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Weapon #3: Readability

In the past few lessons you learned how to nail down your focus and create a catchy headline. Now learn how to add impact and readability to your proposal.

We all work to make our designs more usable, so why are we still creating unreadable proposals filled with big, unbroken blocks of text?

Wrap up your proposal with a beautiful bow by improving the readability of your content.

Step 1: Break Up the Blocks 

Put your usability skills to use to improve the readability of your proposal.

Start by breaking up your sentences. Sentence length should vary because uniformity might look nice but to our minds it also looks boring.

You should also break up your paragraphs. For proposals, paragraphs should have no more than 2 sentences before breaking to a new line.

If you really want to have an impact, use a single sentence in its own paragraph.

Bam. Just like that.

This results in writing that is much more memorable.

Next, utilize the skills you already know about writing for the web such as:

  • Using bullets and numbered lists, especially in the takeaways section of your proposal
  • Use subheads to let readers know what to expect
  • Bold subheads and important text to guide the readers eye to the important points

Ready to see an example in action? Yeah, I thought so.

Step 2: Follow the Example

First, look back at all the posts that I have written for this series to date and notice how I utilized readability principles.

Next, check out the proposal that I submitted for the IA Summit last year:

Take a moment to sit quietly and listen to a conversation between designers. What do you hear? Debates over design changes; thoughts and discussions on recent user testing; possible interaction solutions for the best possible experience. While specific discussions and experiences may vary there is a common issue facing designers across all sectors and cultures; an issue that this profession has been struggling with since the beginning – getting stakeholder buy-in. Whether it’s the use of a specific tool to help define a given end state or trying to shift a rigid process to a more flexible and creative solution, designers seemingly have to battle more often than not to get support for their approaches and solutions to both small and large scale design issues.

We believe that empathy, patience, and communication are the key to getting stakeholder buy-in. Luckily, designers are already well equipped for this task! This talk will help designers sharpen their communication skills by providing 1) essential business frameworks from strategy leaders Stephen Covey and Charles Krone; and 2) conflict resolution and assertion techniques such as fogging, broken record, and negative assertion found in behavioral psychology.

Oh boy, look at all those blocks of text!

Here is what it looks like after I format it for readability:

Take a moment to sit quietly and listen to a conversation between designers.

What do you hear?

Debates over design changes; thoughts and discussions on recent user testing; possible interaction solutions for the best possible experience.

While specific discussions and experiences may vary there is a common issue facing designers across all sectors and cultures; an issue that this profession has been struggling with since the beginning – getting stakeholder buy-in.

Whether it’s the use of a specific tool to help define a given end state or trying to shift a rigid process to a more flexible and creative solution, designers seemingly have to battle more often than not to get support for their approaches and solutions to both small and large scale design issues.

We believe that empathy, patience, and communication are the key to getting stakeholder buy-in.

Luckily, designers are already well equipped for this task!

This talk will help designers sharpen their communication skills by providing:

  1. Essential business frameworks from strategy leaders Stephen Covey and Charles Krone
  2. Conflict resolution and assertion techniques such as fogging, broken record, and negative assertion found in behavioral psychology.

 

See the difference and impact?

Additional editing of the proposal could have cut down the sentence length and made it even more readable.

One trick copywriters use is to eliminate fluff and cut words in a sentence until removing any more words would change its meaning. So you are writing your proposal, constantly ask yourself: “Does this paragraph/sentence word help me get my point across?” If not, then cut it.

This post wraps up the last part in the series on how to write a good conference proposal. Best of luck to everyone!

Weapon #2: Catchy Headlines

Last lesson you learned how to get inspired and nail down your focus. Now learn to reel-in your audience with a great headline.

The headline is so important because on average, 80% of people read the headline and only 20% read what comes next.

So casting out a proposal with a hook will catch you much more acceptances!

Step 1: Begin with a great headline starter

Creating catchy headlines is hard, here are some tried and tested headline starters used by top copywriters:

  • How To …
  • Are you…?
  • Why you…
  • Top Ten…
  • 7 proven..
  • Should you…?
  • Do you…?
  • Learn to…
  • Discover…
  • The secret of…
  • What you need to know about…

Did you notice how I combined two headline starters to create the title for this blog series?

