Empathy must drive design

The title of this article is what made me read it: “From Design Thinking to Design Doing“. This article is an excerpt from the book Well Designed by Jon Kolko.

It talks about old school design in comparison to the Apple era of design, and it places that design in the typical product development processes of before (waterfall, bogged down by over documenting product requirements) and now (agile or lean, which is really “fragile” in trying to “fail fast and succeed sooner”). Kolko really captures the lay of the land well.

His solution is a design process based on empathy. The article calls out this quote to summarize it: “Engagement is achieved by designing products that seem as though they have personality or even soul.” But, I think this set of sentences is much more inspiring (it can’t be a tweet, as the article calls out to tweet it, but it can’t always be about a tweet):

At the core of design-focused product development is emotional engagement—the deep feelings a person forms about a product while using it. People tend to personify products—especially, increasingly, digital products—assigning them human characteristics and relating to them on an emotional, human level. To understand and design for this emotional appeal, it’s critical not only to understand people, but to truly empathize with them in order to feel what they feel.

Once again, it all comes back to knowing who your users or readers are. We must know them well enough to empathize with them, “to feel what they feel.”

Update, March 30, 2015, 1pm ET:
I ran across this most wonderful pic posted to Twitter by Christina Wodtke, which shows the user at the center of UI design, IxD (interaction design), and IA (information architecture):

Posted in Content Strategy, Information Architecture | 2 Comments

Can editors be descriptivist?

Please forgive me as I delve into the descriptivist vs. prescriptivist theoretical or academic labels. I blame Jonathon Owen of Arrant Pedantry for his recent post, “Why Descriptivists Are Usage Liberals“. I once again explored his blog, and went down the rabbit hole of exploring these labels but also the related concept of “Standard English,” which is at the crux of these labels.

I am certain that most of my readers will not travel down the rabbit hole of reading about these linguistic principles, but they fascinate me and make me think. And, thinking is good.

When you read generically about descriptive grammar vs. prescriptive grammar (thank you, about.com), they seem to suggest that most linguists are descriptivists and that most editors (and teachers) are prescriptivists. “But, I don’t want to be a prescriptivist!” (Yes, please use your best Seinfeld voice here, as he exclaims that he doesn’t want to be a pirate in the frilly shirt.)

I was challenging these associations that editors are prescriptivists, because they must ensure that a certain set of usage rules are adhered to or followed. What I liked about Owen’s post is that it explained how descriptivists are not in the “anything goes” camp, but are just more liberal in defining or applying “acceptable” usage rules.

As editors, we work with style guides and usage guides that give us the set of usage rules that we work with, but I’d like to think that as a descriptivist I am just a little more accepting or open minded about usage rules. If the sentences clearly communicate the technical information, but happen to break one of the usage rules in one of those style guides, then so be it. (Or, as Owen puts it: “This is what descriptivists try to do when discussing usage: look at the evidence from historical and current usage and draw meaningful conclusions about what’s right or wrong.”)

Much of this debate between descriptivism and prescriptivism centers around what constitutes “Standard English.” Owen presents 5 attributes of Standard English: it is written, formal, used by educated speakers, not tied to a region, careful. (As a side note, I ran across this Wall Street Journal article shortly after Owen’s post that declared “There Is No Proper English,” which touched on similar themes as all of this.)

Nestled in Owen’s discussion of Standard English, is this lovely quote about the profession of editing:

“Careful [a key attribute of Standard English] is a vague term, but it means that users of Standard English put some care into what they say or write. This is especially true of most published writing; the entire profession of editing is dedicated to putting care into the written word.”

Happy editing everyone!

Posted in Copy editing, Grammar | Leave a comment

Editors should focus on the content, not the grammar

Yes, you read that title correctly. Editors should not focus on the grammar.

A copyeditor for The Daily Californian takes a hard look at copyediting and grammar’s role in the editing process. From the title of his article, I think you can see what his views on the matter are.

