Inclusivity Is a Design Principle

Had a fantastic talk with Lynsey Vallandingham, Senior Content Designer at HubSpot about:

  • Why content is a big deal at HubSpot
  • How to avoid using jargon
  • How to write inclusive products
  • Why you should meet with your users in person
  • How to create inclusivity guidelines

I really enjoyed this conversation!

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Show notes

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Inclusivity guidelines byHubspot written by Erin Couse (She/ Her)

Lynsey Vallandingham on Linkedin


Hello, and welcome to writers in tech podcast brought to you by the trending hub platform for UX writing writers and content designers. Our mission is to help you to find success in the field of UX writing and content designed to help companies to understand this practice a bit better, and we’re doing it by speaking with the most talented designers and writers on Earth. Today, I have a very special guest. Her name is Lindsey verlangen. Him. Lindsey is a senior content designer at HubSpot, and I’m very excited to have her today. In her free time agency. He’s a gamer as well.

Ready? Wait, I’m excited to have you here. It was awesome to speak with you about gaming. Right before we started this conversation.

Lynsey Vallandingham  1:19  

Oh, I love it. I could talk about it for probably too long.

Yuval Keshtcher  1:24  

Very cool. So Lindsay, I would like to know, how did you get into the field of content design?

Lynsey Vallandingham  1:30  

It’s a great question. I probably like a lot of other folks who get into this discipline actually feel like it’s kind of like a UX thing. A lot of people get into UX from a lot of different ways. It seems like so myself, I was an English major. As a kid, I spent a lot of time like doing like technical stuff. Like I like spending time on the computer and gaming. Like I said before, I worked at Apple for a little while and was a genius there for a couple years. So I’ve got a little bit of a genius is like there. It’s not a thing anymore, I don’t think but it used to be basically the people who would work on your computer or your phone to like fix it. Or that’s what I that’s what I did for a little while. And then what ended up happening is like I’ve had this retail background and sort of a technical background, I got into HubSpot in a support position because that’s what I knew. But I also had this writing background. So any kind of way that I can look to use my writing background at HubSpot. I tried to do that. So I ended up doing some documentation and being a technical writer at HubSpot for a little while, actually created the original technical writer position at HubSpot, which we have many of those now, which is awesome. Well, and then for a long period of time, HubSpot only had one what was called a UX writer at the time. And she sort of was able to hire and she hired two UX writers, myself and another UX writer at the same time back in 2017. So it was kind of a winding path to this discipline that honestly, I didn’t know a whole lot about. Amazing. So during the transition from, you know, customer support with technical writing to UX writing, what a journey. Yeah.

Yuval Keshtcher  3:14  

And to the people here in the audience that are not sure. What is HubSpot. Exactly. So what is HubSpot? Is it about which kind of tool it is. It’s

Lynsey Vallandingham  3:23  

that’s a great question. HubSpot is SaaS software. So, basically, it’s Software as a Service, right. But basically, it’s it’s a lot of different combined software marketing, sales service software, to make marketers lives easier, as well as

Yuval Keshtcher  3:38  

sales folks. Exactly. And to the folks out there that want to know you can use it for like email automation. If you have like a mailing list. You can use it as a CRM, if you know if you need to manage your customers properly when you start to work as technical writers. So there were like different, like API’s and like technical automations that you can connect to it and do all kinds of crazy stuff with HubSpot. And that’s a massive tool. And by the way, what I really love about HubSpot is the content marketing as well. It’s like, people over there are doing fantastic job and it seems like content is a really big deal at HubSpot.

Lynsey Vallandingham  4:21  

Definitely. I don’t actually do anything with the marketing content side or like the marketing side. I exclusively work on the content that’s in the product. But I think what’s really cool about HubSpot is content marketing is that it feels like to me even as somebody who kind of feels I kind of feel like a little outside of it feels very genuine and people centered, which is something that I think is like a hubs like is very, very HubSpot II, as we say is that we definitely focus on the people and I think that that’s something that translates to my day to day in the product as well as we’re always thinking about how this helps people.

