STORIES

Writing the metaverse: Meta’s VP of content design on the future of the discipline

CAREERS
CONTENT DESIGN
Design at Meta
6 min read
December 6, 2021
Elisabeth Carr stands facing front, smiling.

SUMMARY

Meta’s head of content design shares what’s ahead for the field.



When content designer Elisabeth Carr joined a small group of writers at what was then Facebook, Inc., in 2012, she didn’t imagine that she’d eventually lead one of the biggest teams in the industry at a company that would grow to support over 68,000 employees. Today, she serves as our VP of content design and has had a key role in our pivot to Meta. Here, Elisabeth talks with us about her career, content design’s role at Meta, its evolution, and more.



Q: You lead Meta's global content design team. Can you tell us about the discipline?


I like to say that content designers give Meta a voice, and we do that by designing through words. Content designers use words to help people build a relationship with our company, and I think of our role as being a bridge between our products and the people who use them. We guide people through their experiences, ensure that they know how to use our products and what their choices are, and help them understand what decisions they need to make.



All Meta technologies connect people and help build community. To that end, our team's mission is to use language to design simple, straightforward and human experiences. We're connecting billions of people around the world. And so content designers always think about keeping those people at the center of how we design our products.



There are a lot of ways that we do that. Writing is clearly one of our skills, but really, we’re user experience and design thinkers — we think about information architecture, the paths people want to take through interactions or platforms, and how our work incorporates visual design and product design.



A content designer holds a laptop and stands among human-sized wireframes.

Q: Working with words can mean different things. What are some kinds of work that content designers do across Meta technologies?



Words and written communications are the tip of the iceberg for content designers — so much work goes into the decisions that we make and the strategy beneath the work that we do. A lot of what content design does is also in partnership with our larger design community. We are part of the Design at Meta community, and that includes product designers, user experience (UX) researchers, sound designers, and design program managers. We partner with them, as well as product managers, engineers and data scientists to consider the entire product experience. The words are the end product, but so much of the work is in determining what we need to say to people and how to guide them through an experience–that takes collaboration.



In these collaborations, we take a systems-focused approach to the content experience and how it connects across the entire company and all of our products. We're thinking about our standards, where we need to remain consistent, and where we need to deviate from one app to another. Content designers are embedded in every product team across Meta—we work on Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp, Meta Quest, Portal and other technologies. Content designers are also embedded within teams working on integrity, social impact, privacy, business products, advertiser tools, as well as within Reality Labs, which is pioneering a lot of our work in the metaverse.



Although we're embedded across different teams and the type of work we do varies from product to product, one throughline is that we have to collaborate extremely well. One of the most important results of this collaboration–in regard to terminology and content standards–is excellent UX writing and our ability to communicate across the entire world. We work hard to drive alignment, create robust standards and be consistent so that people can understand how to navigate our products as part of an entire ecosystem.



Q: How has content design at Meta evolved over time?




I joined the team in 2012, so January 2022 will be my 10th “Metaversary.” When I started, I think I was the eighth content designer on the team. We all worked only on Facebook because there were no other apps at the time. We also mostly designed and wrote for the web in a desktop experience. At the time, we were beginning to shift to mobile, and that happened in my first year at the company.



When the company was smaller, we content designers were spread across many products and would often shift our focus to whatever was the highest priority for the business. But now, content designers are embedded in specific product teams for a long time, so we can develop subject matter expertise, relationships, and context. I think that's how we can have the most impact and also grow in our careers.



Years ago, content design quality control was easier because we all sat together. We would just swivel our desk chairs and get feedback on our work from each other. This meant we could easily be in touch about how our thinking and standards were evolving. One of us could turn to another and ask, "are we saying ‘decline’ or ‘can’t go’?" And as we've grown and matured, we've tried to maintain that sense of giving and receiving feedback. It’s a part of our culture, and we embrace the belief that our work can always be improved, whether by other content designers or our partners. We've also invested in standards development and better documentation and communication, and quality processes such as content reviews. These help us make sure that we're maintaining excellent and consistent content.



Q: The Meta brand marks a new chapter for the company. How will content design play a role in shaping Meta?



Unveiling our new company brand was such a pivotal moment for us because it signals the future we're going to be building as one content design team. So much work went into it, and I feel lucky that I got to be involved, but now we really have to define what Meta is and bring it to life. Content design is the team that has always shepherded our voice, and we’re honored to continue this responsibility with Meta. Earlier I mentioned our core content principles around being simple, straightforward and human — those will always be the core tenets of our voice — but this is an opportunity to step back and explore how the metaverse may evolve our work and help people understand the new products that we’ll be developing.



Q: How do you think the metaverse will change content design as a discipline? And how will we use content design to help build the metaverse?




The metaverse is exciting, and we're all still wrapping our heads around what it means for content design. One thing I do feel strongly about is that we're all going to be building the metaverse together. It's not just going to be one product team. All content designers are going to have an opportunity to help build this future of social interaction and experience.



While there will be different types of new technology, hardware, software and experiences, we want to make sure that we center our technologies on people and their needs first and foremost. We need to think about how they're going to navigate and interact with this new technology, hardware and content. The metaverse represents a huge shift from our current state of mobile and web mental models, to much more interactive spatial paradigms.



