about, the different tests that Netflix does, like the different types of buttons they test and all that sort of thing. But I wanted to hear from Ben what makes a UX writer successful at a place like Netflix. And Ben’s also from Australia. So you get two Australians for the price of one on the podcast today.

So we had a great discussion. Really hope you enjoy it. Again, please check out uxwcdsummit.com tickets are on sale now. So don’t miss out on the early bird tickets. Go check it out today. Without further ado, here’s my chat with Ben Barone-Nugent from Netflix. Enjoy. You mentioned something there that I thought was interesting, which we actually even talked too about, last time which was the differences between Facebook and Netflix. So how long were you at Facebook for?

Ben:

I was at Facebook for just under three and a half years. So I started in 2015, and I was working out of the New York office, working on some of the business tools products out there. So some advertising tools focused on small businesses, medium-sized businesses, and some of the pages product as well, which is you want to have a presence like a brand or a business on Facebook, you create a page. So I was working on that for a couple of years. Then I was working on some local discovery tools, so think analogist to Google maps, finding bars and restaurants around you. And then after that I was on WhatsApp for a little while before I came to Netflix.

Patrick:

The content strategy team at Facebook is quite large from what I understand-

Ben:

Yeah, it’s huge.

Patrick:

… like hundreds of people. 2015, you joined?

Ben:

Yeah, I started middle to late 2015. And was there until roughly the October-ish 2018. So a little [inaudible 00:05:35] three years and three months or something. So I think about content strategy, content design, UX writers as a real horizontal discipline. I’m sure you hear this a lot. I mean we certainly do. It’s not specific to Facebook or Netflix or anything like that. It’s just generally the way we operate in doing what we do. There’s a lot of… We’re the connected tissue between a lot of different parts of an organisation or a product.

We look for consistency in language across different surfaces. We look for how things work across the flow and how everything just feels cohesive and stuff like that. So big thing that I learned from Facebook, which was really the first time that I had done it at such a scale was the importance of making time and putting energy into developing things like standards and tooling and resources that help people keep things consistent. So that was one of the things that I’ve had to learn a lot about when I joined Facebook. And as I saw that team grow, I mean it was about 40 people-ish when I started and when I left it was around 300-ish. There was a lot of growth over those years.

Patrick:

Yeah-

Ben:

Yeah, I was [crosstalk 00:06:41].

Patrick:

… just a little bit.

Ben:

Yeah. And I’m sure it’s grown a lot more since then, which is super cool and it makes me feel really proud to know people who have helped grow that team and have been a part of that and see the work that they continue to do, which is great. So yeah, but as the team grew, you had to think about how those energies would get divided and how to bring people in and how to help them prioritise, how to help you self-prioritise, how to set the expectations with not only the broader content strategy team, but how much you were able to input on those things and the amount you were going to input, but also set your expectations with your immediate design and product management partners.

Because obviously it was like a never ending balancing act between what the content strategy team needed and what my media product team needed. And it’s still super rewarding, but there was… That’s a unique thing that I think UX writers and content strategists and content designers are always thinking about. And I certainly think about that still in my current role.

Patrick:

They use the term content strategist internally and there’s a huge, I wouldn’t say debate, but a discussion about job titles and what they mean and what they refer to. So within Facebook is content strategist and UX writer one and the same thing?

Ben:

At least when I was there it was. So we would… It was certainly a debate that we had there, a discussion that we continued to have, that we were still having when I left. And that we do have at Netflix too. And I know other companies are, as you mentioned. But at Facebook, yeah we really just were all content strategists. And part of being content strategist was UX writing and it goes the other way too, other companies will have UX writers and part of that is content strategy. However you want to define those things.

Ben:

But I certainly see those as interchangeable terms and say with content design, I think that the work you do and the breadth of your responsibilities is less about the title that you have and more about just the organisation you’re in. I think that another analogy that I think is interesting, Facebook just had product designers and some of them would be more engaged in visual design, some of them were engaged in building design systems, some of them were working extensively in engineering role, so they’re doing a lot of coding and things like that. Some of them were just really straight up structural product designers, whereas Netflix does have specifically different names for those things. There are motion designers and visual designers. And then there are product designers as well.