Okay, now its your turn!

Step 2: Write Multiple Headlines

Write 3 – 5 different headlines for your proposal.

Why you might ask?

Because your first attempt will probably be mediocre, and just like in design you can iterate and make it better.

After each headline, look at it and ask yourself, “How can I improve this? Does it respond to my audience’s needs?”

You can try appealing to your audience in several ways, consider:

  • Asking a question
  • Promising secret knowledge
  • Talking to specific pain point
  • Warning of loss

When writing your headlines, use a different starter and approach every time.

So if you first headline attempt stated “How to ..” your next should ask a question and the third could promise secret knowledge.

You will be amazed how quickly you are able to iterate to a truly catchy headline that will get your proposal noticed!

Tomorrow we will wrap up your proposal by improving its readability, stay tuned!

Weapon #1: Inspired Outlines

Welcome to your first lesson on creating great conference proposals! Let’s start at the beginning … the idea.

The question is: do you have one?

You might be running on empty or have a few half-formed ideas that feel thick and foggy.

The solution: turn your idea meter to 11.

Step 1: Get Inspired 

The best way to get inspired is to allow your mind to relax. It’s that feeling that you get when you go for a long drive and set your mind to cruise control. You take in the scenery around you and just let your thoughts wonder.

Your first step is to reclaim that feeling.

Instead of thinking hard about your idea and getting a brain freeze – without the benefit of sugary goodness – stop thinking and instead:

  • Go for a drive
  • Take a long walk
  • Sit quietly and listen to some music
  • Visit a museum
  • Hang out in a cafe

Break your daily routine and expose yourself to the outside world so that you can get the mental stimulation necessary for new ideas.

Jot down topics that come to mind, and then follow the next step to nail down your focus.

Step 2: Nail Down Your Focus

Now that you have some topics in hand, it’s time to break out the ultimate weapon for helping you focus your proposal – the three sentence mini.

The three sentence mini is the ninja writing technique that guarantees that you will be able to clearly and concisely communicate your idea.

Say goodbye to rambling, tangents, and illogical points.

Here is how it works:

Pick a few of your favorite topics, and for each topic create three sentences that will form the foundation of your proposal outline.

The three sentences include: The Setup, The Plot, and The Point

The setup answers the question ‘why’ and leads the reader in, the plot is the difficultly or conflict that you are addressing, and the point is the message that you want to get across.

So let’s say that I wanted to write a proposal about ways to design for behavior change. My three sentence mini might be:

Designers are charged with changing user behavior to meet specific business goals (The Setup)

Rather than affect behavior change, existing techniques only serve to reduce friction in a design (The Plot)

Behavior change only arises when three key elements converge at the same time: motivation, ability, and a trigger. (The Point)

 Here is another example:

 I used to ride horses in competition, and every now and then, I’d take a fall. (The Setup)

Everything’s going well, you’re feeling great, and then the horse balks in front of a jump – you go arse over teakettle and land in the dirt. (The Plot)

You never learn how not to fall; you just get better at falling. (The point)

The Takeaway:

There is one more sentence that you have to write that is specific to conference proposals – the takeaway.

You need to answer: What are the key points that the audience will learn or take away from my presentation?

It is best to address this question in a bulleted format that lists 2 – 4 key takeaways.

Step 3: Expand Your Minis 

The last step in creating your proposal outline is to flesh out your mini by writing down three supporting points for each of your three sentences, as follows:

Designers are charged with changing user behavior to meet specific business goals

  • By eliciting targeted behaviors within the product, such as submitting a rating
  • Increasing the duration of a specific behavior
  • Helping users achieve lasting behavioral change

Rather than affect behavior change, existing techniques mainly serve to reduce friction in a design (The Plot)

  • Reducing friction often means improving the usability of the product
  • Reducing friction is a good first step towards behavior change
  • The next step is to strategically incorporate concrete triggers into the design

Behavior change only arises when three key elements converge at the same time: motivation, ability, and a trigger. (The Point)

  • Motivation arises from pleasure, pain, or fear
  • The ability to change depends on physical or mental effort, time, or money
  • No behavior happens without a trigger

Key Takeaways

  • The three key elements of behavioral change
  • Questions your team should ask when designing for behavioral change

Now that you have your outline, double check that your points are logical and work to support the main statement.

