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December 03 2013

14:30

What’s in a Story?

In 2006 and 2009, studies were published showing that fiction readers were more empathetic than their non-reading counterparts. In 2012, further studies showed that the areas in the brain that activate when a person tells a story are also activated in the listener. In other words, years of study led researchers to conclude something that most of us instinctively know: that the stories we (as individuals or as companies) tell our audience directly influence the thoughts and actions of those who listen.

Few people remember the year the Titanic sank, although most of us learned it in middle school history. Yet the movie Titanic immortalized every detail of the sinking ship in the minds of millions. Equally, content strategists and designers must constantly tell stories to inform the perspective of their prospective users.

Put simply: stories are more engaging than facts, and we all have the power to tell them. In this article we’ll review not only the importance of stories throughout the history of human beings, but also the ways that we, as content strategists and designers, can create stories that provide context for our target audience.

Why stories?

“People need stories more than bread itself. They tell us how to live, and why.” – Arabian Nights

Storytelling is an invaluable means of communication, dating back thousands of years. Greek and Roman mythology, for example, explained everything from the changing seasons to life and death. One Greek myth is that of Pandora’s box:

Pandora was the first human woman on Earth. There were Gods and there were Titans, but no humans. So each God gave Pandora a gift: beauty, charm, music, curiosity, and persuasion among them. Zeus, ruler of the Gods, also gave Pandora a box (or a jar, in the original Greek), and told her not to open it. Curiosity being one of Pandora’s gifts, she eventually succumbed and opened the box. Out flew disease, hatred, war—all sorts of terrible things. She managed to close the box before hopelessness could fly out.

The Greeks used this tale to explain all of the world’s evils and how humanity could hold hope in spite of them. True, the Greeks could have merely passed along “facts” from one generation to the next. They could have told their children “there is evil in the world, and yet you must continue to have hope.” Instead they used the power of story and, in so doing, created something that’s been with us for over 3,000 years.

Today, well branded companies use a similar approach. Many of us forget that sneakers are not an exciting purchase, yet Nike tells the stories of professional athletes who started out “just like us.” We buy their story and, consequently, the shoes that come with them. State Farm insurance doesn’t focus on paperwork, either. They tell a story about enjoying family time and having friends to help out in times of trouble. We purchase their insurance in hopes of buying into the camaraderie they present.

Content creators are storytellers

But information doesn’t naturally come in story form. On the contrary, many companies begin with “facts” such as “our sneakers decrease knee injuries” or “our application saves users time when they look up recipes.” This non-narrative approach may be less compelling, but what it lacks in panache it makes up for in opportunity. By adding context to facts, content strategists can provide their audience with a story rather than a table of benefits and functionality.

As a content strategist myself, I recently helped a company craft a story to provide the necessary context for their new online community. After speaking with a few of their target users—those in the “nutrition web” space—we began to establish the company’s story. We asked a second group of target users if they would like help finding healthy recipes for evenings when guests joined their family for dinner. We looked for chances to weave story into every aspect of the website: stories about family dinners, stories about children growing up, stories about busy days with only a few minutes to relax. Our target audience responded incredibly and traffic increased!

So how did we do it? In order to develop the best stories, we followed a four-step plan: We Researched our audience, Established our story, Added in details, and Distributed copies.

Research

The first step to communication is learning about our potential audience: where they spend their time, what information they need, what vocabulary they use. We do this through listening.

Ideally our companies have a sense of who their prospective users might be. By interviewing five people (be that as vague as “iphone users” or as specific as “moms in their 40s with teenage kids, full time jobs, working in the tech industry”), we obtain a gestalt of the vocabulary our users are comfortable with (also known as a vernacular or a lexicon) and some of the stories with which they might empathize.

There is no shortcut to this part, unfortunately. Just as there’s no shortcut to learning about a blind date—all the Google searches in the world won’t tell you what you’ll learn during an actual conversation—there is no better way to learn about users than to just sit with them and listen. We do that best by way of ethnographic interviews, interviews or conversations designed to do nothing more than understand who our target audience is and how they spend their time.

The questions to ask are simple: ask users to explain what they do at work all day; ask them to describe the details; learn what acronyms they use and how much work impacts their daily life; ask them about their families; ask them how they spend their free time. Most of all, ask them what frustrates them, at work or at home. Everyone seems to warm up when they’ve been invited to complain a bit!

Establish the story

Once we understand our user’s stories, it’s time to tell our own. For many people, this is the hardest part of the job: crafting a story our company wants to tell.

Nike’s content strategy team clearly follows a trope in which a beginner athlete moves to the pros. Perhaps this is based off research in which many members of their target audience said “if I had better sneakers, I would run more. I always wanted to run a 10 mile race.” Someone who responded this way would obviously feel a connection to a commercial in which an athlete transitions from beginner to winner.

The best product stories are aspirational, providing a gateway into a world created by using the product or service. In service of that story’s creation, content strategists need to frame things with a clear beginning, a middle, and end. Consider the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood:

  • Little Red Riding Hood wants to visit her grandmother. (Beginning)
  • She meets the wolf, who eats her and her grandmother. (Middle)
  • The huntsman kills the wolf, and Red Riding Hood lives happily ever after with her grandmother. (End)

Companies can employ a similar structure. If Motorola’s target audience includes “parents with full time jobs,” and Motorola knows those parents have a common thread of guilt—insofar as they wish they could be in two places, the office and home, at once—the company might craft a story like:

  • Joe wants to spend more time with his family. (Beginning)
  • Joe buys the new Moto X phone, which allows him to work from anywhere. (Middle)
  • Joe leaves the office early, to take his family on a picnic. (End)

Add details

Remember, stories give us context. A story that’s devoid of personalized details fails to create context and, therefore, fails to make a connection. This is why, according to Aberdeen Group, personalized emails improve click-through rates by 14%, and conversion rates by 10%.

