What I’ve learned over the last few years

Working on some designs with Peter Loveland, Vikki Paterson, and Chloe Poulter. Photo courtesy of Sam Winslet.

Words matter

I’ve always known this, having been an incurable bookworm, pun aficionado, lover of lyrics, and wannabe writer for as long as I can remember. But until fairly recently, there wasn’t a whole lot of evidence that the business world cared all that much about, well, words.

Thankfully, things have changed.

But, before I go on, let me briefly relay how I came to be a Content Designer. After completing an English degree, I spent the first 10 years of my career in a variety of traditional writing roles (writing training resources; writing…


The story of how we established a vibrant content design guild

Photo of two sets of feet standing on a pavement with the text “Passion led us here”.
Photo of two sets of feet standing on a pavement with the text “Passion led us here”.
Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

My super talented colleague Maranda Bodas and I were recently given the opportunity to present on this topic, so we thought we’d also share some of the main points we covered in a short article. Note that while this article tells the story of us establishing a content design community of practice, most of the learning points should be applicable to forming any community of practice.

1) The setting for our story…

Maranda and I both work at a large corporation. And when we say large, we really do mean large:

  • Over 350,000 employees, based in over 170 countries
  • Many business units, each operating fairly autonomously


Some of the things I’ve learned so far…

Image credit: Trinette Reed via Stocksy

I recently turned 40, which seems like quite a milestone. I’ve been reflecting a little on my life thus far and so thought I’d share some of the key lessons that I’ve learned / am learning along the way.

Goals and productivity


Examining our attitude towards risk

Do you consider yourself to be a risk taker? Or are you very risk adverse? Does the image above of the man jumping across rocks fill you with excitement or with fear? Or perhaps a mixture of the two?

I’d probably place myself somewhere between those two extremes, though I’m possibly nearer the risk-adverse side of the scale. In many ways I’m a pretty sensible, law-abiding, mild-mannered Englishman. I drive sensibly, wear goggles when doing DIY, and I’ve certainly never been tempted to throw myself out of an airplane.

But regardless of where you or…


How might we foster environments where meaningful collaboration happens more often?

Photo credit: Phil Coffman

Note: This article loosely builds upon one I published previously about communication. If you want to read that one first, here’s a link:

Experiencing the wonders of radical collaboration

Growing up, my friends and I used to hang out at various live music venues in Brighton, one of which was an old jazz club. It was a smoky, dingy, dive of a place and you never really knew quite what to expect when you got there. Sometimes you’d find a jazz trio or quartet playing through a repertoire of jazz standards, but the magic really…


Image credit: “My Life Through A Lens” via Unsplash

I’ve spent a lot of time recently discussing content with different people: the skill, the role, the need, the value, the how, and the why. I’ve researched, listened, debated, and presented. But today I thought I’d try something different: a poem.

On Content Design

When I’m out and about the question gets asked:

“What is it that you do for work, Tom?”

I smile and I pause, then I say with great pride:

“I’m a Content Designer. I’m on the user’s side!”

“A content what?” (their faces showing surprise)

“Wait, is that writing the docs?” they quickly surmise.

“Well, no. And yes. But…


A whistle-stop tour of the most common punctuation marks, with example quotes from some of my favorite writers.

Disclaimer: this article is not intended to be an exhaustive treatise covering every aspect of punctuation. That wouldn’t make for a fun Medium post. If you are interested in wading through more comprehensive details than I provide here, you’ll find many good resources available online, such as here.

Okay, let’s start with the three punctuation marks that can be used to close sentences.

The period (.)

The period (or full stop in British English) is placed at the end of sentences and shorter statements intended to be viewed as complete thoughts.


Moving beyond the “but I told them!” mentality.

When group communication resembles spaghetti we’re all in trouble. (Image source.)

“I don’t believe it!”

“What?”

“Those halfwits down in the IT department went and pushed out the product update last night! Now I’ve come in to a mass of angry emails from senior management.”

“But I thought you told them to publish the update yesterday?”

“Well, I did. But only if the user authentication team weren’t planning on changing their API this week — which, it turns out, they did. I clearly told the IT guys to check. In that third email I sent yesterday. Somewhere in the final paragraph…”

This is…


In defense of taking regular time out to immerse oneself in a given topic or narrative.

Photo by a man reading on a bench by Porapak Apichodilok from Pexels

TL;DR¹

In short, I read books because I find that absorbing myself in one topic or narrative for a prolonged chunk of time helps me become a better thinker, writer, designer, and — maybe, just maybe — a better human being. Also because reading brings me joy. 😃

Many of us live incredibly busy lives. When we’re not working we often have family commitments, social engagements, DIY projects, exercise regimes, household chores, pets to look after, etc., etc. …


Some useful principles to help you succeed with any new endeavor.

Original artwork courtesy of my colleague Shaun Lynch

The concepts covered in this article are ones I’ve learned through my work as a software designer at IBM. You can read plenty of articles about how these ideas apply directly to startups, but I believe they also apply to pretty much any area of life, so I thought I’d explore them here in more general terms.

Fail fast

This term is taken from the lean startup methodology; if you’re not already familiar with it, here’s a quick summary (source here):

Fail fast is a philosophy that values extensive testing and…

Tom Waterton

Content Design Lead at IBM Design. Also husband, father, bookworm, brewer, thinker, and writer.

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