Archive for the ‘conferences’ Category

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 #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.


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 ]

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)

At the UPA Boston conference, Colleen Roller discussed why seemingly insignificant aspects of information presentation can have a surprising effect on people’s perceptions and behavior.

  • People like to make easy choices
  • Cognitive fluency is how easy or difficult it is to think about something. Cognitive fluency is subtle and pervasive.
  • People tend to be attracted to what is: average, familiar, symmetrical.
  • The mere exposure effect – Exposing people to stimuli more than once increases attractiveness
  • What impacts how people determine the truth of unfamiliar statements? The size / color of text, frequency of exposure, rhyming words.
  • Rhyming words are an easier cognitive load / mental ease
  • People apply the sensation of mental ease to statements
  • Fluency of perceived truth is as follows: easy to decipher => must be familiar / safe => must be popular  (reply on social consensus when unsure) => must be true
  • People perceive things with names that are hard to pronounce as: risky, new & novel, exciting and full of adventure, likely to make them sick
  • Something that feels hard to decipher => is not familiar => must be risky
  • Rhyming text is easily remembered and seems more accurate
  • How its worded / appearance changes perception of statement (rhyme as reason effect)
  • People will postpone difficult decisions when the fond size used is difficult to read.
  • What can help people be more careful and prevent silly mistakes on tests? Using a font that is difficult to read.
  • A personal questionnaire that is less legible causes people to answer less honestly
  • To boost student morale, ask them to list a few reasons why they’ll succeed, many reasons why they my fail. It raises moral because the amount of mental work needed to come up with a long list of reasons for failure changes perception.

At the UPA Boston conference, Janelle Estes discussed how she used a variety of user research methods to assess how people use postings from companies and organizations on social networks.

  • Estes conducted a usability study and a diary study
  • She recruited people  who used 2+ social networks for 3+ months, as well as folks that were willing to access their social network accounts during test sessions
  • The usability study revealed that users often have a difficult time finding where to sign-up to receive postings. They will search on keywords such as “friends, connect, social”, and many sites don’t have results on those common terms.
  • The diary study was a 4 week study. Estes sent out assignments 3x per week, and asked for responses using a Google spreadsheet. She sent the assignment on a consistent schedule. Estes suggest that its important to make a connection with participants over the phone prior to the study, and it might be a good idea to vary assignments or shorten the study with more participants.

Estes was able to glean some design guidelines from her study as follows:

  • Users had varying expectations on message types, it all depended on the org. News: top stories, Consumer: new products, sales; Non-Profit: Initiatives: upcoming events
  • Place important information at the beginning of the message, as people only scan the first few words
  • Clearly describe where a link take users
  • Users expected companies to be personable, informal, have more personality
  • Engage in two way conversation
  • Initiate conversation about relevant topics
  • Send messages regularly, but not too regularly
  • Choose a meaningful and eye-catching profile picture
  • Place calls to action on the homepage, footer navigation, and pair them with appropriate logos
  • Provide social network information in email and newsletters

At the UPA Boston conference, Bryn Dews and Thom Brando discussed their open-source prioritization game.

It is often difficult to get users to prioritize a list of features. In order to set priorities, Dews and Brando came up with a monopoly like game.

  • Provide users with “money” and have them “buy” features.
  • Ask users, “What’s it worth to you?”
  • Utilize 100 dollars in “bills”
  • Pilot tested the game using a physical board, then created an open-source online game
  • The game allows you to input and describe features, let users “buy” features, and write-in features as well as suggestions.
  • The game and installation instructions can be found here:


slime mold
Slime Mold

Kate Rutter gave a wonderfully passionate, informative, interactive, and engaging talk on what we can learn from slime mold. I loved her use of slime mold as a metaphor for our work environments, and also how she looked to nature to solve very human problems. I have always held the belief that many human breakthrough’s have occurred when we have turned to and learned from nature.