Many content strategists miss the mark here. We create an outline (the beginning, middle and end) based upon our understanding of our audience, but we neglect to add personalized details. No one cares about a story of a person who goes for a walk, walks into a house, and then gets kicked out when the owners return. What makes the story interesting is what it expands into. The person changes to a little girl. The strangers become bears! The bears become a family. The family enjoys a morning walk. This explains why they were out of the house. The little girl becomes Goldilocks, a very curious girl, who is always poking into other peoples’ business. And on and on and on.

If Goldilocks had a Twitter account, it would likely be filled with reports on bears, recipes to make oatmeal, and pathways through the woods. These are the personalizations that make a story compelling. Over time, the number of details woven into a social media strategy might expand as the character of Goldilocks (or the brand personality) expanded. The Twitter feed might include information on her favorite types of breakfast, or personalized emails might mention even less-obviously-related items, like a book she happened to be reading.

The story behind our companies must expand in a similar way. What makes Home Depot’s Twitter feed so interesting is not just the deals it offers; it’s the non-hardware-related articles the feed promotes that still appeal to its customers. Customers who align with the Home Depot brand enjoy DIY projects, humorous contests, and family-centric holidays.

Distribute

Finally we have to distribute the story itself.

In theater, it’s commonly said that the show is not complete unless it has an audience. The same is true of a story. A story is nothing without its audience. The best part is that the same story may have multiple parts—and therefore multiple audiences—across multiple mediums.

Nike’s brand story, for example, is told through their commercials, their website, on their Facebook page, and on their Twitter feed. Nike tells different parts of that story in every communication with every user. They’re not trying to sell; that’s just a byproduct. They’re engaging their audience by offering articles, videos, cartoons, and other news that’s custom-tailored to a given interaction.

But that’s Nike. Not every audience can be found on TV, Facebook or Twitter. Some companies find their users on LinkedIn, or Quora, or Instagram. The key isn’t to go to a specific place. The key is that, through user research (remember step one?), we can learn where any audience member spends their time, online and off. Then we work to join the conversations whenever and wherever they take place.

Tell your story

For each individual brand, we can follow these steps to improve the overall user experience and better engage the user. Every story embodies a personality, which we can personalize for the target audience to make our product or company friendly and focused. Storytelling is in our genes, and it’s a tool everyone on the UX team can—and should—use!

This article’s lead image is copyright Mike Shaheen.


The post What’s in a Story? appeared first on UX Booth.

August 27 2013

13:30

Reimagining the 21st-century classroom

Education in America faces tough challenges. Innovative solutions to these challenges can be found when teachers and students apply service design to the classroom, solving short-term problems while also giving students long-term skills.

The 21st-century, American classroom faces major challenges. The threat of the privatization of schools1), the lack of funding, and the erosion of traditional societal institutions, has forced schools to take on the roles of “priests, psychologists, therapists, political reformers, social workers, sex advisers, or parents.”2 Now more than ever, schools are expected to not only teach children subject matter, but to teach life skills as well.

This, in turn, fundamentally changes the teacher’s role in the classroom. Further, legal mandates for test-based performance evaluation have not only trickled down to the teacher’s workload, but threatened their very job. After all, if a computer can teach individualized math better than a teacher and students get higher test scores, why are teachers needed?3 This threat is most acutely manifest by the proliferation of online courses. Michael Sandel of San Jose State University recently foreshadowed the future of higher education in an open letter to fellow professors stating, “Let us not kid ourselves…administrators at C.S.U. are beginning a process of replacing faculty with cheap online education.”4 For teachers at all levels, overcoming internal and external pressures and continuing to provide fundamental value requires an innovative re-envisioning of the classroom and making it a shared experience, one that cannot be replicated by an automaton.

Teachers must overcome the digital-age metaphor of learning, one which compares the human to a computer, putting knowledge into memory, emphasizing logic and measurable outcomes. Teachers must define their role not as data providers, but service providers. The two-fold purpose of education is to teach students to think critically about their world and, ultimately, to teach them to become good citizens. The Service Design techniques and tools – building empathy, customer journey maps, and prototyping – which originally arose to help businesses ideate on tough, multi-faceted problems, should now be used in the classroom to help teachers re-imagine and co-create the student experience.

Class in empathy

Before starting any service design project, designers work to understand the primary actors in their system – indeed, this is a foundational premise for any human-centered design endeavor.

Despite this, teacher‘s often overlook the classroom‘s primary actors, the students. After all, most teachers reason, “I was once a student myself. How could my students experience differ from our own? Neil Postman, the educational scholar and cultural critic, points out the fallacy in this logic:

Most teachers…teach subjects they were good at in school. They found the subject both easy and pleasurable. As a result, they are not likely to understand how the subject appears to those who are not good at it, or don’t care about it, or both.

Teachers, while well-intentioned, may have trouble empathizing with students struggling to understand the curricula or how it relates to them. As a practice in empathy, Postman goes so far as to suggest that teachers teach a subject they are bad at for a year as a way to gain understanding of how many students might feel in their classroom.