Use it Today

Congratulations! With the completion of your outline you have the majority of your proposal already written.

Bam!

Now just use the outline to create a narrative and get set for tomorrow when you will learn the second secret weapon: How to Create Catchy Headlines

[Disclaimer: The ideas presented in this blog are not original. I learned all of the techniques from a great writing course called Damn Fine Words ]

While sitting at your desk at work, have you ever had that restless feeling? The feeling that work has gotten stale, that the status quo is a chaffing? I often get this feeling about 6 months into a full-time job, and I have always thought there was something wrong with me. No one else seems to chafe, squirm, feel discomfort, why me?

What I recently discovered is that there is nothing wrong me, but that I am actually an entrepreneur (perhaps a bit of a late blooming one).  I am not content to be a cog in a wheel, a worker on the line, a resource.

I have not been able to find the type of company that supports my entrepreneurial spirit, so over the next few years I will design my own company. I will create a new kind of company, one for which I would want to work. I have given this a lot of thought lately, and although I am unsure about a lot of things, here are few values that I know will be present in my company:

  • Collaboration – there is no such thing as “this is not my job”, and no discipline, role or skill takes precedence over another. We need them ALL to be successful. We respect each other and all work together to ensure quality and success. The operative word is WE, we fail or succeed as a team.
  • Sustainability – the company will not be growth driven, we do not strive for perpetual expansion, consumption, more, more more. The goal is to pay a small team a fair wage, work on interesting projects, and support personal growth.
  • Quality – quality in the work and team members. Taking care of each individual’s needs so that they are inspired to produce quality work (not just crank out deliverables like factory workers). Quality takes precedence over speed, quantity, and money.
  • Inspiring Environment – In order to be creative and produce quality work, it is important to expose oneself to new contexts, ideas, and activities. The company will actively encourage play, working with different mediums to activate different brain centers, and support exposure to outside sources of inspiration.
  • Giving Back – Everyone will undertake their own career journey, be nourished and supported. They are also expected to share back anything they have learned to both the company and the greater community. You always learn more by teaching.

 

After being truly inspired by Seth Godin’s book Linchpin, I submitted the following abstract as a lightning talk to both IxDA (not accepted) and UxLx. I am working on turning this into a Johnny Holland article:

Emotional Work

In a manual economy, the meaning of hard work was crystal clear. When your grandfather hauled hay all day long to make sure that the cows got fed, you knew he worked hard. What is hard work in the knowledge economy? When the work is no longer visible on the surface (and looking busy by checking your phone for messages does not count!), what are we actually getting paid to do?

Inspired by the work of Seth Godin, this talk will introduce the idea of emotional work. Emotional work is confronting fatigue and fear to accomplish more than is in a job description. It is making new connections, facilitating communication, standing out, and dealing with difficult situations. This concept is especially salient to designers, since the majority of the work that we do is emotional work. We put much of ourselves into our designs, and then present, explain, cajole, defend, negotiate, and rework our art.

Once we recognize this as our true work, we will quickly realize the implications for our work environment, collaboration, and our larger purpose within an organization.

The sentiment in the UX community is pretty clear, that usability thing, yeah we got that. For example, Dana Chisnell recently wrote an article for UX Magazine called Beyond Frustration: Three Levels of Happy Design, while Chris Fahey talked about The Human Interface at the IA Summit, and let’s not forget Kathy Sierra’s thoughts on What comes after usability?

So what does come after usability? This is my initial stab at the answer. I thought that perhaps I should approach it from the psychological point of view by using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we are designing for people after all. Here is the (draft) diagram that I came up with:

At the base is functionality – the product must be able to perform a function, otherwise everything else is meaningless.