Throughout the talk, Kate recommended a few books:
Evocative Objects: Things We Think With by Sherry Turkle

Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software by Stephen Johnson

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath, Dan Heath

Here are my notes from the amazing talk:

Kate started out the talk by first telling us that slime mold are amazing because they are in constant conversation with the environment. When the environment is nourishing, the slime mold are thriving as multiple separate organisms. If the environment looses its abundance and is only able to sustain the slime mold, then the slime mold begin to signal each other and cluster. If the environment reaches a critical stage and is starving, then the slime mold form into slugs and attempt to survive.

After explaining this concept, Kate had the audience reenact the slime mold life cycle. A few volunteers were wearing white hotel robes to represent the slime mold, while the rest of the audience was the forest floor. The “forest” floor help up our hand when we were nourishing and the “slime mold” flitted about the room (in a very hilarious way!!). Then the forest floor lowered their hands a bit when there isn’t as much nourishment, and the slime mold began to send out distress signals and find each other. When the forest floor began to starve, the slime mold hunkered down and attempted to survive. This was REALLY FUN.

After the fun demonstration, Kate went on to connect the dots. She mentioned Lewin’s equation B=f(p, e) which states that behavior is a function of the person and the environment. She extended that notion to say that E = f(p, b) that the environment is a function of people and behavior, and by that token B=E, our behavior is our environment.

Now think about your organization/work environment. If you are in tune with your environment, then you can change your behavior accordingly. We can even learn which behaviors are the most appropriate from slime mold:

Environment: Nourishing
Behavior: Exploring, Sensing

Environment: Tough
Behavior: Sensing, signaling, clustering

Environment: Hostile
Behaviors: Sluggish, significant clustering (slime mold form into slugs)
You need to know: what won’t you give up? what can you leave behind? how much will you participate in collective action?

This translates to:
1) Sensing the organizational environment
2) Signaling to others (co-workers) about your senses. You can signal in different ways: great signals are loud and sticky and lead to change. High Volume Signals are memorable, energetic, have a pattern, are reinforced
Visual Signals get ideas through faster, and are able to communicate more information.
Choose the appropriate method of communication (signal) to get your message across
3) Band together as a team to support each other and survive

How does one create a rich work environment?

  • Collective play
  • Simple rules of engagement
  • Shared Standards
  • Always Sensing
  • Always Signaling

Kate recommended the use of a TAZ: Temporary Autonomous Zone which is an area outside of social control, a temporary space outside formal structures of control where collective play and creativity can occur. This does not mean that people should not do work, but rather follow the motto of “we are having fun, but we’re not kidding”. Many of the most successful companies have R&D departments which are outside of the formal structure.

Moreover, team members can user multiple platforms to listen for, send, and reinforce signals:
Twitter, RSS, Google Alerts to sense industry, economic, web trends.
Keep all eyes open, use strategy documents and watch the market.
Work Out Loud = post work, notes, and info so that is visible in high-traffic areas. Open the doors to participating in design work. Hold open design sessions.

Happiness Checklist

  • Have satisfying work to do
  • Chance to be good at something
  • Connect with people we truly like
  • Opportunity to be part of something bigger

Kate concluded with 4 simple things – be more like slime mold:

  • Make places and spaces for collective play
  • Work out Loud
  • Sense with intent: signal back what you learn
  • Constantly tune behaviors

Fred Beecher gave a really good, practical talk on how to integrate prototyping into the design process. There has been some chatter lately in the UX community about traditional deliverables being replaced by prototypes. As with prototypes, I think deliverables have their place based on what you are trying to accomplish, the time constraints, client/company culture. Personally, I hate documentation just for the sake of documentation. After my first job, I was interviewed at a firm that was astonished at how little documentation I had. I explained that my job consisted of communicating with 2 developers that I sat next to, I did not need to create elaborate documents for them as much of our communication was instantaneous. I also created a lot of prototypes, which was the extent of my documentation. Something that really hit home this year for me is this: All the artifacts that we create as designers are there to facilitate communication and further discussion, use what is appropriate for the situation, and do not go about creating things just because you feel that is your job. It is not your job, your job is converse, collaborate, generate ideas, and synthesize.

