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Asking Questions

One of the hardest things to teach in a consulting space is how to ask questions. Yet our work as content strategists requires it: we need to get our clients, our users, and others talking in order to learn about their hopes, dreams, goals, struggles, the words they use, the phrases that confuse them, and so much more.

Yet time and again I witness others – and fall into the trap myself – asking questions that result in blank stares. Here are a few tips to asking questions that work:

Be Direct

We often like to preface questions with “let’s just discuss” or “let’s get a conversation going” to help people feel comfortable. No one wants to start an interrogation. But vague questions are harder to answer than direct ones. Don’t ask “tell me about your audience.” Ask “tell me about your audience’s top challenges.”

Don’t Provide Examples

I’m terrible at this. I often end a question with “such as…” Unfortunately, that means I’ve led the witness. It’s far better to finish the question, take a deep breath, and wait for them to come up with their own examples or directions.

Be Patient

Again, guilty. Actually, that’s why I provide examples! No sooner have I finished a question then I worry they don’t know what I mean. But when I can hold back the “I mean something along the lines of…” or “does that make sense?” and instead wait, productive responses come.

Send Questions in Advance

If you really want to have a conversation, get the questions over first so that the client or user can feel prepared to join or even lead the discussion.

Practice and Prepare

None of this is obvious or automatic. Write a script, with the exact way you want to phrase questions. Ask someone else your questions in advance. Read books such as Interviewing Users by Steve Portigal.

Good luck!

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Designing for Mental Health: Workshop

For designers, the mental health space is a difficult one to reach. Hundreds of apps flood the app store offering to cure depression, bipolar disorder, and other behavioral health issues. But few are clinically tested or have proven their validity.

At Mad*Pow we want more for the world of mental health. We want designers with health knowledge and an understanding of the challenges that people who struggle with mental health deal with every day.

That’s why Experience Strategist Jen Smerdel and I are hosting a workshop on Designing for Mental Health

Screen Shot 2018-02-12 at 5.01.22 PM

When: March 8th, 9am-5pm
Where: Boston, MA
Who: Designers, content strategists, and other UX practitioners interested in the health care space!

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It Depends: How Long Should My Page Be?

One of the most infuriating – and most often used – statements in a UX practitioner’s vocabulary is “it depends.”

While it’s true, there’s no one answer for how long a page should be, how many items should be in a top-level navigation, or how many photos to have on a homepage, there are best practices and guidelines.

This week, UX Planet has published my article “Please Don’t Scroll (and other page length myths),” to explain what page length depends on, and how to make the right decision. Give it a read for some concrete explanations, guidelines, and definitions, such as:

“A concise sentence or paragraph has no unnecessary terms, but contains all the information required to be well understood and valuable.”

Check it out! People Don’t Scroll

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Books 2017

Another year, another 61 books. Although 2017 was an absolutely terrible year, it’s been a good year for reading. 21 of the books I read were 4 stars (out of 5) or above, including a few fun trilogies:  N.K Jemison’s Broken Earth trilogy, and Erika Johansen’s The Queen of the Tearling trilogy.

I discovered a few new favorite authors: N.K Jemison and Atul Gawande, and read some more by authors I already knew and loved: Margaret Atwood and Jhumpa Lahiri.

All three of my 5 star ratings went to nonfiction books (for the first time ever?), and 2 were by Atul Gawande: The Digital Doctor, Complications, and Being Mortal.

If you’re new to my book lists, here’s how I rate them:

  • * I couldn’t finish reading it, I hated it so much
  • ** I finished the book, but I wish I had the hours back I spent on it
  • *** It was about as expected, glad I read it but I wouldn’t recommend it
  • **** I really enjoyed reading the book, and would definitely recommend it to others
  • **** I MUST OWN THIS NOW! I want to reread it over and over and over

Looking for past years? Here’s 2016201520142013, and 2012. Continue Reading

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Our UX Ethical Responsibility

In a recent UX Matters article by Peter Hornsby, Hornsby calls out Facebook for purposely designing an addictive application. He quotes Sean Parker, Facebook’s first president, on the company’s goal:

“How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible. And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while—because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that’s going to get you to contribute more content. And that’s going to get you more likes and comments. It’s a social-validation feedback loop. … You’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology. The inventors / creators understood this consciously, and we did it anyway.”