So I think that there are a lot of other disciplines that you can unpack things in different ways, which I think is really cool and really interesting and we can take a lot of inspiration from and I try to be aware of that too during these debates. At the end of the day, I think one way, I try to hire people for what we do, it becomes less about the exact title you have. And more about-

Patrick:

Oh for sure. It’s just more about what can you do-

Ben:

Exactly.

Patrick:

… what have you done? What skills do you have?

Ben:

Exactly.

Patrick:

Once you start worrying about titles too much, it gets a little bit in the weights.

Ben:

100%. So what we try to look through is as you said, demonstrable skills. It’s like here’s a piece of work they did. Here are the skills that demonstrates we can say, “Okay, I suppose you can do this job.” Right? I think the other interesting thing that I’m seeing increasingly especially over, I want to say though just the past few months, is that there is this I think content where you can design [inaudible 00:10:16], whatever you want to call it is hitting this point of maturity and you’re seeing our role actually get unpacked a little bit more and more, with a bit more intentionality.

An example of that is, you see a lot more conversational design roles coming up and I know that the team… It’s like a conversation design team at Facebook, which is now separate to content strategy, which I think is really cool because what you’re seeing there is that there are these analogous skills. One point they may have been considered a different type of content strategists or a subset of the skills that we’re supposed to do, but now there’s that specialisation which says to me that there’s a maturity coming through this discipline. Not to say that we were immature, you know what I mean? Like just being around for longer we’re starting to understand the different places that we can have impact and make companies and organisations better and build new features and different things like that.

Patrick:

All the knowledge from different areas is coming together and yeah, it’s making-

Ben:

And I think when I say maturity it’s like where over time, we’re seeing the vast number of ways that content strategists are historically, and just the language experts have had being able to make great things and do great work. So we’re saying, “Well, okay, they’re doing a lot of this conversational design stuff,” which does have additional skills that maybe not all content strategists have, but historically maybe content strategists would be the ones that do that. Google’s had voice user interface designers for a long period of time. It’s just, to me there’s just a connection between everyone doing different types of language design and you’re seeing more distinction between these disciplines and those disciplines spreading out.

And I think that, I just think that’s really cool, honestly. I love going on to, what did I say? I was on AngelList not long ago, because I like to see how other companies frame these sorts of roles and I saw lots of these startups, tiny companies hiring conversational designers and that was awesome. And then you look at what their requirements are and it’s a lot of what content strategists do. But then there’s other skills laid on top of that. So I just think it’s really interesting and it’s a nice time to be seeing that happen.

Patrick:

You said there were maybe 40 content designers or around that when you joined Facebook to 300, 400 and now you go to Netflix, where from what I understand, the content slash UX team there is quite small. How many of you are there now?

Ben:

Good question. I think there’s about 10 or 11 of us now. So it’s modestly sized I would say, but still much, much smaller than Facebook. Even when I joined all these years-

Patrick:

Definitely. You can know everyone and you can all go out to lunch together or whatever.

Ben:

Exactly. No, that’s fine.

Patrick:

It’s easy to book a table.

Ben:

Exactly. No, exactly. I remember one of the first off-sites I did at Facebook, we could actually fit around a big table, like a big function room at like a restaurant, Palo Alto, which felt really big at the time, but by the time I left it was like, “Okay, we need to rent out a room in a winery or a convention centre or something like that to be able to have meetings and stuff.” Which is really impressive and really cool.

Patrick:

To rewind for a second though, what made you interested in applying to work at Netflix?

Ben:

Yeah, good question. I think that I was really interested in the design challenges that Netflix was coming up against, which are and were extremely unique, especially as far as I could see from the outside. And it was absolutely true when I got in there. Netflix is trying to solve really challenging problems with the way people consume media and how entertainment fits into their lives. And there’s still a huge amount of, I think there’s still a lot of ways that Netflix can and should be innovating and is starting to think about now. And so it’s really cool to be a part of that. But I was really interested in, especially… So I really think a lot about how Netflix works on a TV, right?