From a service-design perspective, teachers can bring more empathy into the classroom by giving students a voice. What do students like to do? What do students want to learn? A simple interview or class discussion can prove quite enlightening. Even switching roles where the student teaches for a day would prove to be enlightening of the other’s experience for both student and teacher.

The student journey

For further insight, students and teacher could employ another service design tool known as the Customer Journey Map. Customer Journey Maps trace the main actors in a system as they interact with its various touchpoints. This, in turn, helps designers discover opportunity areas that might benefit from creative problem solving.

As a classroom activity, a teacher can guide students in groups through making their own “student” journey map of several different time periods: the student’s experience in the teacher’s class, the school day, the student’s year, or even the student‘s entire school career. Doing so provides the teacher with deep insights about what students do outside of his or her classroom. If History class comes after an English class, for example, there might be an opportunity for cross-disciplinary learning cross-class relevant topics might emerge. Understanding the context of the class and getting insights from other classrooms can lead teachers to discover techniques students enjoy in other classrooms and use them in their own. Teachers may even get tough critique and suggestions on how to improve their own classroom from the stakeholders that really matter, the students.

A student journey map exercise also carries the potential to provide deep insight into a student’s life outside of the school environment: what other challenges do students face that might affect their academic performance? By identifying pain points, students and teachers can collaboratively brainstorm possible solutions, creating the ideal journey map to understand how students might better enjoy their school experience. This exercise places both student and teacher in a design mindset understanding that the classroom setting does not have to remain in the status quo. Furthermore, even if student ideas are not implemented, students will be left with the notion that their voice was important, was heard, and did contribute to the structure of their classroom experience.

Life imitates life

Once the teacher and students have created a new classroom model, they should try it out to see if it works. If it’s a success, great. If it’s a failure, even better. As John Dewey, the great 20th-century philosopher and educational theorist wrote, “Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.” Furthermore, this trial-and-error mentality cultivates one of the principle purposes of education, critical thinking.

Postman, again, writes:

When we incorporate the lives of our ancestors in our education, we discover that some of them were great error-makers, some great error-correctors, some both. And in discovering this, we accomplish three things. First, we help students to see that knowledge is a stage in human development, with a past and a future. Second…we acquaint students with the people and ideas that comprise “cultural literacy” – that is to say, give them some understanding of where their ideas come from and how we came by them. And third, we show them that error is no disgrace, that it is the agency through which we increase understanding.5

Teachers should encourage the prototyping of an idea and create an environment that allows for failure. This should permeate not only into the ideas and environment that students and their teachers co-create, but also into the students’ ability to jump into new learning feeling comfortable with the possibility of failure.

When students and teachers use service design tools to re-imagine their classrooms they fulfill the key purposes of education: thinking critically and being a productive member of society. Through collaboration and group decision making, students learn what it takes to organize and empathize. This makes them better citizens. By being part of their own classroom’s design, students understand that they have an important voice that can lead to change, skills applicable well beyond the classroom.

Designers think critically, and students and teachers must, too. By using Service Design techniques, teachers learn to better understand their students and their changing role in the 21st-century classroom. Instead of the “authoritarian ruler” in charge of imparting a narrow set of knowledge, the teacher becomes a choreographer, setting up the environment to teach and take into account the whole student. Through the Service Design process, both student and teacher realize that the classroom is a prototype that might sometimes fail but never fails to produce some kind of learning.

Excited about the intersection of service design and the classroom? Curious about how to further apply Service Design in Education? Check out these resources and examples:

Note: Service Design Tools are referenced from http://servicedesigntools.org/repository.

Footnotes

  1. “Secondly, we have seen an increased role for national nonprofit and for-profit organizations in providing educational services, and in acting as self-interested players in school politics.” John Thompson, “Seismic Shifts in Education Policy”
  2. Neil Postman, The End of Education, 143.
  3. Motoko Rich, “Study Gauges Value of Technology in Schools.” http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/14/education/study-gauges-value-of-technology-in-schools.html?_r=0
  4. Let us not kid ourselves,” the letter said, “administrators at C.S.U. are beginning a process of replacing faculty with cheap online education.” http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/20/education/online-classes-fuel-a-campus-debate.html
  5. Neil Postman, The End of Education, 125.

The post Reimagining the 21st-century classroom appeared first on UX Booth.

August 13 2013

13:30

Designing with Code

To code or not to code? For designers, that’s a very contentious question. Clients like designers who code because (among other reasons) that’s one less body on payroll. Design advocates, on the other hand, often see code as a technical limitation that stifles creativity. To make matters worse, the information ecologies we all work in refuse to stand still. By looking carefully at some of our favorite arguments, however –and by taking them within the context of our ever-evolving digital landscape –we can begin to make a case for when working in code makes sense.

Several years ago, Andrew Maier penned an article on the use of prototypes in website design and development. In light of my own recent work in prototyping, one of the comments to that article stood out:

Any kind of prototype that involves programming or markup sounds scary to me –that’s the fastest route to a “developer-y” looking site rather than a truly designed –graphically as well as functionally designed –site.

This comment caught my eye because it is the same concern I often hear today, a full three years later. And here’s why this is a big deal: given the content and information architecture challenges that the responsive, multi-context web presents there are now better reasons than ever before to integrate coded prototypes into the design process. By paying close attention early on to the integrity of the narratives we create at the most basic level of communication, we can build the foundation necessary to effectively articulate those narratives far and wide.

