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Huis Clos: Furnished in the Style of the Second Empire

Second EmpireThey say not to judge a book by its cover, but when I walked into a hotel in Brussels and saw it decorated “in the style of the French Second Empire,” I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Scene description of Huis Clos (No Exit, in English): a plain room furnished in the style of the French ‘Second Empire’.

One note (and potential – minor – spoiler, for those who haven’t read No Exit). No Exit takes place in Hell. The implication is that Hell, at least for some people, is decorated in the style of Louis XIV’s elegant and overly elaborate red velvet brocades and gold and gilded chandeliers. So when I see that style, I immediately laugh to myself, “welcome to Hell.” Continue Reading

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Content Testing: Pros and Cons

Sara Zailskas Walsh recently made a solid case for content testing. Here’s a blurb from her Medium article that summarizes the benefits:

How Does Content Testing Help Design?

Here are three big benefits:

  1. It helps designers establish the framework for our conversations with customers.
  2. It helps designers understand the words we need to use so customers understand us.
  3. It helps designers understand the information and emotion their designs need to convey in customer moments.”

I highly recommend reading her whole article, as she makes a lot of good points, including:

  • Content needs to be tested
  • Content creators rarely get all their questions asked during usability testing
  • In content-first design, designers need to know what the content creators are trying to convey

I’d like to suggest some additional methods for testing content. Continue Reading

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Not Mobile First, Not Not Mobile

When Jason Levin and I published our article, Mobile First Is Just Not Good Enough: Meet Journey-Driven Design, the responses were largely negative. They ranged from “this is obvious – why publish it?” to “mobile first is very important! Why are you denigrating it?” We didn’t respond to most of these comments, though in my mind I often wondered if the commenters had actually read the article.

If you haven’t read the article, here’s the TL;DR: for teams with limited budget and time, mobile first seems to turn into mobile only. While mobile is an important experience, there are still many actions that people prefer to take on their desktops, so we need to make sure to consider the context of an experience for any design.

But it’s worth addressing the detractors’ concerns. Continue Reading

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A “Likable” Brand

It’s been almost two years since Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Girls Write Now Awards Speech, and yet in the current political climate it’s getting some much-needed press. Today, I’m sharing it both because I think it’s a valuable lesson, and because I want to drive home an important point: the difference between a person and a brand.

Forget about likability

Here’s a transcript of part of Adichie’s speech:  Continue Reading

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The Hidden Dangers of Tree Testing

Tree testing and its related research activity, the card sort, are often the first research lines of defense for content strategists. We love seeing what people who might use a site or app think about terminology, hierarchy, and categorization. But sadly, I’ve been in many a research phase where we looked at the results and said “wait – was that a problem because we used the wrong words?” or “Did they put those together because of how we phrased them or what they associate with that term?” or even “You thought that card meant that? I always use that term for this… what were our participants using it to mean?”

This is the hidden danger in card sorting: confusing the search for terminology with the search for organization. Continue Reading

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I’ll Tell You What I Want (What I Really Really Want)

In the February 19th closing Broadway performance of Chicago, the female lead playing Roxie Hart broke character. Personally, I’ve seen actors break on occasion, due to a prop malfunction or an audience interruption. It’s not funny, the way it is when SNL cast members break – in fact, it upsets the context and fluidity of the show.

What made this moment unique is that it was pre-planned and purposeful. Mel B, the former Spice Girl playing Roxie Hart, stopped mid-scene to sing a line from the Spice Girl’s hit song Wannabe. The audience cheered, the show went on, and plenty of press and Broadway regulars weighed in. Most agreed that the break was unnecessary, unwarranted, and unprofessional.

Don’t let your website break character Continue Reading

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Why Triggering Language Matters

“Triggered” might just be the word of the year. It’s showing up in political discussions, on college campuses, in relation to gender equality, rape culture, military history, suicidal fears, domestic abuse, racial slurs, sexual abuse, and the list goes on.

Generally speaking, we read it referred to for two reasons:

  1. People defending the right to free speech without worrying about who they might “trigger”
  2. People requesting a safe space where they will experience no “triggers”

These responses seem to assume that triggers are static things that people are impacted by, or that they make up. But a trigger isn’t always a word or phrase that defies political correctness. It’s not always a joke in poor taste, or something said to shock. For content strategists working in healthcare, triggers are associations that impact patients’ ability to care for themselves. Continue Reading

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Do You Live in a Bubble? (and why it matters)

“There exists a new upper class that’s completely disconnected from the average white American and American culture at large, argues Charles Murray, a libertarian political scientist and author.” -Do You Live in a Bubble? (PBS)

I live in a bubble. I have a career I chose and love, friends who are informed and enjoy political discussions but are generally liberal and left-leaning, and I have always been lucky enough to have family that could help me out if I took a risk and needed financial support. I have had my share of struggles, but finances have not been one of them. I have fought for many things and endured tough times, but I have also had opportunities to travel and take on internships. I have always had a safety net. Continue Reading

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Happy Holidays (or, Why Words Matter)

Every winter I’m surprised to see who comes out in defense of “Merry Christmas” over “Happy Holidays.” This year, a Facebook meme helpfully summarized how many people feel.

Merry Christmas

But words have meaning. Merry Christmas means enjoy celebrating one specific holiday, much like saying Happy Birthday, or Happy New Year, or Happy Hannukah. I wouldn’t wish you a Happy Birthday on a random Tuesday – it just wouldn’t make sense.

From a communication perspective, the difference between Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays isn’t about political correctness. It’s about common sense! If you’re not sure what holiday someone might celebrate, go for a blanket “Happy Holidays.” If you know they celebrate Christmas, go for Merry Christmas. And if it’s their birthday, then wish them a Happy Birthday.

Happy Holidays, Content Strategy Style!