So we have, it’s part of the platform, it’s part of the organisation. Obviously the people think about how it works in mobile and web and things like that. I’m really thinking about, what is the experience like when you turn your TV and open Netflix. And to me that was a very unique thing because not only do we need to tell you a lot about shows and help you understand what you want to watch and navigate this thing, but you’re using a very limited input device. You don’t have the freedom of a keyboard and a mouse and you don’t have a touch screen like you do on a smart phone, you have a TV control with basically… And we can rely on you having maybe a back button, an enter key in four directions.

So that’s really interesting to me. But in addition to that, it is a unique context too. So you’re in a living room, you may be sitting with family or friends or maybe just on your own, you’re looking for something new to watch or watch together. So how do we tell you meaningful things about that? What are the frameworks we can build to make that better and maybe more personalised. What are other features that we should be building to make Netflix more relevant to different moments?

We’re really good at finding a new series for you to binge or a new movie that you might want to watch. But we’re just thinking through lots of different features and how we want to innovate on going. And we do see TV as a really good test bed for that innovation. The other thing that really drew me to it is I feel like Netflix is the industry standard in some ways only because it was the first big video on demand platform out there. So it really is just a lot of people look to it. So it’s cool to just be a part of that. Netflix is the old folk on the hill, right? Something like a startup or anything like that, it’s just is in a way there’s a lot I can learn from people who’ve been there for many years and that was really enticing and I’ve enjoyed that. It’s been-

Patrick:

Definitely. And the interesting, you’re entering an interesting time now with all the new players starting up and everything-

Ben:

Sure.

Patrick:

… which I know you can’t talk about, but it’s just interesting to see how companies are responding to you in that way. Can you talk a little bit about how UX writing and content strategy works at Netflix? How does the team work? How do you interact together? How do you work with designers? That sort of thing.

Ben:

Yeah. So our job title at Netflix is content designer and I think that is an interesting thing. That was really championed… So I came around the time that was officially our job title, which I thought was cool. I guess it was a good time to join. The VP of design, a really, really wonderful leader, Steve Johnson was like, “No you need to be seen as part of the designer world.” So I want you to have design in your name. And then he looked at how the industry was thinking about these roles and content was a natural part of that. And a funny little thing there, is when you think about content and Netflix, you don’t think about content strategy or UX writing. You think about movies and shows, right? So there is an interesting ongoing discussion there about how do we identify ourselves. But it’s been fine. It hasn’t been a problem at all.

So we still, and that’s because we’re still very much part of the design organisation. I’m still bedded with my product team, so I’m directly partnering with product managers and product designers. So in that sense it looks very similar to how it does at other product forward companies, similar to how it was at Facebook. But the interesting thing about Netflix is that working with… Well, one thing in terms of my own experience that I’ve really found fascinating is the way working for our members in a really different way. People are paying to use our service, so we need to be extremely careful with how we think about the way we use the language, the way we test, the way we innovate, the way we present new ideas to people because they’re paying to be there, right? They’re paying us to be there. I mean-

Patrick:

Just to pick up something you just said there, when you talk about Netflix internally debating about tests and so on, it’s pretty interesting to me that whenever Netflix does a test, there’s a huge amount of press around it. So last year, you did a, late last year there was some press around Netflix testing a random episode button or a shuffle button, and that was written up on a lot of the major tech publications. So it’s pretty interesting to see how the work you do there, I don’t know if you worked on that specific project, but someone did, gets a huge impact because your user base is, 110, 120 million users.

