The Pathway to User Experience

Group shotEarlier this month, I taught a two-week course based on user experience principles.

That’s not a sentence that existed ten years ago. Even now, a course in UX might mean ten different things to ten different people. Unlike an American History teacher, who has a fairly consistent curriculum to follow, a UX teacher has only his or her own reading and experiences to draw on to invent a way to teach something that he or she has “picked up” along the way. At one point, as we created our curriculum, I thought “I’m trying to cram eight years of work experience into a two-week course.”

That’s not to say UX can’t be taught. On the contrary, UXMastery has even curated a list of UX degrees offered worldwide. But what does the formalization of teaching UX mean for the field? Continue Reading


Activities on the Spot

In 2007 I was an English teacher in a public school in France, teaching a rotation of 8 classes and seeing each class once a week. It was tough to keep them straight, but I enjoyed the classes, ranging from first to third year English, with ages between 11 and 13.

One week, I planned an activity based around World War 1. I knew they were studying the United States and their role in the war, so I dug out one of my favorite poems (Flanders Field), translated it into French, and prepared a list of questions to get discussion going on the impact of war on the country’s youth.

One problem: when I arrived in class, I realized they were studying the American Civil War, not World War 1. Continue Reading


What is Livability?

A few years ago I was spending some time in Barcelona with my cousin Josh. One night I offered to make dinner – a peanut chicken dish I had more or less invented. We sat down to dinner, and after a few bites Josh said “this is very edible.” His wife Jan immediately defended me. “What a terrible thing to say! This is great.” But Josh had meant it as a complement. “I mean I don’t want to stop eating it,” he explained. Since then I’ve loved the idea of edible meaning more than something you can eat, but something you don’t want to stop eating.

Yesterday, during our frustrating yet valuable card sort (part of the ongoing design process trip for high school students I am currently co-leading through Atlas Workshops), the students got into a conversation on the word livability. It’s a popular word in city design these days, but the definition is vague at best. To be “livable” means more than just a place you can live. It means a place that is delightful, a place that ranks at the top of Design’s Hierarchy of Needs. Livable describes a way of living in the way that Josh wanted edible to describe eating. Yet edible does connotate merely able to be eaten, to most of the world, and livability equally might mean merely able to be lived in. No wonder livability is such a difficult concept to explain! Continue Reading


Card Sorting, People Sorting

Yesterday’s lesson: if it frustrates me, it likely frustrates students as well.

GamestormingTo be clear, I was not frustrated yesterday. In fact, I absolutely loved our exercises – it was the beginning of our Information Architecture work, as we (Atlas Workshops) continue to lead the students through the design process to create a website about smart cities. We’ve helped them to do some basic user research, understand their audience, collect data on smart cities, and yesterday the time had come to identify how the information they had collected all connected, and (ultimately) how we would display it on their final website.

We began with a card sort. Each student had a topic in mind, and announced it to the team. My plan had been for them to write their topics on index cards, and then collectively sort them into various categories until they had a clear idea of how their myriad ideas connected. That said, we had forgotten the index cards. We had also forgotten the sticky notes. It was a user experience designer’s nightmare… until we realized, the cards could be people. Continue Reading


The Worst Gamestorming Ever

Today I led the worst post-up I have ever experienced. It was wonderful.

An Atlas post-up

For context, I’ve long been a proponent of Gamestorming, a set of activities that encourage creative brainstorming compiled by Dave Gray. One of my favorites is a post-up, which uses sticky notes to promote group agreement on complex subjects. I’ve adapted the post-up from its original form, with great success – I change it a little with each team of executives or stakeholders, but it has a few consistent elements:

  • I always begin by asking the group to write their ideas (generally “nouns”) of what makes up the bigger project we are beginning. I ask them to write rather than discuss so that quiet voices will be heard as well as strong voices.
  • I post all of the ideas on a wall, all in one color, so that they stop being individual people’s ideas.
  • As a group, we decide which nouns are similar, and group them together in categories, in order to begin identifying a structure – and in this case, to help the students break out the website project into sections they would each individually work on.

Continue Reading


What is Design Thinking?

Interesting challenge today: my team of eight high school UX designers began their official web project, as we travel through Scandinavia with Atlas Workshops. Over the course of three hours, we had three objectives.

  1. Identify various methods of storytelling, in order to select one that might best work to convey information to our target audience of other high school students.
  2. Select a single method of storytelling, based on user interviews they conducted on one another.
  3. Learn what that phrase they keep hearing, “design thinking” means.

Continue Reading


New Perspectives

A few years ago I was in a meeting with several older, more experienced marketing and design folk. In theory, I was there to present my plan for their content strategy, but not thirty seconds in someone cut me off and began to talk over me.

I’ve thought about that moment many times, and felt a number of different emotions. At the time I was frustrated. Since then I’ve felt everything from furious to grateful. Furious at how disrespectful it was, but grateful for the perspective it gave me. I realized three things from that meeting. Continue Reading


Live from Congility: We are all Content Marketers Now

We are all content marketers now, by Charles Cooper

Congility2014We’ve used many techniques, but it’s all communication. The content is the same; it’s how we display it that changes. The Bible, for example, has been on everything from handwritten to typeset to printed to tablet.

People remember more if they’re engaged

  • The mindset hasn’t changed – we’ve focused on what we’re sending out
    • We need to change the mindset – it’s a 2-way conversation
  • We get more feedback face-to-face
  • If we focus on output, we don’t engage people.  It’s just a broadcast.
    • People fear trolls
    • Who Cares?!
    • We lose when we don’t get feedback
  • Actors and comedians work with feedback from the audience
  • Electronics and human resources request feedback
  • This is why we need to do content marketing, not just marketing/sales

Continue Reading


Live from Congility: Storytelling, immortality and the content experience

Storytelling, immortality and the content experience: the future exposed, by Kevin Nichols

Congility2014Content (according to Sapient Nitro) is any information that is recorded.

  • Hieroglyphics (recorded on papyrus)
  • Sound
  • Video
  • Newspaper
  • Digital Information

Content strategy determines which information to share with whom and when.

Story challenges

  • Are we creating stories that actually deserve to be preserved?
  • Have we lost sight of good story telling for the sake of telling stories that are only important for the moment? Or just to sell something?
  • Has emphasis on channel (mobile first) superseded the story (content first)?
  • Multichannel vs. omnichannel: Omnichannel keeps the user at the center, and uses as many or few channels as necessary to tell the relevant stories.

What makes a good story?

  • Timelessness – a good story doesn’t have a shelf life or single channel

*Sadly, due to technical difficulties, to be continued!*