Near the end of the article, he got to the crux of the matter:

“…what constitutes the soul of writing is the message, not the often-tedious rules we attribute to helping us understand it.”

Focus on the content. A couple of years ago, I wrote a post stating that technical editors do not need to be grammarians, which was my polite way of saying that we don’t have to be pedants about what so many people hold near and dear to their hearts.

Posted in Copy editing, Language, Substantive editing, Technical Editing | 3 Comments

New study shows: Copyediting adds value

As many of you know, my personal soapbox is that technical editing is a quality assurance process. I’m known for researching and writing an article that compared technical editing to software testing, arguing that since companies rarely distribute software that hasn’t been tested they shouldn’t publish documentation that hasn’t been edited. (My article, “Technical Editing as Quality Assurance: Adding Value to Content,” was published in 2002 in Technical Communication.) It seems that every so many years, this argument has to be made. In today’s social and digital publishing world, even more so.

I was thrilled to see this research study by Fred Vultee “Audience perceptions of editing quality: Assessing traditional news routines in the digital age” published in Digital Journalism and written about by Natalie Jomini Stroud in “Study shows the value of copy editing” published by the American Press Institute.

Even though the study was focused in the journalism or news industry, and it defined value as being willing to pay for the news article, it definitely still quantified and demonstrated how editors and the editing process adds value to the content. Readers notice poor writing, and they respond favorably to writing that has been edited.

Posted in Copy editing, Technical Editing | Leave a comment

SEO for writers and editors

These 5 SEO Tips for Authors and Publishers summarizes nicely what writers and editors alike need to know about SEO. Yes, writers and editors, not just content marketers or information architects.

While finding and using the right keywords are at the heart of SEO (search engine optimization), where and how you use them is most important: in your metadata, in your titles, in alt text for graphics, in your URLs, and in your links.

Really, it’s important merely to have titles (h1) and subtitles (h2) for your content, as those are used by the search engines as well.

Lastly, you must have both internal links (links to content within your site) and external links (links to content outside your site); this helps search engines know to index and increase your ranking in search results.

SEO really does start with the writers and editors, in producing quality content that is well organized and that uses all the right words.

Posted in Information Architecture, Technical Editing, Writing | Leave a comment

Embrace the chaos?

I’ve read this article “Content Amid Chaos” by Sara Wachter-Boettcher (@sara_ann_marie) three times now. (Thanks to @jcolman for tweeting it out!) Why three times? Perhaps I resist the premise that she encourages: embrace the chaos. Accept it as part of the reality. Build it into your content strategy, your information architecture, or even into your technical editing processes. That’s crazy talk. Or, is it?

Each time that I read this article I was drawn to the idea of a content roadmap. Amid all the chaos, you can turn to and rely on this roadmap to guide you to making intelligent and immediate decisions. In her words:

By mapping out content as a parallel process—as something that’s not just within a web design and development project, but that exists alongside it, and beyond it—you can create a path that people can run with, long after a redesign has launched.

Define a process. Have a plan (map). Hello, chaos, I’ve got a plan for how to deal with you.

Posted in Content Strategy, Information Architecture, Technical Editing

Yin-Yang of IA

Peter Morville presented the closing keynote for World IA Day 2015 in Zurich, Switzerland. He posted his slides to Slideshare:

There is a transcript that follows, but I think we lost something in the translation of these slides and that transcript.

I post this slideshare to my own blog because of Slide 19, which I screen grabbed and included a citation on that screen grab:

PlanBuildYinYang

Regardless of what was actually said to speak to this slide by Morville, this slide spoke to me quite clearly. I love the Yin-Yang symbol and all that it represents, so to see it used to show how Planning and Building are opposite and complementary, yet interconnected and interdependent. While Planning, you need to do something; while building, you need to think. A perfect image to remind us of the balance we must find in the planning and building pieces of doing IA work.

Posted in Information Architecture