Ben:

Well, I think what I can say is basically a truth that I’ve seen at everywhere I’ve worked. Before I was at Facebook, I was at a big design firm, big design tech firm, based out in New York, but they’re everywhere. There’s actually an office in Melbourne, Sydney now, IGA, right? And so they would often, a lot of what we would pick back to clients, there were ideas for experimentation and testing, especially around language. And one thing that I’ve learned over time and I’ll share a bit about this and I’ll tell you a little bit about what I’ve observed at Netflix and how that connects back to it. What I’ve observed over time is the value in having a very clearly articulated hypothesis that underpins a test that you want to do.

Now, originally I would think about just language variants and sometimes that was fine. People were interested in that and maybe the hypothesis underpinning those two language variants was pretty transparent. You could just infer that from what I was proposing. But other times there was a lot more subtle as you do it. And as you know and we think deeply about language design and language decisions in product and in surfaces. So the nuances aren’t always immediately clear to somebody.

So we often need to think about how to articulate that. So what I learned, is the best way to get someone on board, like a product manager or a producer or an engineering leader, designers is to have a really compelling and clear hypothesis. An if-then statement, right? If we do X then Y will happen and here are some variants that will help us get at that. That’s also just a good way to start discussions.

And I think part of that is also being open to feedback about those statements. I like presenting hypotheses really clearly like that and simply, and [inaudible 00:20:54] spend a lot of time thinking about that. Sometimes I spend more time thinking about that than the words itself and how I need to pitch that to folks because it’s always a good way to tease context out of people as well and discussions. So I might show some of that hypotheses and like, “Oh actually we tested something similar to that two years ago and here is the result.” You know what I mean? And then you can start building on that and have an even more refined hypothesis and get it even deeper into an idea. And that’s certainly something I realised a lot when I joined Facebook as well. But Facebook, was a little different because we had a huge number of users so we could really just do testing more quickly.

So there was as much pressure on me to have the hypothesis clearly. People would be like, “Yeah if you’ve got a couple of language words we can just test it with a small percentage and see what goes on.” And that was cool and that was really awesome as a content strategist there. But when I came to Netflix, and then you coming into Netflix, there was a lot of focus placed on discussing and debating ideas. I don’t want to really say debating too much because that makes it sound like a bunch of men yelling at each other and stuff like that. It’s not really like that. It is just more about really frank discussions. And often people, those discussions will conclude with somebody saying, “I didn’t agree with you but I agree that we should test it.” It was like a degree of humility there, I certainly saw that at Facebook and other places too, but it’s a lot of impetus to put on those sorts of behaviours in Netflix, which I think is great.

So there are multiple stages to it there. It’s just the upfront, how do you position an experiment that you want to do to people? What is your hypothesis? Why should we do it? What is the value in that for the product or the business or what are we going to learn from it and how might we make more money from it, and how we might make the experience better for people. And then we might theoretically do the test and then we’ll look at results and we’ll spend a lot of time thinking about the results. And then there’ll be a discussion about how should or shouldn’t we… Well, basically there’s like three questions that we need access to.

It’s like, should we do another test? Should we just take the learnings from this and not proceed? Or should we actually turn this into part of the product and everyone gets access to it? Which I think is nice and that’s cool. And there’s a system to it and we have open forums for those debates. And I think that’s just a really compelling, rewarding place to be. Even just to listen in on those discussions and be sort of, I have a front row seat to how strategic these things can be. But again, that is a really cool thing about Netflix. And I think it’s really cool because Netflix is a bit of a small company compared to Facebook or Google, but those traditions certainly exist in one form or another in a lot of tech companies.

So in the end, the question that I often put back to other writers, my counterparts at other companies is how can you be somebody who facilitates more of that, those sorts of things because ultimately our users and the people who are exposed to the work we do are the ones who benefit from those rigid discussions, right? We ship better product as a result of them.

Patrick:

That’s all super interesting. I think the underlying assumption that you’ve got in your discussion there, you need to have an understanding of business processes, business impact connected to the words that you’re writing.