I will now step off my soap box and recap Fred’s presentation..

Fred mentioned that there are 2 dimensions to prototypes: visual fidelity (VF) and functional fidelity (FF). He then plotted them on an X-Y axis.

Sketches – low visual and functional fidelity
Paper wireframes – medium visual, low functional fidelity
Paper JPGS – high visual, low functional fidelity

Image Mapped Sketches – low visual, medium functional fidelity
Clickable wireframes – medium visual, medium functional
Image Mapped JPGS – high visual, medium functional

Proof of Concept – medium visual, medium-high functional
LVF Interactive Prototype – medium visual, high functional
HVF Interactive Prototype – medium-high visual, high functional
“Product Ready” – high visual and functional

Two additional dimensions:
Technical Fidelity – either “production ready” or not
Fidelity of Content – a prototype is NOT just interaction, content plays a large role in testing. Testing a prototype with crappy content will give you crappy data. Your prototype should have plausible content.

Given the many different types of prototypes, the trick is to know which one is most appropriate to use given the problem/question you wish to solve. The entire purpose of the prototype is to test/research. As with any research, we need to use the most appropriate method to solve the problem.

Here are some guidelines..

Low Visual Fidelity (LVF)/ Low Functional Fidelity (LFF) is good for:

  • discovering missing functionality
  • finding problems with workflow
  • separating good UX design concepts from less good ones
  • getting preliminary consensus from stakeholders


  • Enabling the use of user testing as a design tool
  • Proof of concept testing of isolated interactions
  • Enabling remote prototype testing
  • Validating design direction/implementation with stakeholders
  • Supplementing paper documents


  • Discovering any usability problems introduced by the design
  • Finding out problems with workflow when testing with non-savvy users
  • Iterating through multiple form factor concepts when working with physical devices


  • Integrating new designs into an existing system
  • User Testing with non-savvy user
  • Supplementing printed documentation for offshore development
  • Wowing stakeholders into submission

The best part of Fred’s talk was when he described how to incorporate prototyping in different process environments.

For Every Type of Business Process, first develop the detailed scenarios you want to test

First develop the detailed scenarios you want to test
Sketch 2-3 design concepts and test to choose one
Build small interactive prototype for critical interactions and proof-of-concept test them
Work with the developer to get a production ready prototype and test it too

First develop the detailed scenarios you want to test
Build an interactive prototype and walk through it with stakeholders
Simultaneously walk through prototype and documentation when handing it off to developers
Generate annotated prototype for developers reference

Donna Spencer led a really fun session about utilizing games for design work. She said that playing games stimulates different parts of our brains, and can help us be more creative. Here are some games that she went over, I am really excited to put them to use!

Also see this Boxes and Arrows article:

Books: Thinkertoys by Michalko and Innovation Games by Hohmann

Games to Play with Users

Design the homepage – using markers and paper, ask the user to design a homepage that would be perfect for them. The drawing itself does not have to look like a homepage, and can be much more free form. The drawing will enable you to understand what is important to the user.

Divide the dollar – start with a set a of features (either pre-defined or generated by the user). Give the users 100 fake dollars and ask them to diving the amount among the feature list. Ask the users to explain the reasoning behind their choices. This will help with feature prioritization.

Metadata – show users an object and ask them to tell you what they call that ‘thing’. This will you understand how people think about objects.

Freelisting – tell me as many of [fill in the blank] as you can think about. Pay attention to both the order in which people list items, as well as if they take any significant pauses. The pauses indicate cognitive chunking and perhaps different categories.

Card Sorting – write content ideas on cards and ask users to sort them. You can spice it up by having time pressures, competition, or prizes.

Games for Design Teams

Idea cards – you have three piles of cards that contain adjectives, verbs, and nouns. Pick one card from each pile and then try to design the experience that is provided on the cards. Might also want to use these professional cards:
Also these are awesome grow a game cards that can also be used for design:
Someone in the session also recommended these: Oblique Strategy Cards

Reversal – attack the problem from the reverse direction. For example: “Going through airport security is painful, how do you make it worse?” This is a really fun activity, but can also helps you discover concepts that are important but might be easy to miss.