Why we’re afraid to commit

If pressed to describe their relationship with code, many designers would hunt around for the “it’s complicated” checkbox. We may have already been sold on prototyping (see Todd Zaki Warfel, Jeff Gothelf, and Stephen Hay if you’re not yet convinced), but we’re still afraid of our beautiful UX getting all bent out of shape and smudged up by an engineering toolset (and mindset).

The source of this dread is no mystery. In his seminal 2004 book on design in technology, The Inmates Are Running the Asylum, Alan Cooper writes that “when engineers invent, they arrive at their solution through a succession of practical, possible steps. Because of this, their solution will always be a derivative of the old, beginning solution, which is often not good enough.” Cooper goes on to argue that interaction designers are in a unique position to break this cycle of derivative solutions by “keep[ing] a healthy suspicion of all assumptions about what cannot be done.”
Whether they’ve read Cooper’s book or not, many designers have implicitly heeded this advice and translated it into an “I design it, you build it” workflow. In many cases, this delivers the results Cooper promises: designers and developers frequently challenge one another to synthesize new ideas and novel solutions –ideas and solutions neither of them would have been able to come up with on their own.

What’s different now

With the growing need of responsive web solutions and adaptive, flexible content, there are new reasons for designers to roll up their sleeves and get into “code.” Since HTML is, at its core, a layer of description wrapped around content, working at this level helps designers think more critically about their content and about the architectural implications of that content. While considering markup won’t replace our content audit, user research, or taxonomy work any time soon, it can increasingly function as an important part of the design process.
HTML prototyping helps us discover and vet the IA step Information Architect Dan Klyn refers to as “choreography,” or the “appropriate unfolding” of content: the link between taxonomy and the interaction-level design typically represented in prototypes. When we address the architectural underpinnings of our content’s choreography early on, we ensure that we haven’t driven off course, and left our intent on the side of the road. What’s more, the benefits of HTML prototyping present themselves when we apply even the most basic of HTML’s elements. Creating a linear, semantic document calling out our navigation, header, teaser, aside, and paragraph elements forces us to think critically about how these elements relate to each other in context.

Now look at that same document on a tablet, or on a phone. Does it tell the same story? Does (should) it follow the same choreography? We might find that our content needs to break into summaries or teasers at different places in different contexts. We might also find that the navigation patterns that work on a phone are overly simplistic with regards to the desktop experience. Each of these insights forces us to think about how our content models need to adapt to accommodate new contexts. (For an in depth and practical look at creating content models, see Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s Content Everywhere.)

Why it matters

In her brilliant book Content Strategy for Mobile, Karen McGrane encourages us to stop thinking about content in terms of “pages” and to start thinking about it in terms of “packages.” A content package might contain things like long and short headlines, teasers, summaries, body copy, and pull quotes. Early HTML prototyping helps us decide which of these elements we need –and helps us think of them as pieces that combine across contexts to create a cohesive experience.
Whereas many of the excellent, commercially available prototyping tools are centered around interaction and design, early HTML prototyping is a way for us to begin to prototype our information architecture –and to test the architectural hypotheses we’ve laid out in our conceptual and taxonomy work. It also puts us in the right frame of mind to break out to the page metaphor.

In her keynote at DrupalCon in May, Karen McGrane traces the history of the page metaphor. This ubiquitous concept comes to us –surprise –from Xerox, maker of printers. Of course they would think about content in the digital age as coming together on pages: pages have been the cornerstone of their business for over a century! When we move to thinking of content as a resource that can be pulled into view when and how it is needed, we’ve already taken a huge step toward creating the responsive and adaptive information environments we need to meet the demands of the mobile ecosphere.

How to get started

So how can you get started designing with code? Both Jeff Gothelf and Stephen Hay stress the importance of sketching. I’ll reiterate that here: although our goal is to eventually end up in code, sketching out your rough ideas before diving into markup will keep you from committing to mediocre ideas you’re reluctant to change because they’re already saved to disk.
Use pen and paper or a whiteboard to work out a hypothesis and then write your markup to match. Does it work with your content? Check it out on mobile, on a tablet. Revise and refine. Consider how your content needs to adapt to convey the same concepts in different contexts.

There’s no way around the fact that you will need to understand the basic elements of HTML and CSS. Fortunately, these are not overly complicated and online resources abound. HTML alone allows you to author structured content in a semantically correct way. CSS (with help from media queries) allows you to shape the visual hierarchy of content and adjust it to different contexts.
If you’re new to HTML and CSS, learn a little bit at a time –and fake what you can’t build. You don’t need to have a fully functional AJAX calls or form validation in order to gain insight. Stephen Hay suggests capturing and printing screenshots to show to stakeholders early in the prototyping process. This way you can show exactly the ideas you want to convey without risking stakeholders getting caught up in the fact that a button doesn’t work, or links aren’t yet connected to their destinations.
Finally, allow your process to grow and develop over time. It will. We may never strive –or want –to be standards-compliant, cross-browser, front-end rockstars, but with a little bit of knowledge, practice, and experience, HTML prototyping can become a valuable addition to our content strategy and information architecture toolkit.


The post Designing with Code appeared first on UX Booth.

June 25 2013

13:30

A Q&A with UX Mad 2013

When it comes to meeting with the community in-person, UX designers have plenty of events to choose from. One particularly unique option is UX Mad, bringing together speakers from all different walks of life. As it turns out, those walks of life were also prime candidates for an interview.