Ben:

That was also pretty true, at I think in my role at Facebook, but it was less about… I think it’s really interesting, I’m just really interested in this space that Netflix is operating in, so I do try to stay abreast of what challenges is the company facing, what metrics are they thinking a lot about and things like that. These are things that all companies have. So I do think there are… And I’ve seen a lot of value in just understanding those things in how I make decisions about my work. And even going back to what I was saying about designing hypotheses and pitching ideas, having a connection to something really tangible at the business or your product, it can really just get you that traction basically for free, right? If you say, “If we do this thing that I’m proposing, then we will move this metric that’s really important to us.” People are usually like, “All right, yes we should think about that. That’s really good.” As long as what you’re presenting obviously does clearly have some knock-on factor.

But at Facebook, it was a different… Facebook was a much bigger organisation with a lot more features and products that we’re thinking about. So there were a few more degrees of removal from core business metrics than there are at Netflix. Netflix is a much a relatively smaller, more focused suite of products and surfaces and features and things like that. So you do just by virtue of that, have more exposure to how the business is thinking about challenges and stuff like that, which is great. But I do think that, what I’ve learned is that understanding comes with experience. I think it comes with working with a lot of different product partners, especially product managers.

I think worth seeing being exposed to really good product management throughout my career. At lots of different places, I’ve seen the commonality that a good PM and a good design leader are really thinking about the connective tissue between different parts of organisations and businesses and using that as a way to inform priorities for their own teams. And that’s really interesting to me. And I think what I’ve also seen about that is it takes and it forces people to be pretty humble about their own ideas because it’s like, “Well, I may have this idea that really excites me, but if I can’t see the connection between that and how it improves the business and makes my product or my organisation better, then maybe I need a pot there,” right?

Patrick:

I mean, I guess what I’m really asking here is, and I didn’t realise this when I was asking the question, but I’m asking, what skills do you need as a UX writer to be successful at a company like Netflix?

Ben:

Great question. What I think makes a really successful content strategist or UX writer is an ability to prioritise and be really good and comfortable with communicating those priorities to people. And there are a couple of dimensions where I think that makes them more effective and more successful. First of all is the basic stuff, which means you just have a better working experience and you have more energy when you’re in the office. You’re not working late nights and stuff like that. We sometimes we have to work weekends and nights. It’s just part of being a professional and stuff like that. But by and large it means that you have your time so you have time to recharge and think on things, which I think is, personally, I found really valuable is learning those skills.

But I also think that having a good, I mean this is… I’m talking about me a little bit more than what I think is true for everyone, but what I found really helpful is just understanding the right, and I said this before, is I understand the right questions to ask in the right moments and having an arsenal of ways to get at ideas, is so valuable. And having a good internal framework for understanding what is going to be maybe a high impact thing versus a lower impact thing versus a must do versus a nice to do and then be able to use that framework to prioritise is good. And can-

Patrick:

Which again comes back, and I’m sorry to interrupt you, but it ties back to what you said about business goals. If you don’t understand business goals, team goals, what cascades from there, you can’t understand how to prioritise.

Ben:

Exactly.

Patrick:

And then you can get bogged down in figuring out whether something should have a period or a comma instead of thinking about the overall messaging and the structure of it.

Ben:

Exactly. So yeah, you’re starting to see the writers here and how they fit together. You’re absolutely right. And I think a big part of that is also just… What I say to a lot of my collaborators and my partners and other people who do what we do is, I think the best UX writers just say, “This is the one thing that is the highest impact thing and I’m just going to do this.” And they set those expectations with those teams. They set those expectations with them. Sorry. They set those expectations with their teams. They set those expectations with their managers and leadership and things like that. And they just do that one thing and they do it really, really, really well. Because I think one amazing piece of work always trumps 10 okay pieces of work. Right?

Patrick:

Yep.