Design the Box – individuals or teams creates a box as if the product was going to be sold like a software package at Best Buy. Each person should design for the front, back, and side of the box. Some things to consider: the product name, the tagline, the short hook on the front to entice a consumer to pick it up, perhaps a picture. Once the box is designed, ask everyone to “sell” their product to everyone else in the team. This helps figure out the vision statement.

Other games that were suggested by session participants:

Brainwriter – come up with ideas, write them on sticky notes and put them on the wall. If running out of ideas, look over the ones on the wall and see if it sparks more. Then do an affinity sort on the sticky notes for further insight.

Different hats – design from different perspectives. For example, if I was Steve Jobs, what would the product look lke?

Reverse position statement – ask the stakeholders to come up with a vision statement that is the opposite of what they want, this might help clarify/specify the vision.

I totally love the idea of game use for design, and want pointers to more games! If you know of some, please let me know :)

I am currently in Memphis enjoying the wonderful IA Summit for the second year in a row. My first order of business was taking Dan Brown’s workshop entitled “Managing Difficult Conversations”. My motivation for taking the workshop has been an increasing awareness that 10% of my job is IA/UX work and 90% is managing people and relationships, and in all honesty I am bad at 90% of my job. Although it was not immediately obvious to me, I was having trouble selling my ideas and facilitating collaboration. Also, at various jobs and from different people, I would constantly get comments about how I was coming off as too intense, too forceful, and too passionate. The situation came to a head when the boss at my latest company handed me “How to Win Friends & Influences People” by Dale Carnegie. It was pretty much a slap in the face of how 1) unaware I am of myself; 2) my inability to communicate properly; 3) my failure to facilitate open discussion. I have certainly done a lot of introspection since then, and I will continue to do so. The workshop really helped me jell a lot of things that were already floating around in my head, and also realize that it will take a few more years of work and practice to get truly good at this. I am however committed to working on improving myself. In hopes of helping others, and just spreading the EightShapes love, here are my notes from the session…

Part I

Best Practices

  • rephrase negative statements
    Example: “We don’t have the requirements so we can’t start” vs “Once you provide us with the requirements, we can get started”
  • rise above naysayers
  • always start with the good
  • openness over defensiveness
    Example: When someone is disagreeing with you, say “I think that’s a great idea. Perhaps we can talk about how it might work?”

Engage Your Audience

  • Personalize the message by saying someone’s name
    Example: “John, what do you think about this?”
  • Repeat the questions you’re asked
  • Position your questions for success
  • Use Humor


  • Know the situations, not just the people.
    People are facing pressures from others in the company, might be having problems with their personal life, and are generally situated in many layers of situations beyond the current one.
  • Listen and seek to understand
    Sometimes people just need to get something off their chest, so its helpful just to listen to them and comfort them with understanding
  • Don’t be quick to dismiss (even if you disagree)*
  • Respond with acknowledgment of situation/emotion

Lighten Up

  • Humor can be a powerful communication tool. When using humor: make it relevant; be on the lookout for material; prep and plan for jokes (don’t assume it will just come to you); when in doubt, point to yourself.

    If you are in a bad mood, feeling rushed, and are headed for a meeting, take 15 minutes before the meeting to do something to put yourself in a more positive mindset. Search for recipes, twitter, text, deep breathing, grab a snack, anything that will get out of that “zone”. Both your mind and body language will be effected and will help the meeting/discussion go smoother.

Part II

Improving your communication skills is really about introspection. If you are feeling anxious, annoyed, angry, look within yourself for the cause. Do you feel unappreciated? Not valued? Unheard? Try to get at the root cause of your problems, and figure out ways to help yourself through better communication with others. This is also a good time to learn about your own habits and characteristics, so that you can be more self-aware about your own communication patterns.