UX Mad is an annual, one-track, user-experience-design conference held every July in Madison, WI. Featuring a wide variety of speakers – from professional musicians to craft ice cream makers – it offers attendees an opportunity to meet and mingle with an otherwise disparate group of passionate creators.

In fact, the lineup reflects just how multidisciplinary experience design can be. Looking at their various backgrounds made me wonder: where do these speakers overlap? The answers, you’ll find, are surprising. Read on for wide-ranging insight into the creative minds of this year’s speakers and even a chance to win a ticket to the event!

How do you define user experience? How did you get into it?
Lea StewartLea Stewart: UX is a way to describe an ecosystem of products and services that consider a users’ needs, behaviors, and attitudes. Coming from Industrial Design, I don’t think of it as strictly digital. Instead of developing a next-generation training shoe, a UX designer might envision the “experience of running”.
MoldoverMoldover: To me, user experience represents a change in focus from simply getting something to work to making it as intuitive and enjoyable as possible.
Sergio NouvelSergio Nouvel: User experience is an evolution of design in general. Once you begin to care about users, you start to wonder which factors influence a good design beyond the mere look-and-feel. You start being a lot more aware of how easy the interface is to consume (which itself depends on how the content is structured, what it intends to do, etc.)
Can you give us a sneak peek of your talk at UX Mad?
Jenn DownsJenn Downs: Marketing automation is a powerful tool, but if used incorrectly it can reduce empathy for the user. Using technology to manage the relationship isn’t a replacement for human-to-human contact.
Jessica PetersonJessica Peterson: I’m taking part in a discussion panel of people chosen from distinct disciplines with a similar regard for the role of research in the design process. We want to demonstrate why the science of research and applied research is critical.
MoldoverMoldover: Human interface design for musical instruments presents unique challenges and vast new possibilities. The proliferation of low-cost rapid-prototyping tools has put the means of fabricating instruments within reach of any potential musician. I’ll go through the design process for some of my inventions.
Pamela PavliscakPamela Pavliscak: Data isn’t just a four-letter word. Numbers let us track improvements and setbacks over time, communicate important information at a glance, and tell us where we stand against competition.
Russ UngerRuss Unger: I’m giving a talk about Jim Henson and how the way he worked applies to what we can do in UX. It’s not one of those “X Things We Can Learn About UX From [a person];” it’s about the way he worked. It’s a little bit of history, observation, and fun. Oh! And Muppets–lots of Muppets! Probably a bunch of stuff you never knew about them, and Jim Henson!
What was the last creative project you did for fun? How do you deal with blocks?
Jesse ShternshusJesse Shternshus: I’ve been working with a designer to re-brand my company. I challenge myself by giving myself a couple minutes to think of as many terrible ideas as possible. Sometimes really good ideas come out of it.
Martin AtkinsMartin Atkins: I like speaking and work pretty hard at the payoff of that. The same goes for my books. There’s a difference between the information and the delivery of that information in a form that works. I try to have enough going on that when I am creatively blocked I can keep my energy output up while the wheels and cogs keep turning and (hopefully) magically produce the solution like some fairground wizard.
Pamela PavliscakPamela Pavliscak: Even though I observe and talk to strangers using technology all the time, I’m pretty awkward when it comes to mingling in large social groups. Recently, I had to go to an event by myself, so I decided random UX testing might at least give me some conversational gambit. A few takeaways: find a quiet corner, talk to people early in the evening, make friends with all the servers, and let people see some results.
Sergio NouvelSergio Nouvel: How do I deal with creative blocks? I don’t. I don’t regard hitting the point of frustration as a “block”. I see it as a necessary step. I never consider myself blocked, so it helps a lot with the feeling of being blocked.
What does mobile mean to user-centered designers?
Andrew MaierAndrew Maier: Mobile means we can no longer depend upon a certain context in which people will use things (not that we ever really could). As a consequence, we have to make our solutions more robust – to consider alternative ways of presenting information and affording functionality.
Golli HashemianGolli Hashemian: Honestly, it annoys me that everyone focuses so much on mobile as a separate topic of user experience. From a high level, designing for mobile isn’t a separate process – it’s an evolution of user-centered design. We study how our customers use our product and design accordingly, taking context into account as well.
Sergio NouvelSergio Nouvel: Mobile has always been with us simply because we are mobile beings (unlike a tree). Mobile isn’t new: think of a watch as a mobile analog device. Mobile is a context. Devices will keep changing, and what really matters is not the resolution or the touch screen, but the context – the unpredictability of what’s surrounding a user, what state of mind they’re in, or what else they’re trying to do. The first step is admitting our inability to cover absolutely every scenario.
What disciplines within user-centered design excite you? Why?
Andrew MaierAndrew Maier: Civic design & social entrepreneurship. They’re areas that absolutely need our attention (as designers) because they have the most power to affect people on a day-to-day basis. Democracy is interactive by design. Nowadays, we’ve lost that feeling of empowerment.
Jessica PetersonJessica Peterson: Nothing beats first-hand research. Making sure we understand what the users are thinking and what their needs are is just as important as making sure the interface is well-designed, the colors and proportions and pleasing, and the features are usable.
Lea StewartLea Stewart: My background is in industrial design, so that’s where my passion lies. I have an internal struggle with creating more “stuff” that may someday be discarded. I focus on sustainability and to ensure that whatever I design is truly needed and wanted by users instead of heading for the landfill.
MoldoverMoldover: Hardware. It’s refreshing to make physical objects when we spend so much time manipulating digital “things.”