Ben:

And that feeds into discussions about, should we be reactive and it’s frustrating when we have to be reactive all the time versus how do we be proactive and find those opportunities to lead. And there’s a lot to unpack there. Of course it’s not as simple as I make it sound, but by and large that is always just something I try to do because I would rather say, “Okay, here’s one big idea that my team is thinking on, that I want to be.. This is a lot of scope for language design and content strategy to have business changing impact there. I want to partner with the designer and the product manager to lead that.” That will be no-

Patrick:

That can be scary though because you can often go a long time without seeing results and so you can have people in the background asking, “Hey, what is it that you’re working on?” Because I’ve been on big projects before where it’s taken 10 to 12 weeks to get something off the ground and then people are like, “What is it that you are doing?” And then they go like, “Oh, okay, I see what you are working on.” But it is a little scary to focus on those big projects as opposed to the little things sometimes.

Ben:

Look, what you touched on is absolutely truth and it’s a truth that I absolutely… It’s a feeling that I feel all the time. Because a lot of us have come from copywriting and writing backgrounds where we might be the one person doing that in a small medium size agency. We always want to be busy so we seem valuable. So we do have this inherent anxiety about doing that and saying no to stuff. And I feel that, don’t get me wrong. It’s taken me a long time to build the muscle to same no to things. But what I’ve basically learned is that people get it when you…

If my immediate partners know what I’m doing and therefore they understand why I’m saying no to things. It all kind of clicks together and there were two buckets of when I say yes to that. One is when it absolutely unequivocally needs it. The other one is when it is a partner who I want to maintain goodwill with or they’ve done me a similar favour before. It was just about favours and the politics of it. It’s just about how do you maintain good relationships. So generally just, it’s part of our jobs, right? Like I call it-

Patrick:

Politics this is so important and it’s so underestimated. When you have to really pick your battles about like, “Okay, I don’t like this particular person but I need to work with them. So yeah, I’m going to take the hit and I’m going to enthusiastically do what they asked me to do this time.” It’s just a part of working in any organisation.

Ben:

Exactly. Yeah. And I think you’re exactly right, but I think that it is just part of… And designers have to be really reactive to things as well. And I think that’s something that here in Silicon Valley, I think people who do content strategy and UX writing sometimes forget. I think we see designers and it feels like they can really lead things and double down. But once you get into it, you realise that engineers have come back to them with a test and it’s not well designed or doesn’t match the patents that we have. So a designer just needs to take a couple of hours to massage the pixels right.

And I think that is something that’s good to remember, especially for my other colleagues and I’m certainly… And I certainly think that a lot of people who do what we do understand that. And it’s not really a big problem, but it’s just again, part of doing these types of jobs working on product. But to get back to what you were saying about what I was saying about prioritising, that is to me the difference between somebody who’s in early or middle stage in their career and somebody who’s a little more seasoned, is they just have a good framework, their own framework for that prioritisation in that communication.

And what I’ve learned from just taking those leaps through my career is that people get it, right? We’re humans, we all have things we got to do. It’s not everyone is saying yes. I mean if everyone is saying yes to everything, then there’s another problem in your organisation, and that’s a bigger discussion, but I think that-

Patrick:

Absolutely, yeah.

Ben:

… if people get it when we have to say no. I think the only time when it would ever hurt you is if you’re just literally saying no to everything. But again, then there are other problems and I don’t think that that’s ever really the case. But-

Patrick:

I think relationship building is big there too because if you have processes and people are involved in those processes and they’ve been invited to give feedback, everyone’s aware, everything’s transparent and so when you say no, it’s not just because, “Oh, you don’t want to do something.” It’s because, “Hey, we had these processes and you were there, you gave feedback. So we’re just following what we agreed.” As writers sometimes I feel like we can take a back seat to the those conversations. But no, I feel like we should be leading them and yeah, being diligently involved.

Ben:

Completely agree. And I think that… I just had a coffee this morning with one of my old managers at Facebook and it was a great moment to remember, why I worked with him so long and he’s just amazing. But when I think about people… When I think about the content strategists who I really admire and I try to continue to learn from and who I want to emulate in a lot of ways, they’re the people who have just decided that they understand their passions, their skills really clearly, and that’s part of how they’ve learned how to prioritise things and make decisions, improve their value. They’re are also people who are really good at telling the stories of their work.