Yuval Keshtcher  4:55  

Amazing and is there any connection between the immediate You’re not part of the marketing operations. But is there like marketing stuff that you need to put inside of the copy of the actual product? And there is some kind of communication between the teams?

Lynsey Vallandingham  5:09  

Yes, there’s definitely communication, I often feel like part of my job is to keep, I’m not trying to sound mean. But it’s to keep the marketing out of the product as much as possible. Because I don’t want to necessarily think about how I’m trying to sell this product. I want to think about how this product adds value for the user. And I think it translates. So a lot of this conversation comes up a lot with like, if we think about naming stuff in the product, we work pretty closely with product marketing managers on that, because we need to work with them on what they think is the most valuable part of the thing that we’re releasing and like how other users are talking about it, and how other markets are thinking about it, and how other companies are thinking about it. So we definitely have conversations with them. But when it comes to me, it’s my job is always to, I always think about is just being simple and straightforward as possible.

Yuval Keshtcher  6:02  

Amazing. And can share with us few challenges that you had. Well, you know, you’ve been doing it for a few years now. But if your challenges that you had while working on a product of HubSpot, because there are many like products inside of HubSpot products, right?

Lynsey Vallandingham  6:20  

The way that we work, we have, I think, a little bit more than just over 10 content designers. Now, when I started in 2017, there were two of us. So we’ve grown pretty quickly, which is really great. It’s really exciting. So because of that we we work embedded on specific teams, instead of trying to operate more as a service model or service provider where we’re trying to help everybody do a little bit of everything. We try to work at a smaller ratio with our product designers. So I actually think I worked with about five product designers right now. But they all work on our reporting product. So I exclusively actually work on the reporting side of what we do at HubSpot. So the reporting product means there is some kind of a dashboard for me as a user. So I could see like the open rates of my emails and stuff like that, right.

Yuval Keshtcher  7:05  

Yep. dashboards and reports. This is the two big ones. All right. And that’s a big challenge, right? You know, you need to do some like customer to positions and you need to data visualizations, stuff like that.

Lynsey Vallandingham  7:17  

Absolutely. So that’s what’s interesting is, and I think this is going to be pretty familiar to a lot of UX folks is You talk a lot about maybe the user types are personas, those are things that we hear a lot about. And there are certainly particular parts of you know, maybe specific products who are helping specific people do something, HubSpot to your point. And what we talked about before, does a lot for a lot of different people. But even within HubSpot, you could have certain parts or certain tools that are made, maybe there’s something that’s made just sort of for for this for a salesperson or a sales manager, or another part that’s made mostly for marketers and marketing managers. But reporting does everything for everybody. So that’s one thing that’s really difficult. And he’s always a challenge for me is not just what the user is trying to do at the time, but like who is the user and at any given time, it could be almost anybody dealing with with reporting inside of HubSpot,

Yuval Keshtcher  8:11  

right. It can be writers, business owners, email marketing managers can be many, many people. Yeah, it

Lynsey Vallandingham  8:18  

could be somebody who works in HubSpot day to day all day. And they’re doing like the nitty gritty work and or it could be like an executive who needs to see how that individual contributor is performing and how their business is doing overall. So it’s a big, big spectrum. Amazing.

Yuval Keshtcher  8:34  

And is there any way to like, find some, you know, maybe references for other reporting systems to understand, like, how to design the best reporting system? Or how to write it in the best possible way that you can?

Lynsey Vallandingham  8:46  

That’s a good question. Anytime I’m looking at a new challenge. I feel like it would be remiss for me to not look at how other folks are doing it. I feel like every situation in every project kind of has a different need. So I think it really depends on on what you’re working on. Like there’s some things that, you know, maybe we’re looking to add into HubSpot that other use other companies have already done, and looking to them for some sort of guidance on not just like how not how they’re doing it. I think that that’s less important, but more important to understand how they’re doing it, because that is a user’s expectations now, and it’s how users think about things and how users talk about things. So there’s always a time where you want to look to other people to understand what’s out there to understand where you fit in the market, but also to understand what our expectations and I think that to me and what I do that’s more important. And you have any other ways to figure out what are the users expectations are user research, user research, user research.

