Kylee Swenson Gordon is the Global and Americas Content Lead at Autodesk and Editor-in-Chief of their publication Redshift. As she described it, Redshift is “dedicated to telling stories about the future of making and the industries we serve: architecture, infrastructure, construction, and manufacturing.” Before Autodesk, she was a music editor and journalist. She told Wonder Shuttle that there’s an endless amount of stories to tell about design and technology innovations, especially when it comes to how they affect and solve social and environmental issues.
How was the Redshift rebrand as the editor-in-chief in 2016?
It feels like years ago. It was years ago, but it feels like more, because there’s no resting on our laurels. We are continually expanding. My manager [Editorial Director] Dusty DiMercurio, who has been driving this whole thing since the beginning, he is always thinking three years ahead. Now where we are is leaps and bounds past where we were three years ago when we rebranded.
It was kind of like taking the publication, and all the same stories [about small businesses] from back in 2013, but we’ve expanded to telling stories to businesses of all sizes. We’ve always had this approach that an engineer’s grandmother should be really interested in the story too. We don’t operate like a trade publication. It’s a little bit more digestible to a larger audience, because we are considered awareness content.
The relaunch was great, but now we are a very globally focused team. We have Redshift in eight languages and we’re soon launching a Korean Redshift as well. There are more constraints than we used to have. It’s fun though, because I get to understand what we need in each part of the world.
As an editor, what sort of qualities are you looking for in your stories, that are less quantifiable but just as important to their success?
I want somebody to feel something. Anytime you can have a story that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck. I know it’s not something you’re going to accomplish every time, but every once in a while I’ll get a story with a lead that is like, oh, that’s amazing. You feel something, and I think emotion is just so important in storytelling.
I’ve been a stickler about headlines and lead sentences in particular, because you know you only have two seconds to pull somebody in. So you better have some provocative headline and lead that deliver on the promise. We’re not trying to create click bait.
When a story doesn’t perform very well, I always look at the headline first, and sometimes we’ll change it. For years I was a physical magazine editor, and once it’s out the door, it’s gone. Now you have the luxury of being able to test things. I don’t know that we’ve always seen a big difference later, but that to me is really important.
Editing to me just feels like an art, like you’re taking like a big piece of clay and you’re sculpting it until it just feels right. There’s something so satisfying about being really completely happy with a story. It’s just not going to happen every time.
So how strongly are you considering the SEO of the headline in question?
We are trying to create more of an SEO-driven strategy, working more with it and reverse engineering the story from it. We have a contractor who gives us the SEO possibilities, and sometimes it’s this long-tail keyword that is really hard to write a headline around. It’s a little bit of a negotiation, you might say, “I can’t make a headline out of that, help me find something else.” Or you just have to get really creative to make sure the other words in that 80 character space are provocative.
Are there certain metrics that your team uses?
Obviously UPVs (unique page views) are a big one for us. It’s difficult to say exactly who is reading our content because that’s still a hurdle we’re trying to get over, understanding more about our readership. But we know that the engagement’s really high, we know that our average time on page site-wide is like four and a half minutes. Most people are reading all of the articles, from beginning to end, which has improved over time frankly. It didn’t used to be that high.
How do you find being more of a behind the scenes part of how publication gets made? It takes some adapting for people who are used to having their name on the writing.
If I never saw my byline again, it would be totally fine with me. I just want to be happy and proud of the thing that we’re doing, and I’ve seen my byline enough. I’d rather go ghostwrite for somebody like [CEO] Andrew Anagnost, and have nobody have any idea that I worked on it with him than to have my name on it.
So there are executives publishing in Redshift, is that all ghostwriting?
The only person I actually ghostwrite for would be CEO Andrew Anagnost, but for example, I’m going to be talking to our CHRO this week. I’ll interview her, get that transcript and then I’ll hire a writer.
Many times, the lead is going to be something completely written from scratch, a lot of the transitions too. But I’m trying to use 90% of the words in that transcript so that it really does feel like that person. When I’m ghostwriting, I don’t want it to sound like Kylee Swenson, I want it to sound like Andrew Anagnost, so the only way I’m going to accomplish that is by having a great conversation with him.
Another thing that is really important when we’re teeing up a story is that we create a synopsis. It’s not something I did in my magazine days, but there’s always the story angle and a few bullet points of the things that we want to see in the article, because we don’t have the luxury of time. We want to make sure that the writer turns something in that’s going to be close to what we need it to be.
The job title of editor is growing and changing to encompass the roles that we’ve been talking about. You’re an editor, but maybe you’re spending less of your job doing the actual editing. How do you feel about that?
If I had been earlier in my career, I might’ve thought, “Oh, don’t take this away from me.” My manager has asked me repeatedly to figure out what to delegate, and it’s not something that I ever had the option to do. Working as an editor at a magazine, you have a number of other editors and you have your roles, and you might have one meeting a week. Today, I’ve got seven and a half hours of meetings, so it makes it really hard to actually do the editing.
But I’m at a stage in my career where I’m OK to let go of some things, because I feel like I’m now entering the stage where it’s more important that I am a coach. I’m not passing the torch, I’ve got many years left to work. But I feel like it makes a lot of sense for me to start passing along what I’ve learned, because so many people have done that for me.
Do you have any personal favorite publications that you keep up with and admire?
Right now I am trying to keep so focused on journalism that I’m looking at a lot of the traditional publications like Washington Post, New York Times. I do feel that I need to be really abreast of what is happening politically, especially policy, because it drives a lot of the change in technology and design. Also, just some of those old tried and true publications are really good at telling stories. I want to keep my standards high by reading that kind of content.
I do read ArchDaily quite a bit because I get to stay abreast of what’s happening in architecture and construction infrastructure.
I still read Upworthy because they’re really good at the provocative headline and I feel like it has to be top of mind for me. It’s too often afterthought or people are like, oh well, it’s like the thing at the end, but it’s really important that the headline is provocative. Otherwise you’ll have spent all this time and money making this article that people aren’t going to read.