Then, usability – people should be able to learn/understand how to perform the function

Sociality – here is where things get murky, according Maslow, the third level in the hierarchy is love/belonging. Perhaps a product should provide a sense of belonging. This does not necessarily mean embedding facebook into every system, it could just be aligning with a brand (such as Apple), or surfacing interesting aggregate behaviors.

Self-Fulfillment – I am not sure if perhaps self-fulfillment comes before or after sociality, in some ways they are a bit linked to each other, so the categories aren’t so clear cut. Here I am talking about truly helping the end-user kick ass (channeling Kathy Sierra here), by enabling flow, happiness, personal growth, self-awareness, or behavioral change. In some respects, this is what it truly means to create a place where a user can have an experience.

Generativity – At this point the user feels a sense of ownership and has internalized the value of the product. Its important to provide a feedback channel that helps generate new ideas and excitement, and enables the product an the user to continue to evolve together. This is what it truly means to be viral.

I don’t have all of this worked out in my head yet, so I know that I will be revisiting this concept again in the future. Thoughts?

I had the incredible privilege of being able to attend Seth Godin’s seminar in Boston last week. He spent some of the time talking about many of the ideas outlined in his books, and then took questions from the audience. I read his latest book Linchpin before attending the seminar, so was already very pumped to be there. I highly recommend getting the book as they cover his ideas in depth. Here are my notes from the talk:

  • All of us grew up in an economy of the factory.
  • We have been trained to work in the factory economy through our school system, which teaches us to show up and follow directions to be successful. It teaches us to be compliant, you learn to do what you are told.
  • People often say, show me what is available that I can succeed at, and I will choose the path. This is the factory mentality, you need make your own path, your own map.
  • To economy is changing, the value is no longer about showing up and following directions, but solving problems that have not been solved and connecting people that have not been connected. We didn’t get taught to solve problems and make a our own maps.
  • What we need is someone to solve interesting problems.
  • The community of people around you is the asset.
  • Human beings like doing what other human beings like doing.
  • Spamming people does not work like it use to, personal, relevant, organized messages always works better.
  • It is important to organize around the conversation, the product is the souvenir as long as it enables conversation.
  • The old school mentality wants you to be in a factory, making average stuff and growing a little more each day. Like your mother in law might say, its your job to make money, support your family, and then die.
  • Charisma does not make you a leader, being a leader makes you charismatic.
  • People who are seen as the authority / best in a niche, are the most successful. The dip is the space between deciding to be the best and being the best. If it’s hard, it is worth doing.
  • Might want to answer: What is the impact that you want have ? What do you want to make?
  • Just 4 hours every Sunday allows you to join the world wide market place, and fail frequently.
  • In a post-industrial economy, the only person that gets paid is the one that makes things happen, they are valuable, indispensable.
  • How do you know if you are indispensable? Ask: Who will miss you? Earn the right to talk to your tribe.
  • Become an artist. An artist is not one that paints, but rather a person that creates an original work that changes another person. Artists find the scarcity and fill it, they also ship.
  • To get more business: 1) do the emotional labor to build your audience; 3) have a posture for doing more and the work will come.
  • If you can’t get the people you have access to excited, why would 100 people care?
  • To change your current company, you must ship and show results: 1) produce small innovations; 2) create small success with customers; 3) bring successes to the boss to get permission to do more; 4) treat you boss as the client, data gather for what they want, if what they want and what you want is the not the same – leave; 5) ask yourself: with the boundaries of what makes the company successful, how can you add a layer of art and generosity?
  • The new way: Here are people, what do the want? Here are conversations, what do people want to talk about? (Not what they want to consume)

Alla Zollers

I design products and services that just. make. sense.

When products make sense, customers are happy.

If customer are happy, they sign-up, stay on site, engage, share, and buy your product or service.

Happy customers allow companies to profit in both senses of the word.

I provide the following services:

• Heuristic Evaluations
• Discovery Research
• Strategy and Vision Development
• Information Architecture
• User Experience Design
• Usability Testing

You can find me on:
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