Yuval Keshtcher  9:48  

And how do you do that?

Lynsey Vallandingham  9:49  

Well, we have UX researchers, as well, at HubSpot, and we work really closely with them. It’s really typical when we’re working on something new. Whether that’s Like a brand new thing that we’re working on, or we’re redesigning something, or we’re trying to understand something that we’ve had, we’ve heard like customer pain on, I’ll work really closely with UX researchers to draft up scripts for discussions, work with the product designers on, you know, prototypes for for those discussions and making sure that we’re asking good content questions, along with all the other questions. That’s one thing that I’ve found making content decisions. I always feel like I need to hear valid feedback from the user in some aspect, like either through research or through, like qualitative or quantitative feedback. I don’t really want to make those decisions just based on my gut, because I’m not the user. That’s that’s them. So being able to work with UX researchers, at the time that they’re doing other research is really vital, because I don’t think that it’s really difficult to ask content questions out of context. I think asking the content questions, you want to ask it along with all the other questions that you’re asking, like what a user is trying to do? Because otherwise, I think you’re, you’re kind of operating in a vacuum. And I don’t think you’re going to get the right answer there either. So being able to be a part of the process that’s sort of already happening, just a voice for content has worked really well for me. Amazing.

Yuval Keshtcher  11:15  

Do you have maybe a scenario where your guts it’s one thing about how it should be written, but your data told you otherwise?

Lynsey Vallandingham  11:26  

Yeah, definitely. I’m not sure if I can think of a specific project or phrase or anything like that. But I can definitely say that. I’m constantly trying to think of how to say things simpler, and how to make things easy to understand to reduce cognitive load to improve task completion, right? If you do all of those things, then you’re making it easier for the user to use your product, you’re making it easier for them to be successful. One thing that I worked on recently was actually some new sales reporting that we did inside HubSpot, we added some new reports, for sort of our sales managers to be able to monitor like, their pipelines, we added new reports like deal pipeline waterfall, and like waterfall reports, are like, I don’t know to you and me, maybe we’re like waterfall, I don’t really understand what what that means. But to a sales manager. They know that exact word, they know exactly what it means. And they know exactly what they’re looking for. So you have like some of these language that could come up as, as feeling jargony is feeling like hard to understand. But when you step back, you think about the user who you’re trying to make this for. And then you have those discussions with them, they have a very specific thing that they’re looking for. and accommodating for that. And going with that terminology means just makes more sense, even though maybe it didn’t feel right, initially. Well,

Yuval Keshtcher  12:46  

like, it happens to me also, when I you know, go to this project. And I To be honest, you have this discussion with the developers, the developers tell you, they’re so in love with the product where and where they think that the jargon that they’re using is like, okay, and everybody gets it, but at the same time you think nobody gets it. Exactly. It’s clear. But then you talk to your users, and then they can decide.

Lynsey Vallandingham  13:13  

Yeah, exactly. And that’s what a lot of content designers do. They see jargon, and they just want to put a red pen through so quickly, and like get it out of there. But I was there at the beginning when we were building this product. And so I was in the room when we were having a lot of these discussions about exactly what reports people were looking for. And exactly their expectations around it and hearing them talk about deal pipeline waterfall and pushing and pulling deals. And I’m just like, Why don’t that doesn’t mean anything to me. But it it meant it meant everything to them. They understood it completely and clearly. And they had expectations around seeing that in the product.

Yuval Keshtcher  13:48  

Amazing. Having them put it through. actually putting it in the product is amazing. And then it makes it much more intuitive for them.