The role of a content designer will be to help bring people along and guide them through that change. One example of this is that people will need to navigate 3D experiences in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) through hand controllers and unique gestures—like a pinch. Content designers are going to need to explain to people how to do these kinds of specific movements to interact with their environment.



Another thing that we’ll be thinking about is how products connect across the different form factors and even across 2D and 3D experiences. People will want to experience the metaverse in a variety of contexts or levels of immersion, whether those are more gaming experiences, work experiences or something totally new. So the language we use across these has to be consistent. That way, no matter what kind of metaverse experience people have, these experiences will be grounded in a common terminology.



Q: The metaverse will open up a lot of opportunities, but it could also create some complex challenges. How are you thinking about this within content design?



These new products and concepts have major implications because they mean introducing people to complex new technologies and addressing new privacy, safety, and integrity concerns. All the work we’ve done over the years to integrate content design into product development and strategy — we can take that depth of experience with us into the future that we’re building.



On the Privacy content design team, our mission is to empower Meta to communicate in a way that builds understanding and confidence in how we honor people's privacy. We design transparency controls like Access Your Information, which allows users to see all their personal information in one place so that they can understand it and choose to archive or delete any information they don’t want Meta to use. The goal is to give people a simple, straightforward and human way of understanding what data Meta collects and how we use it to improve their product experiences.



In building and designing products, it’s critical that we focus on protecting our community and their voice. That means we're working every day to reduce negative experiences across our technologies, give people the ability to easily report things that they believe don't belong on Facebook or Instagram, and bring more transparency to our policies, standards and safety tools.



We are designing and thinking about the user experience for these future technologies and building for integrity, safety, and privacy — because that is at the core of everything we do. We need these elements woven into every Meta product if we are going to succeed, and content design is a critical piece of this.



Q: What does empathy mean for a content designer?



Empathy is one of the key attributes I often see in content designers because it’s rooted in feeling and translating that feeling into language. One way we think about this is by putting people at the center of how we build products. That means trying to mirror the feelings someone might be experiencing when they're using a Meta product with the appropriate tone for the situation. We know that what we say and how we say it really matters to people. That’s why our team uses one tool called the "tone framework" that helps us modulate tone. It catalogs a broad range of tones that we can align our language around based on what someone may be feeling. For example, we can be supportive if you're going through something difficult, or if it’s my birthday, Facebook might say “Happy Birthday, Elisabeth!” Being able to acknowledge and validate people’s emotions in this way is a critical part of how we think about empathy as content designers.



Q: How did you get into content design?



It wasn't a direct path, but I’ve always been passionate about words, reading, writing and language. From an early age, I’ve always wanted to communicate with people with whom I might not normally be able to communicate, whether due to physical distance or a language barrier. For this reason, I was really interested in learning a second language, and Spanish made the most sense for me. In college I also worked at my school’s writing center where I helped people edit their papers and gave them feedback on things like structure, grammar, voice and tone. That translates a lot to what I do here. Later, I worked in journalism at Sunset Magazine, and then I went to Chile and taught English for a year on a Fulbright scholarship. And then, when I came back, having grown up in the Bay Area, and with Silicon Valley being here, technology felt like the obvious career path for me to pursue. That's when I discovered the content design discipline, and it was my love of language and communication (and a desire to communicate things succinctly and thoughtfully for people) that made me want to pursue this as my calling.



Q: What are some steps people can take to pursue a career in content design?



There are so many different ways to get involved in content design! To start, we have a team page and some great posts on the Design at Meta site and there are lots of articles across the web that give a great overview of the discipline. There are also some online groups in different regions and conferences that can help build connections with other content designers who are doing this type of work.



I should also add that the work we do can be referred to by different names, and it can sometimes be a little difficult to distinguish between terms. I wrote a piece about how we shifted our official title to “content design” in late 2020. This name is now taking hold as the standard across our industry to describe work on user experiences and product content development.



Overall, our field is still so new, relatively speaking, that a lot of people don't know that this is a possible career path. That’s why we’ve pioneered some great programs that help make people more aware of our discipline. Our internship program is perfect for people who are in school — either undergraduate or graduate. We also have our Return to Work program for those who have been out of the workforce for 2+ years and need some support in re-activating and sharpening their skills. Return to Work hires people for a four-month project on a specific team with a content design mentor and creates opportunities for them to convert to full-time employees at the end of their project. Our content design team also hosts regular community events, which include a panel of speakers from Meta and group discussions around designing for inclusion.



All these programs are geared toward increasing more diverse representation and creating more opportunities for people who otherwise might have a hard time getting their foot in the door. We're dedicated to building an extremely diverse and inclusive team because we need to be able to communicate with the whole world, and our content design team needs to reflect this.





Elisabeth leads one of the largest content design teams in the industry. Of that responsibility, she says: “We’re one of the companies on the cutting edge of the discipline, and we need to give back to grow the field across the world. It has been such an honor for me to lead the content design team and I'm really excited for our next chapter at Meta.”



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