That’s all, folks! A big thank you to all of this year’s speakers for taking the time to answer our questions. Everyone listed above (and more!) will be in Madison this July 12-13, so come on out, meet them, have a good time, and eat some cheese!

Welcome to Wisconsin

Will we see you there? UX Mad is just a few weeks away. If you haven’t bought your ticket yet but you’re itching to go (especially after such riveting responses), you’re in luck: we’re giving one away.

To enter, let us know who you’re most excited to meet and why in the comments below. Be sure to follow @uxbooth, and to leave your Twitter handle with your comment so we can get in touch with you for your freebie. Entries must be in by midnight (PST) June 27th. We know it’s tight, but we want to give the lucky winner the time to arrange travel and lodging, as we can’t provide those. Good luck!


The post A Q&A with UX Mad 2013 appeared first on UX Booth.

June 04 2013

13:30

Design in Service: Crafting the Citizen Experience

Many agree that a combination of factors – a demand for better user experience, the rise of ubiquitous technologies and more readily accessible datasets – present the conditions necessary for a more enjoyable life as a citizen of our country. But necessity is just the mother of invention; it takes hard work to get there. To narrow the gap between today’s promises and tomorrow’s opportunities, designers are increasingly intent on improving what’s known as the citizen experience.

The trends aren’t difficult to see. Co-authors Joseph Pine and James Gilmore pointed out eons ago in the web world – back in 1998 – that we live an experience economy. Simply put, people are drawn to products and services that are more considerate of their experience. Additionally, by now, designers are well acquainted with the idea of mobile, ubiquitous computing. It’s hard not to be. It’s the subject of books, blogs, even whole conferences.

One consequence of these trends is data. Lots of it. Data.gov, a site created and maintained by the Obama administration’s Open Government Initiative, houses over 73,000 sets of the stuff. The sheer quantity available begs the question: what can designers do? The (short-term) answer is visualizations. With them, designers turn otherwise confusing arrays of numbers into useful information.

Map-based visualizations seem a relatively humble start, yet the examples appearing on sites such as Data.gov and Data.Seattle.gov readily manifest the power of mere juxtaposition.

Visualizations are only a small part of the story, though. What’s more valuable than the insights created by way of visualizations and others information technologies like them are the storytelling opportunities that these neo-journalism tools afford. By piecing together the narratives behind collective action, locally-minded people – citizens – can tell more cohesive stories about their communities and plan for change. In essence, today’s technological landscape provides a compelling opportunity for designers to affect a positive change across entire municipalities.

The citizen experience

After years of working in the private sector, Jess McMullin had an epiphany. At two in the morning – the Saturday before Christmas, 2009 – he made the not-too-hasty decision to leave the consultancy he had founded six years prior. Jess left his own company to work in the public sector because, in his words:

I’ve found public-sector work to be infinitely more meaningful than private-sector work. I guess that’s because, as an individual, I actually have faith and confidence in the government as a solution to societal problems.

Individually, we tend not to act in a way that’s attuned to our collective needs. The free market led us to the housing crisis and situations like Enron. Unregulated, it’s a sociopath. Government provides a solution to the tragedy of the commons.

Jess Mcmullin

Many of the designers with whom I spoke while researching this piece had a similar epiphany: the “tragedy of the commons” becoming too acute, and projects focused on the citizen experience appearing refreshingly greenfield by comparison. It led user researcher Cyd Harrell to more prominently introduce the term to the community in her article on UX Magazine titled “The Citizen Experience Needs Us: Why UX practitioners should join the Government 2.0 movement.” She says:

Lately, I’ve started thinking that our view of the human as a “user” is incomplete. Yes, interacting with interfaces does come down to using technology, but just as “customer” is a more comprehensive term in the commercial realm, we need another term to describe other important relationships in people’s lives.

Anyone applying for a business license or a building permit, paying taxes, looking up public records, or requesting benefits is participating in an interaction where they are something more than a user. These relationships aren’t exactly voluntary the way commercial relationships are, but at the same time, the public nature of these services makes the user a co-owner in a way that customers typically are not.

Most citizen experiences don’t properly reflect this reality although they should, and it’s interesting to think about how they’d be different if they did.

Cyd Harrell

In other words, the citizen experience is a direct result of the platform provided by a municipality. While its opportunities aren’t as readily apparent, they’re no less important to would-be civic designers.

The civic design spectrum

The gap between today’s user-centered designers and tomorrow’s civic designers is closing, albeit slowly. That’s partially because citizen experience is a relatively nascent idea (to us), and partially because the resources available to designers are few and far between. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg scenario. Some resources do exist, though: Jess McMullin, mentioned above, wrote a guide called Getting into Government Consulting detailing his lessons from the trenches; researchers Nate Bolt and Tony Tulathimutte wrote an account of their work with Stanford University, helping get the word out about Swine Flu; and designers Elizabeth Buie & Dianne Murray co-edited a book called Usability in Government Systems, which acts as a good primer.

Dana Chisnell’s Field Guides to Ensuring Voter Intent were funded through Kickstarter and designed by Oxide Design Co.

Other designers have simply jumped in head first, making a name for themselves by taking part in what author Jon Kolko calls social entrepreneurship. Social entrepreneurship works just like its conventional counterpart except that social entrepreneurs seek to solve humanitarian problems rather than sell products. Dana Chisnell’s Field Guides to Ensuring Voter Intent and Laura Amico’s Homicide Watch serve as good examples, in addition to joint-ventures such as Random Hacks of Kindness (sponsored by Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, NASA, and the World Bank).