Lynsey Vallandingham  13:57  

Right. And because at that point, if I push against that, because I don’t think it’s clear, like that’s really unfair to them. And it makes them learn to new terminology for for no reason other than something that I think is better.

Yuval Keshtcher  14:12  

Right. I have a question about during the transition from technical writing to UX writing, is there any like similarities or things that feels completely different in that?

Lynsey Vallandingham  14:23  

It feels completely different? To be honest, like, honestly, when I got into the UX writing role, it was back in 2017. I think content design was still kind of a fairly new concept. At that point. We were hired as UX writers and my expectations around it like I the way that I think about content design. And the way that we talk about it at HubSpot is sort of as these two major like principles or jobs that you do within content design, and it’s sort of content review, and then content strategy. And the content strategy is that early work right where you like working with your partners on design concept, and like really understanding the user goal and being able to frame things for those users early on, and through the process, versus the content review, which is what I mostly thought about when I was first starting in the job, which is like, you know, fixing labels and making buttons better. And like the very nitty gritty copy sort of stuff, and the Polish filing style, guide, voice and tone, that kind of thing. And as I got into the role of UX writer, I realized, I had a lot more impact on design decisions. And then I had ever thought that I would, because what would happen is I would sit down with a product designer, who was already way deep in their design process. And they were coming to me saying, Hey, can you look at this flow, and help me understand like, this parts, kind of confusing to users, and this parts kind of confusing to users as like, maybe terminology or labels or something, and I start going through and I’m like, well, because like the content doesn’t really fit your flow, or it doesn’t fit the container like it doesn’t really, the way that you’re trying to move that content or the person through the space doesn’t really make sense for the content. And so then you end up kind of backtracking and doing a lot more or like having a lot more say over the design and less around just making sure that the content that they do have just fits the style guide and is clear, if that makes sense.

Yuval Keshtcher  16:17  

It makes sense.

Lynsey Vallandingham  16:19  

Yeah, so it was definitely a lot more. It’s a lot more designed. But I think, for technical writing you the one thing I do think about is the simplicity you so in technical writing, do you want to be straightforward and keep things very simple, because a user at that point is it’s a totally different mindset. But you’re still thinking about the user. And when a user gets to a help article, they’re probably already frustrated or confused, or they’re not sure what they’re doing. So the The point is to be clear, and to get the user to exactly the right answer as quickly as possible. And I think it’s, you can translate that mentality a little bit. But the focus is entirely different.

Yuval Keshtcher  16:58  

Amazing. That’s an interesting point you had there. Because many times people say okay, so both of them instruct the user to do stuff. But contextually it’s just different. And I agree with you. Yeah. And I had a question about that. You said that you were recruited first, as a UX writer, note, content designer. To be honest, when we started out, we started, you know, the UX writing hub, I knew I knew that the world is going to change because there was never alignment with the titles. That’s why I decided to call the podcast writers in tech, because they knew nailed it. But now, I guess we would have to rebrand ourselves. I don’t like the name, content, design hub. I just don’t like it. So I have to wing it somehow.

Lynsey Vallandingham  17:45  

That’s fair. I mean, I think writers and tech covers, I still consider myself a writer. And a lot of what I do is about writing. But I think the discipline still has a lot of problems around naming. And you still see that a lot like content design is becoming the title that you see more, but you still see UX writer, and I’m like, every time I see UX writer, I’m like, I know you really do. And you’re not just a UX writer, you’re a designer. And every time I work with a new product designer, it’s always an interesting experience. Because a lot of times they’ve never worked with a content designer, because it’s such a new discipline. And so I always we have like, actually a presentation like a Google slide deck of like, here’s how you work with me. And here’s how I want to work with you. Because it’s it’s it can be a complicated relationship to get right anyway, it’s it’s a dynamic that’s difficult to nail. But the UX writers definitely still do that content design piece of it, in UX writing, to me is more of like a job within content design. It’s like a thing you do as part of your content design. Interesting.