For IA’s, it is also important to understand that the deliverables are not the end product, they are there to help facilitate conversations, which in turn help make the product better. So its important to take a step back from the deliverables and understand that they are just one part of a process. When discussing deliverables, don’t look at it as a personal attack, but rather that they are doing their job of facilitating conversation and further thought. In fact, be prepared for challenges when presenting deliverables, as that is the whole point!

It is also important to understand the components of a conversation: at least 2 people, the message that is being communicated, the tool that is used to communicate the message, each person’s objective/agenda, personal perspectives, each individual’s habits and the skills that everyone uses to overcome the habits, the situation in which the conversation is taking place as well as all the external situations encompassing each individual.

When speaking with another person, it is important to understand their agenda – what drives them? what is their objective? This will help you use correct words/messages to persuade the other person.

It is also important to understand their communication habits (as well as your own). Some people prefer to converse exclusively via email, or phone, or in person. Utilize the method of communication that is most comfortable for the other person, even if it not the most convenient for you. This will put them at ease.

Part III


Below are some characteristics that Dan and Chris have found exist in people/clients/stakeholders, and some techniques on how to deal with them.

  • No Direction – the person can’t tell you what’s wrong
    Techniques: Ask good specific questions, be mindful of the goals of the conversation, understand that these people might be motivated by fear/anxiety. Say things like “help me understand”, “I want to help you succeed,” act dumb and ask them to talk through the problem, point out how the design already accomplishes goals.
  • Misdirected Passion – they feel strongly about the strangest things
    Techniques: Try to understand their perspective/agenda/passion, pick your battles, let them have their say, set expectations and explain context, do not avoid the problem. Say things like “these are really important points….
    let’s see how we can build that into design
    let’s concentrate on the agenda and address it at the next meeting
    i’ve set some time aside to discuss that
  • Inconsistent Messaging – they talk out of both sides of their mouth
    Techniques: Bite your tongue (don’t call them out on it, well yesterday you said this), pick your battles, capture messages in writing, recap the decisions made in the meeting, and validate the captured decisions. Our job here is to help them find out what they want.
  • Unwilling to admit ignorance – they get stuff wrong
    Your colleague or employee does not fully understand the project and produces a work that is off-track. Technique: Ask them to explain their thinking/rational, deflect responsibility onto the boss/client, avoid distractions by taking other work off their plate.
  • Other characteristic types not discussed in detail: no vision, no strength, no structure, not available, tunnel vision, prioritize reputation, poor communication skills, poor use of communication tools

Part IV


This part describes some of the situations that we are faced with, and how to deal with them.

  • Too Many People Involved – the size of the ‘stakeholder’ list is unwieldy and dramatically inhibiting progress
    Techniques: Identify the influencers/gatekeepers and speak directly to them, don’t ask quesions of the group, ask specific individuals, provide channels for individual feedback but publish for broader consumption
  • Poor Team Member Performance – the performance of one or several team members is jeopardizing the project success
    Techniques: first identify all of the positive aspects of the performance, avoid explicit or implicit personal attacks, coach don’t point, use positive language, express confidence in abilities, negotiation.
  • Defending Decisions – clarifying and rationalizing design choices when challenged
    Techniques: establish ‘common IA practices’ before design exercise, pick your battles, if supporting data isn’t there, explain the hypothesis, know your why’s, make sure stakeholders are on the ride for the whole way, help prioritize problems, show implications, focus on agreements – “we are not so far apart on this ..”

Other Situations: losing momentum, planning design, design reviews, defending progress, project failure, resolving conflict (internal and stakeholder.

Part V

Tricks of the Trade

  • telling a good story and aligning it with your audience
  • seeing other perspectives/agendas
  • picking your battles: know when to turn on the passion. Getting a product that has most of your ideas is already an improvement to the product, even if you don’t get everything in.
  • setting expectations/context – where you are in the project
  • setting action items – the are of what do we do now?
  • avoiding distractions, even if timely and relevant
  • deflecting responsibility to a third party (common enemy)
  • asking good questions
  • letting others be right
  • letting others have their say
  • encouraging discussion
  • finding out what stifles people – ppls mental blocks
  • channeling other people – such as good critics

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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