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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 #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 ]

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.
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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
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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: http://mysite.verizon.net/thombrando/features


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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

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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