Yuval Keshtcher  18:45  

So as a content designer, you’re in charge of like the content strategy, the UX writing, and also the product design. And,

Lynsey Vallandingham  18:52  

yeah, more or less. And because of the way that we work, I can’t work on every project that our product is working on. Just because I am one person, then there’s five of them working on their specific things. But I work across all stages of design. So sometimes, there’s maybe a particular thing that we’re working on that has a really high content need. Maybe it’s really content heavy, or it’s just really important to the business. And it’s something that the business really thinks is super valuable and is impactful, and I should be working on. So I’ll work on that. From the beginning. Like I said, I was working on this sales reporting that we did. And that was a whole new experience that we created for the Sales Users. It had a whole new UI, it had whole new everything, using common patterns, but a new experience. And so I worked from from day one on that with a product designer who was designing it and meeting with with customers. So you you become basically a partnership throughout that. So in that example, if I was working on that I have other product designers that I work with who are working on other things, but I don’t have the bandwidth to be able to work with them to that degree on every project that they’re working on if I’m already doing that on another one. So sometimes that means coming in later on and maybe doing a content audit and being like, here are the issues that I see I’ve I’ve certainly done that before, where I had a team I wasn’t able to work on for a while who were very far down the path of already building out something. And they were just like, Hey, we’re, you know, we’re talking to users, and we’re hearing sort of the same things come up in the same confusing things related to content, we’d love for you to take a look and dive into it and tell us how we can address those issues. So it’s everything across all of those different jobs as content design and UX writing?

Yuval Keshtcher  20:31  

Do you think that the rich, you should be better than one writer per five? designers? For example?

Unknown Speaker  20:38  


Yuval Keshtcher  20:39  

What would be the perfect thresher,

Lynsey Vallandingham  20:41  

we’ve definitely talked about this a lot. I think most of the time we’re bringing up landing is is somewhere like 123123 would be really good. That would be mine as well, by the way. 123123. And

Yuval Keshtcher  20:54  

by the way, the data of our salary survey, and the data of our Facebook group says 23 is the best restaurant so

Lynsey Vallandingham  21:02  

Oh, well, that’s really good to know, actually, because we’ve we’ve definitely had a lot of conversations at HubSpot about that. And I think everybody, as far as content designers go, I don’t know that the people that I work with are amazing. But they are so good at taking on what they what they get. And it’s difficult to say no, when you want to help and taking on more than you should, even though you’re like, yeah, I can totally work with six or seven, eight product designers. And you’re like, yeah, you can, but to what degree and like to what quality? And like how happy are you? And how stressed Are you look, you know, like all of those things come into play.

Yuval Keshtcher  21:44  

Exactly. So based on that survey that we did, and 750 people filled it. So 123 is a perfect ratio of people that have a one to three ratio, feel like they have sit at a table, higher rate, and feel happier to work and usually also have better salaries as well. So all good things are good things. Yeah. If there are any recruiting hiring managers out there. How many writers? Yes, absolutely,

Lynsey Vallandingham  22:14  


Yuval Keshtcher  22:15  

I know that you mentioned your style guide before. And I saw the article that you’ve shared in your blog about how you edit inclusivity into your content style guide at HubSpot. So what was the process of that like? Yeah,

Lynsey Vallandingham  22:33  

so we recently published a blog article on our our production engineering blog on HubSpot. And it’s titled inclusivity is a design principle and one of our content designers Aaron worked on that she authored it and I helped her a little bit, she and I worked together. I guess a few months ago now on really addressing inclusivity as a design principle, not just something that is sort of part of other content guidelines, because we had those before, but really extracting that out as its own thing. And addressing things beyond just certain terminology that you you do and don’t want to use. But also thinking about like not making assumptions around how people feel about things, or how they use things that this comes back to like the this is simple or easy. I don’t want to say that, you know, but also removing bias and thinking about a content translates. And that has to do with accessibility inclusivity as well. And making sure that people feel like a product is made for them is, is all part of that. But of course it’s it’s not using slang and not using ablest language and all of those things. So like there’s so much that I think content designers have in their head. And this is a lot of this that was always in our head. And we were always mindful of but we didn’t really flesh it out and give it sort of the spotlight that it deserved. And you feel like you received some feedback from your community of hub spotters,

Yuval Keshtcher  24:06  

since you’ve decided to create more inclusive language. Do you have that kind of direct feedback system that you can actually know the impact of the driving?

