Empathy Map to Action Map

Atlas Workshops trips are divided into the three phases of the design process: Inspiration, Ideation, and Implementation. In each phase we have design meetings during which we introduce students to different design activities. The activities vary depending on the project. We’ve done card sorts (and themed card sorts), 45 minute designs, and post ups. The activities, though based on ideas from Gamestorming and IDEO and other UX entities, tend to take on a life of their own as we adapt them to the students’ needs. Our most recent invention was the “action map,” a variation on an empathy map. Continue Reading


Themed Card Sorts

In my experience, there are two types of card sorts: closed card sorts and open card sorts. In a closed card sort, participants sort ideas/words/phrases into pre-defined categories. In an open card sort, participants sort ideas/words/phrases into categories and then create titles for the categories.

I’ve had many excellent experiences leading open card sorts with clients as a way to define navigation on a website, company values, and even voice and tone guidelines. I’ve also had some frustrating experiences with open card sorts, most notably with a team of high school students on last summer’s Atlas Workshop’s trip. So I was perhaps understandably nervous when it became clear that a card sort would help this year’s Atlas Workshop’s team of students move forward with their project. Continue Reading


Are You as Creative as a 15yr Old?

This week and next I’m once again traveling with Atlas Workshops, teaching students to learn the design process to solve location-based problems. Sorry – did I say I’m teaching the students? I should say they’re teaching me. Because, of course, they are.

Today we did a 45min design exercise to practice basic user interviews and ideation based on research (based on IDEO’s exercise). Each student interviewed another, then designed a wallet for their partner based on the values they had gathered. Each wallet was a masterpiece, complete with everything from magnets to hold change, to zippers to separate the two halves of the wallet (for days you only need cash), to waterproof leather, for both style and practicality.

Adam and I prefaced the exercise by explaining to the students that this is also an activity we use in design agencies. So after presenting, the students asked how their wallets compared to business executives we’ve worked with. While I considered the question, Adam had an immediate answer: while adults tend to be more excited about the opportunity to create, but they also don’t tend to be as creative.

It’s a good thing to remember. We could all do with a bit more creative juice. Maybe we need to start thinking like high school students.

Looking for more articles on Atlas Workshops? Check out my trip from 2014.


A Study in Information Architecture: Pandora

I was curating my Pandora music stations last week (like you do), when it occurred to me: this is information architecture in practice. The purpose of good IA is to make content intuitively findable. My goal in culling my Pandora stations is to assess what sorts of music I have, ensure I don’t have duplicates, and categorize it in a way that will allow me to easily find whatever music is most appropriate for the moment.

What do you categorize and architect?

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Messaging and Literature

If you want to improve your messaging skills, here’s your homework: read Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech. Or most any other book intended for young adults, for that matter. Here’s four reasons why:

  1. Authors (generally speaking) are adults, and yet the best young adult authors manage to inhabit the mindset of a twelve or thirteen year old. This is a trickier mindset than inhabiting the mindset of an adult customer or client; an early-teen believes he or she is an adult, but makes assumptions that are altogether different from that of an adult. Continue Reading

I’d Rather Hire a Snowflake than a Unicorn


Image Credit: http://uxunicorn.com/

What is a UX Unicorn? Though the details vary, most agree that a unicorn is a UX practitioner who does a little of everything – visual and interaction design, front-end development, content and IA. The term has been gaining traction over the past several years, as employers seek out designers with expansive skill sets, and designers seek out ways to become more valuable to employers. Continue Reading


International Usability

Travel always opens my eyes to new concepts and UX alternatives. In Warsaw last week, I found a sign on the bus that wowed me with its usability.

This bus sign has three levels:

  • The top level lists out all the stops, consistent with every other bus map I’ve encountered.
  • The middle level (in red) divides the stops by neighborhoods.
  • The bottom level divided the stops by street. As a tourist this was fantastic; I knew I wanted to get as far south on Ujazdowksie Street as possible. This map showed me when I was at the southernmost stop before the bus turned onto Armii Ludowej.
Bus Sign

The Warsaw Bus Map

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Live from STC Summit: Get Out of Your Office: Conducting Successful Site Visits

Get Out of Your Office: Conducting Successful Site Visits, by Rhyne Armstrong




Every client is different, and is motivated in different ways.

Having empathy means we want to understand how they’re motivated, what makes them tick.

What does this give you?

  • Improved content.
  • Improved personas.

Part 1: Getting approval from your own team Continue Reading