What’s clear is that civic design projects run the gamut – some are visualizations, some are physical objects, and some are quasi-public services. Is there any consensus as to what citizens actually want from the government of the future? This summary, accompanying an Accenture study from 2012, suggests an answer:

The majority of people say they would use digital services if offered by government, especially for routine transactions. And over half want to conduct all their government business digitally in the future. The biggest challenge for government is not catching up with the private sector—it’s giving digital citizens what they want while using digital channels to improve public value.

Laying aside the ambiguity of “public value” for a moment, it seems sensible to conclude that the primary way to increase that value would be to give each citizen a voice, helping them take part in their own democracy. San Francisco’s online service center, @SF311, does just this.

As Cyd explains (in the same article mentioned earlier):

One day last summer, driving through Golden Gate Park on one of our notoriously freezing and foggy June mornings, I noticed sprinklers in full spray all along a major road, wasting large quantities of water. Having recently heard about the service, I tweeted @SF311, and within 45 minutes I had a helpful response assuring me that it would be checked out. The next day when I drove the same route, the sprinklers were off.

Cyd Harrell

Tools such as SF311 are equal parts fascinating and vexing. While one the one hand they liberate – empowering citizens – on the other hand they also represent of an entire class of products and services that are often unheard of until after they’re built.

Better government for everyone

Anyone who’s interacted with an office of their local government knows that the public sector works as best as it can to serve the needs of its constituents. Organizations frequently adopt and adapt solutions along the way which inevitably introduces inefficiencies. Inefficiency, however, is something for which user-centered design is well suited. It’s just rarely the case that these two parties meet in the middle, despite the fact that they have so much to gain from one another.

This disconnect prompted Jennifer Pahlka – a former game-industry leader turned social entrepreneur – to found a civic-design organization called Code for America. Code for America is best described by way of analogy, drawing comparisons to both Teach for America and Peace Core (but for geeks). At its heart, the organization facilitates is a year-long fellowship program, recruiting designers and developers to scope and solve public-sector problems in collaboration with local governments.

In a nutshell:

  1. Designers and developers apply from all over the country,
  2. Next, a handful are chosen to participate in the San Francisco-based program,
  3. Finally, states sponsor a group of fellows to come onsite and collaboratively solve government problems in a user-centered way.

Participation in the program is as much a learning opportunity as it is a gesture to shared future of our nation. The following video provides insight into one of the projects that came out of last year’s program:

Fellows from Code for America describe their latest collaboration with a city government, a website built for Honolulu’s City Hall.

Readers interested in transitioning into the the civic design space are highly encouraged to apply for the 2014 fellowship.

What tomorrow feels like

The most fascinating thing about citizen experience design is that it’s taken so long to come to the fore. The problem space begins with a question that’s pertinent to all of us: what’s it like to be a resident of a town or city? And how could that be better? Living somewhere is “an experience” most do not think of “choosing;” our parents made that decision for us. But as we grow up we do have a choice: do we keep things as they are or do we choose to make our future government better than we found it?


The post Design in Service: Crafting the Citizen Experience appeared first on UX Booth.

May 21 2013

13:30

A Taste of Confab 2013

“Content is king.” It’s been the prevailing trend the past few years, but at Confab – a conference of Content Strategists – attendees seek more than just trends; they seek stories. UX Booth editor and resident content strategist Marli Mesibov reached out to some of the strategists speaking at this year’s Minneapolis-based event to learn more about what’s driving their current narratives.

When I first walked into Confab in 2012, I felt as though I had finally found home. During their workshops and talks, speakers discussed the “hows” and “whys” of writing, rather than merely the benefits of having content. They talked about writing from the perspective of thinkers – journalists, creative, researchers, and readers – instead of merely dwelling on its marketing value. It was a whole new world, connecting writing to design, turning copy into content.

It’s no wonder, then, that I’ve been looking forward to Confab 2013 since the day I left the event. And now that it’s only two weeks away, I can barely contain my excitement! In the weeks leading up to the event, I’ve begun conversations with this year’s speakers in order to learn more about areas of content strategy we don’t often hear about. Jonathan Kahn and Melanie Moran share their stories.

Digital Governance Fails Because We’re Afraid of Cultural Change

Let’s begin with Jonathan Kahn. He’s a busy man. Jonathan organizes events (Dare Conference, Confab London, London Content Strategy Meetup), presents worldwide (Webdagene Oslo, CS Forum Paris/Cape Town, IxDA Dublin), and writes extensively (A List Apart, Contents, lucid plot) about the revolutionary changes facing organizations, and why it’s so hard to overcome them.

With a background in web development, he’s also worked as an information architect, user experience consultant, and content strategy advocate. Jonathan is the Principal of Together London. He shared the story leading to his presentation, Digital Governance Fails Because We’re Afraid of Cultural Change.


For most of my career I told myself I was a firefighter, rushing in at the last minute to fix screwed up web projects. Recently, though, I discovered why I told myself that story: I was avoiding the scary part of my work, the difficult questions.

Today, things are different. My interactions with the content strategy community have helped me craft a new story, and it goes something like this:

  1. The internet puts new demands on our content. Customers expect useful, usable content across channels and devices, all the time.
  2. Organizations (usually) aren’t setup to deal with this reality. People avoid talking about content because it’s messy, political, and hard to do well.
  3. So our content is a mess, and nobody takes responsibility for fixing it. This creates problems for both the business and the customer. It also drives us crazy.
  4. Content is important, damnit! It’s a business asset. Content strategy provides a way for us to fix these problems, helping us spread the word about the value of content throughout the organization and around the world.