Lynsey Vallandingham  24:16  

Yes, I guess there’s nothing really quantitative. But we’ve heard really great feedback. We worked really closely when we were creating the section with hub spots, like internal team for diversity, inclusion and belonging to make sure that this was something that was covering all bases and felt right. And we want it to be something that is a conversation as well and that constantly is changing as it needs to be. So we’re almost always having conversations and almost always hearing feedback. We recently sort of extracted out as well in our in our design system. We used to kind of have content really didn’t get the spotlight and it was basically voice and tone. section that was more about word choice. And we’ve pulled that out and hadn’t made a whole content section. So I think when we did that a lot of people were really excited about that. So a lot of our, at least from our UX organization, a lot of our product designers are really excited to be able to have all of this guidance because they think that they feel like, this is something that they want to be able to do on their own as well. And they don’t want to have to come to us to be like, Can I use this word? Can I use that word, or like, really being able to understand those things on their own is something that they want to do? Amazing,

Yuval Keshtcher  25:31  

this is such a great resource, I’m going to show it on our newsletter, like the do’s and don’ts section in that blog post, for example, to say, Hey, everyone, instead of Hey guys, or to say there instead of his or her, despising, like how to create language that, you know, don’t hurt anyone. That’s pretty awesome. So I’ll show that in the newsletter.

Lynsey Vallandingham  25:56  

Thanks. Yeah, that’d be great.

Yuval Keshtcher  25:57  

All right. So we’re about to finish our episode, I, first of all, I want to say I had a lot of fun. And I learned a lot. It was really cool. So thank you for that. Thanks for having me. Really cool. And now it’s the fun part when we need to figure out how to name this episode. So he said something about like, inclusivity is a design principle. So I really like that. You know, that can be a really cool name or, but we also talked a lot about, like, you know, how to work with designers, and how the ratio between designers and writers should be, and about your transition from technical writing through exciting. So I don’t know, I don’t know, what do you think?

Lynsey Vallandingham  26:36  

Yeah, I mean, I feel like for the sake of sharing the more important information, it should probably be about inclusivity. Even though I think it’s really funny how I kind of I mean, I do look back on how I got into the job, becoming a UX writer and being like, this isn’t what I thought it was, but for like, for better, you know, but I think inclusivity is just especially these, not just with everything going on everywhere in the world, that inclusivity is just so important. And I often feel like unless So today, but have often felt like, for a long time that inclusivity is just an afterthought, as it relates to you know, a lot of the stuff servitors always talks about with accessibility and plain language. And like all of those things are really coming to the forefront. And I think that’s really good and important for everybody to keep in mind all the time. And not just content designers, but everybody in UX, and everybody in product, local. So we’ll go with the inclusivity one. Yeah, I think so.

Yuval Keshtcher  27:38  

It’s too important. Sounds good. Thanks,

Lindsay. Thank you so much. It was a pleasure to have you. And yeah, I’d love to hear more from in the future.

Lynsey Vallandingham  27:47  

Thank you very much.

Yuval Keshtcher  27:49  

So thank you for joining us today, everyone. For another writers and tech podcast brought to you by the UX writing hub. Feel free to check the show notes where we’re going to show all of the articles and resources we talked about inclusivity as a design principle, guide, and also registration to our newsletter, and check it out. So thank you so much, and I’ll see you on the next episode of writers in tech. Bye.

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