What's in a Name? (And Why I Hate the Word "Content")

I'm feeling angsty lately, and it's not just because of my first ever Twitter debate. I am a woman of words, but I haven't found the right words for what I do with content. I've been reading Mike Monteiro's Design is a Job (one of very few books I've given five stars) and found myself feeling out of place but in the best kind of ways.

(Okay the best kind of ways really happen in Austin, where you see things like a dude walking his dog on a unicycle. Seriously, I can't make this shit up. Moving on though.)

I'm going to bring you back to your SAT days with this analogy, inspired by a man who likes Tastykakes more than your average California resident:

Designer : Artist :: BLANK : Writer

When I say "writer," I'm talking about creative writers—you know, the kind who sit around drinking absinthe and scribbling out poetry... and hanging out with painters. These are pure artists; they create art for its own sake, not deliberately intending for it to fulfill a practical purpose.

Design (once called "commercial art" long, long ago in a land far away) take elements of art and make it work for its money. Good design can delight and challenge in the same ways good art does—but it starts with an agenda. I'd argue that art with an agenda is walking the line of design.

Writing a novel with an agenda, on the other hand, is a fast way to get bitch slapped by an editor. Creative writing that trends toward intentional messaging may be a sin, but the upside is that "commercial writing" that trends toward the artistic (think storytelling rather than fact-spewing) is desirable.

That's good news for me because personally, I prefer to create things with a purpose and I prefer to do it in a way that people actually enjoy. I love art and literature, but what I want to spend my time making is something with a goal in mind. That's just the way I roll. Unfortunately, my Dad is still telling me I need to write the next Harry Potter novel to make it big with my word skillz.

So going back to my lovely analogy. I'm the BLANK and there's good reason why I'm struggling to fill it in. The problem with the label "content strategist" is that it implies strategy only, not execution. Something like "copywriter" implies the opposite (production without high-level architecture). I do both. I love both.

I'm more than a content cow, but less than a strategic saint.

In his book, Monteiro uses the phrase "information designer" (he rails against the label "information architect") which I like better than "content strategist" because anyone who understand what real design is understands that strategic thought drives what ultimately "looks pretty." I'm not a super big fan of "information," however, because it implies pure fact and structure without the seriously important nuance of tone and feelings in addition to downright useful information.

Then again, here's another confession: I don't like the word "content."

I was so relieved at BarCamp Philly this year when one of the speakers, David Dylan Thomas, said as much during a session. My beef with the word is that it's a catch-all and I almost always prefer to be specific with my word choices. (Related: I also hate the word "specialist" for the same reason.) But, as he pointed out, it seems to be a necessary evil for now.

So if I need to stick with "content" to avoid pigeonholing myself and the word "designer" accomplishes what I intend from the strategy-execution combo perspective, should I call myself a "content designer"? Somehow it doesn't feel quite right. It feels like I should know how to use Photoshop better.

I really want to know what other people think. If you're like me, what do you call yourself and are you satisfied with that label? If you're a designer, how do you feel about me calling myself a designer of words? I know what I can do matters more than what I'm called, but as a lover of words, I want to find the right ones to convey my meaning!