The content strategy story is all about asking hard questions: What content do we have? Is it any good? Why do we need it? What’s our messaging architecture, our voice, our tone? Which other departments do we need to work with? How can we create a sustainable plan for commissioning, editing, publishing, and maintaining content over time?

This story is a framework for making content strategists vulnerable. Brave. Able to put more of ourselves into our work. At the same time, there are ways in which this story can be limiting. To understand why, it’s important to discuss a challenge that almost all content strategists face: governance.

Governance

Governance includes the standards, policies, and procedures made to allow an organization to care for its digital operations over time. In theory, a governance plan ensures our content strategies stick, but it rarely works. Writers don’t follow our voice guidelines, marketers ignore our message architectures, and developers create apps without considering the complexities of content.

We’re doing good work, but it isn’t sticking, which feels like a terrible waste of time. Why won’t people follow our guidelines? Recall the first point I made in the content strategy story above: “the internet puts new demands on our content.” While that’s true, we’re scared to ask the obvious follow-on questions:

  • Why does the internet put new demands on our content?
  • Why is the business environment changing so quickly?
  • What does that mean for our business models? our siloed organizational structures? our “waterfall” development process? the software we buy? the agencies we hire?

These questions terrify us because we’re afraid to face the truth: content strategy is just one piece of the challenge of digital transformation. Our governance attempts fail because we’re working backwards: governance can only sustain culture, it can’t create it.

So what does governance look like when backed by the notion of digital transformation? To make our organizations sustainable, we need to change culture in a way that’s broader than content strategy, incorporating practices we know little about: service design, agile development, and cross-functional teams. Once we understand this, we can start changing our organizations’ culture, today.


Readers can learn more about how to affect a cultural change within their organization by attending Jonathan’s talk. It’s happening at 2:50pm on day two of Confab Minneapolis.

Content Strategy in Higher Education: Uniting Print and Web

Next we hear from Melanie Moran. Melanie is the Director of Integrated Communications at Vanderbilt University. Her presentation this year, “Content Strategy in Higher Education: Uniting Print and Web,” highlights her team’s year-long, ongoing journey towards cohesive, cross-platform storytelling.

She’s looking forward to learning from content experts from many different sectors and bringing home a passel of great ideas. In the meantime, she shared the thought-process leading to her presentation.


I’ll always remember when the light bulb went on for me – when I learned the importance of content strategy. I was sitting in a meeting of campus communicators at Vanderbilt University. I had just returned from conducting an hour-long interview with a faculty member, a professor whose research explored neuroscience and education. I needed his thoughts to inform a story I was writing for the web.

Just then, across the room, a colleague from another office reported that she, too, was writing a profile of a faculty member – for one of our print magazines. And wouldn’t you know it, it was the same guy. She had conducted the same research and was writing the same article.

This is crazy, I thought. Why was web not involved in planning for digital content to support print stories? From that moment forward, my colleagues and I began seeking ways to shake content out of its container – be that container print, web, video or even a press release. It eventually paid off in more innovative storytelling, expanded social media impact and a more strategic use of print.

How did we do this? Here are some of the key elements that informed our content strategy:

  • Story first

    Forget the deadlines; forget the Facebook and Twitter beasts that need to be fed. Forget about that for just a minute and ask, why is this a great story? You can have the most interactive website or jaw-dropping magazine around and no one will read it if the stories are lame. Story first, always.

  • Exploit the platforms

    Now that you’ve got your story, think about the many ways to tell it across different platforms. What is told with a photo or graphic on Facebook can then push to a feature on your website; can be explored in detail in your print publication; can be told via a video on YouTube. You get the idea. This will likely mean writing different headlines, using different images and even showcasing different parts of the story for different media – but that’s okay. Let go of the need to show everyone everything on every platform and disaggregate the story for maximum portability.

  • Strategy, not reflex

    We all know the perils of the “we’ve always done it this way” mindset. And I know it’s 2013 and many of us have already mourned and moved on from print, but for many people it remains a relevant, effective way to reach their audience.

    Vanderbilt’s alumni magazine, for example, lives in the homes and offices of alumni around the country and world. Its physical presence connects them directly with Vanderbilt through dynamic storytelling and gorgeous photography and illustrations. We support this connection heavily with digital, of course, but print remains an important and compelling component of our strategy.

  • Analytics, analytics, analytics.

    It was beautiful, it was epic. You laughed, you cried. …but did anyone read it? How was the social media engagement? Did it drive traffic back to your website? Picked up by media? Put yourself on a pretty strict plan of analytics tracking and use it to refine your content strategy. Then share what you find with decision makers, as data drives most organizations. Being able to provide it in relation to communications will elevate others’ understanding your work and the impact it has on your brand’s strength and reputation.


Readers interested in learning about cross-channel storytelling should join Melanie Moran at Confab Minneapolis. Her session begins at 9:40am on day two of the event.

See you there?

So, there you have it. Confab Minneapolis begins on Monday, June 3 and – in addition to Jonathan and Melanie’s – the workshops and talks range from content measurement and modeling to creating content in a zombie apocalypse.

As always, Confab features a mix of well known and up-and-coming content strategists. I’m particularly looking forward to Catherine Toole’s “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s “Write Like a Human, Think Like a Robot.”

Who are you looking forward to seeing?


The post A Taste of Confab 2013 appeared first on UX Booth.

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