The Limits of Content Design Systems

I love finding product flows that can be massively improved with just a few changes in the copy. Some features take a lot of work–looking into the information architecture of the pages, defining vocabulary, explaining something new to users–but others are as simple as well, simplifying.


Take LinkedIn's Notification settings:


There are a lot of issues here, some of which would require dev and designer effort to fix, others that can be fixed with better copy.

  • I'm offered to go "Back to Communications," but the previous page was just my current notifications.

  • Another CTA is "Back to LinkedIn." What's the difference? And am I not on LinkedIn anymore?

  • Each of the sections is marked as "on," but there's no visual indication to show what that means; the text doesn't align with that language. What does it mean that "contact job posters," listed under notifications, is turned on?

  • There's a section title of "On LinkedIn," but it's the only section. And it's...all on LinkedIn.

  • I have to click into each section to toggle on/off each notification. And when I return to this screen, the system status hasn't changed from "on" to "off."


As I was getting frustrated with my experience using this screen, I was reminded of the list of things I need to do at my new job, where I'm the sole UX Writer. The biggest task is creating a content design system: setting a dictionary, creating guidelines for capitalisation and punctuation, reminders on accessible and inclusive language, examples for components like error messages and confirmation modals, etc.


But if even if the creator of this screen had access to a content design system, I don't know that it would have made much of a difference. In fact, the design team here only needs three pieces of advice:


  1. Content can't solve everything. Let's say we changed the CTA from "Back to Communications" to "Back to Notifications," deleted the other CTA, and renamed the header "Notification Settings." Already clearer, right? But the hierarchy of the information is just as wonky. Now devs and developers need to step in: show the system status with visual cues, and move information like the toggles directly onto this page.

  2. The system shouldn't reflect the company. I'd bet you $100 that there's a PM at LinkedIn working on Enterprise Products, another on Network, as so on. But as a user, my mental model doesn't match this framework. The information is arranged just how the company is set up, and all it's doing is forcing me, the user, to learn a new map to find what I'm looking for.

  3. Keep it simple. This ties directly with points one and two. I don't need to know every detail of what's going on; I, like most users, don't care. Give me the information I need in a consistent, clear way.


Apply these three tips and the page already looks way better. And you know what? Nothing there was taken from a content guide.


Yes: tone, grammar, and standardisation matter. The quality of these can make a huge difference in UX. But these are details that won't make a huge difference unless the big picture is addressed first.


I'm enjoying putting together a style guide, and I believe that it's worth the effort. I'm excited to see all our error messages being helpful as well as informative, our CTAs aligned and directional, and so on. But for now, I'm only focused on keeping things as clear and simple as possible. That alone will make a world of difference.

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