Ben:

And that’s something that I’m always trying to work on as well is, how do I tell the story of language design in a way that is compelling to everybody? I think that if I can sit down with a head of product or a C level person and in five minutes tell them about a problem I solved in a way that they get why that’s important, then I’ve hit that point in my career. And I’m not even going to say that I’m there yet because I’m always trying to learn better ways of doing this. And I look to approach designers and product managers and people who would try to this thing and often do it pretty well. So storytelling is a big part of what we do. And we often look to, to be good storytellers because we’re the language people, right? We have backgrounds in writing and copywriting and creative, it’s huge, right?

A lot of people who do what we do have written plays and PhDs and stories and books. There’s all this cool stuff out there. So that’s something that I really want to get better at as well. So if is listening to this, feels like they’re strong, reach out, I’d love to hear your stories too. But it’s also something that I’ve observed in really seasoned content strategists.

Patrick:

And certainly at Netflix it seems definitely appropriate to emphasise the power of storytelling.

Ben:

Dang. And that too, touches on something you also I think which is what the content strategy team looks like there or the content design team. I think it’s interesting because we are thinking a lot about what is the DNA of stories and how does that manifest in user experience. You can use any of our products and you’ll see tags and synopsis and things like that. So I’m still learning a lot about how stories are structured and how that should inform maybe how do we choose what to show and what different ways that we can tell you about titles and things like that. But there are big teams who aren’t part of content design, but we work closely with who are thinking about how do we create genre taxonomies in a meaningful way.

There are people thinking about writing synopsis and how do we write these synopsis for different services and for different titles and for different environments and things like that. So it’s like when you think about content strategy, Facebook versus Netflix, it’s an apples and oranges thing because at Netflix we do break all those language design disciplines up a little differently. But it’s still this rich place to work. And as you said, we’re still thinking a lot about storytelling and how stories are written and how creators are making these things, which is super cool. I like it a lot.

Patrick:

Something I ask at the end of every episode is, what’s something you’ve read or consumed lately to recommend to the listeners as well?

Ben:

So I read an article in the New Yorker, a couple of weeks back about diamond mining. And there are people whose job it is out there, is to polish. And there are people in Belgium who’d been doing this for generations and hundreds of years, right? They just understand how to polish these things perfectly. And one thing about that, that I thought was really interesting was that some of these people doing that job only work two days a week because it’s so high pressure, right? They’re going into these ministerial little things and polishing it and they’re these intricate little scratching things, they’ve got to work out and it’s going to be perfectly clear. They’ve got diamond dealers breathing down their necks to make sure it’s absolutely flawless and all this stuff.

Now what I do is not that high pressure, right? Maybe I might have people breaking their backs sometimes still working and that’s cool. That’s part of having a job. But it just like fascinated me that there are these hyper-specialised jobs that do require intricate attention to detail. And it resonated with me because sometimes I feel it gave me a sense of pride in what I do. I’m polishing the diamond in a certain sense, making the language work really well for the people who are paying to use the product, right? I may not be the star of the show and that’s cool, but there is a huge amount of value in what people like us do. And it’s a good reminder that there are all these other people out there who may be not necessarily the most visible but are doing critical work. Right?

Patrick:

That’s great. Look, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. It was so interesting to hear all about your career and what you’re doing at Netflix. And no doubt, a lot of the people listening are customers as well. So yeah, they’ll be equally awaiting your next test or what are you going to be doing. And yeah. Well, look Ben, thanks so much and we’ll talk again soon.

Ben:

Thank you so much Patrick. You have a great day.

Patrick:

And that’s it for the podcast today. Thanks so much. Again, if you want to hang out with a bunch of great content designers and UX writers and hear from experts in your industry, check out uxwcdsummit.com it’s going to be awesome. If only for the fact that I’m going to be there, what other reason do you need? Next month I’ll be bringing you an interview with a UX writer from Google, so I look forward to that. Until then, take care.


We hope you enjoyed this transcript!

Are you interested in becoming a UX writer? Check out our online, self-paced range of courses