[bolding added by me]

Hornsby was inspired by the realization that UX designers are essentially exploiting human vulnerability, and created his own variation on Asimov’s 3 rules:

  1. A UX designer may not injure a user or, through inaction, allow a user to come to harm.
  2. A UX designer must meet the business requirements except where such requirements would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A UX designer must develop his or her own career as long as such development does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

But here’s my question: is Facebook, in Hornsby’s example, actually breaking any of these laws? Continue Reading

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Will Alexa Make Us Rude?

AlexaLast night my husband made dinner at a friend’s house. At our house, he often has 3-4 timers running on his phone as he cooks. At our friend’s home, there was Alexa.

As I sat making conversation, I overheard him say “Alexa, please set a timer for 4 minutes.” and I felt a rush of pride for how polite he was. Then I felt ridiculous.

Why should it bother me that other people tell Alexa to set a timer and don’t say please or thank you? Why should anyone care if you thank an algorithm? Continue Reading

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Making the Complex… Still Complex

We often talk about making the complex simple. For years, I thought that the biggest challenge in working on a large scale project was to simplify complexity for our clients. But lately, I’ve recognized a flaw in that way of thinking.

Simplify, simplify

I have a lot of great recommendations for how to simplify complex information. For example…

  • Start with a synopsis
  • Pull out the top 5 areas to focus on
  • Provide details at the end of a presentation, in written form, for those who are interested
  • Color code wherever possible

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to reduce 1000+ (and 10,000+) page sites to a few bullet points or a handful of slides. I create excel sheets, word docs, PDFs, and PPTs to share findings and recommendations that address multiple problems with a variety of audiences across dozens of internal teams… and I try to keep it simple enough that we can discuss it in an hour or less.

I thought that was the goal. But now I’m not so sure. Continue Reading

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Content Strategy Gratitude

I’m grateful for many things, personal and professional. I’ve worked hard to build my career, and been exceptionally lucky to see that pay off. This year, I’m particularly grateful for:

  1. My amazing team of content strategists at Mad*Pow! Dana, Allison, and our newest addition Rick are brilliant strategists, fun to work with, and inspiring to collaborate with.
  2. The Content Strategy Facebook group. This is a caring, inquisitive, fascinating group of people who share relevant articles and get interesting conversations going. I love being part of it.
  3. Our favorite tools: GatherContent, and Mindjet. We’ve started using GatherContent exclusively for tracking workflows during content creation, and I couldn’t be happier. Mindjet is our go-to tool for sitemaps and IA creation, and I highly recommend it.
  4. My Mad*Pow coworkers. Our content strategy team is only as great as the people we work alongside, and luckily we work alongside some spectacular teammates.

What are you grateful for this year?

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Content Strategy Across Industries

What does higher education have to do with healthcare or finance? More than you might think!

Conference Revelations

Last week I was lucky enough to attend Confab Higher Ed. As always, Confab offered a variety of fantastic talks – so many that it was difficult to choose between them. But what most struck me wasn’t the brilliance of the speakers, or the breadth and depth of the information, or even the variety of perspectives.

What struck me was the ways in which higher education topics apply to healthcare and finance. Continue Reading

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Live from ConfabEDU: Too Many Cooks!

Too Many Cooks: How to overcome content interference so you can do your job, by Jared Thomas Meyer

Content interference can result in websites that don’t reflect goals, movie posters that don’t reflect the movie, and logos that are terrible.

You end up with: https://xkcd.com/773/

What is content interference?

The unsolicited, unwanted, and often uninformed opinion of an interloper that delays or alters carefully crafted content.

We ask for feedback in our process. Content interference isn’t feedback.

Why do people interfere?

  • Visibility is power
  • Competing interests
  • Content strategy is a mystery
  • Expertise is really difficult to prove (and easy to fake) Continue Reading