Design Thinking… a few principles from 3 stories

I watched 3 different videos about design thinking last week. Here are the key ideas or principles that I took away from these videos:

  • Keep it simple (John Maeda, Josh Reich)
  • Be honest (John Maeda)
  • Embrace the audacity of hope (John Maeda)
  • Collaborate wildly and build on the ideas of others (David Kelley, pioneer in the Design Thinking field)
  • It’s all about having empathy for our users (David Kelley)
  • Must really listen to our users (Josh Reich)
  • Keep asking why (the 5 whys) – (Josh Reich)
Posted in Content Strategy, Information Architecture

When is Video the Answer (and When Isn’t It)? by Ken Circeo

Yesterday, I attended the STC Technical Editing SIG sponsored Webinar titled “When is Video the Answer (and When Isn’t It)?” given by Ken Circeo, a senior video producer at Microsoft.

Here are my notes, which my team found rather useful, so I thought I’d share them all with you, my faithful blog readers. I present them as my general takeaways and my golden nuggets, of which I only had one golden nugget.

General takeaways:

  • Video is not always the answer.
  • Video appeals to multiple learning styles (see, hear, & do)
  • Video almost always scores higher than text; it delights them more… but only if it answers their question
  • Video has come to be expected; much higher demand for it as it becomes more ubiquitous (thanks, YouTube!)
  • More low quality video out there, because anyone can shoot and upload video; must distinguish ourselves by producing high-quality video
  • Ask this one question: what problem are you trying to solve? it is the only question that matters; audience does not matter!
  • Developers want a different kind of video than administrators do, and that managers do, etc. (see, audience does matter!)
  • The context matters, too; where you embed it or include it (such as in an installation process, as an animation of where to find a feature)
  • When should you NOT use video? when procedures are short & simple, or when procedures are long & complex; Goldilocks anyone?
  • Level of detail is important
  • Shorter the better; ideal time? 2 mins, 48 secs (he said that time as a joke, before he said: “as short as possible”)
  • Never “force” a video; no video for video sake
  • Skip the background music; most users don’t notice it
  • Try to solve the problem with other ways first (redesign the UI, write a procedure, etc), and only after other avenues explored do they create a video
  • Deliver video alongside of other docs; video doesn’t replace other docs, but supplements it
  • Uses .mp4 format, standardizes on it for its reduced file size
  • Spend the most time on the script, and get that right before you start on the actual animations, graphics, and video production.

Golden nugget:

His final concluding slide provided the golden nugget of the 1-hour session.

Here are the 5 types of videos that he’s found most useful:

  1. First run — the hook — like our author intro videos?
  2. Getting started — introduce —
  3. What’s new — reveal
  4. Overview — simplify something complex, simplify complex concepts
  5. How to — show or demonstrate how to do something
Posted in Content Strategy, Information Architecture

Three design theories

This week, Meredith Davis of the NCSU School of Design (go Wolfpack! I’m a NCSU alumni, forgive me), gave a “lecture” to us at work, speaking about the interdisciplinary nature and the changing nature of design. I am going to attempt to summarize the three views of design theory that she presented, but I will start with a huge caveat that I might really butcher her message with what I took away from her presentation. (I did do some Googling, and I found these three articles or resources that echo some of what I summarize below: Mapping the Field of Design, Part 1; Design, Where Do We Go Next?, Part 2; and What is Interaction? Are There Different Types?)

The first design theory focused on artifacts. Most people in the general public hear “design” and they think of artifact-based design: objects, spaces, messages from the real world (furniture design, fashion design, or other industrial design objects). The artifacts are not released until they are “almost perfect.” She listed IBM and Apple as pioneers in good artifact design.

The second design theory was interaction design. This is focusing on the user behavior and the interactions that we have objects or systems. It is the tools, or simulations, or the performance of the system. She once again mentioned Apple as a pioneer in good interaction design (iPod, iPhone, etc). Here, the products are released with the idea that they are “good enough for now,” and with the intention of planned updates to come along soon, as you refine the design. Most design work today is in this space, focusing on interaction design.

The third design theory moved into conversations. This design focuses on services, platforms, or communities. It talks about forming relationships between designers, producers, and users, who become ultimate fans and a key part of the communities. Here, design focuses on the services and community aspects, such as the Apple Store, and how interconnected it is to the site, the community, and so on. The entire service experience. She also mentioned Amazon as being a pioneer in designing a conversation.

Davis spoke to leaving artifact driven design behind, and instead push ourselves to even move into and beyond interaction design into designing true user experiences by focusing on creating conversations.

Posted in Content Strategy, Information Architecture

Minimalism: Do more, read less, help users with errors

John Carroll is the father of minimalism, an instructional design theory, which has been widely applied to technical communication of all kinds.

Having read both of Carroll’s books on the subject (The Nurnberg Funnel: Designing minimalist instruction for practical computer skill (1990) and Minimalism beyond “The Nurnberg Funnel”, I have summarized the core minimalism principles this way. Users want to:

  1. Do more
  2. Read less
  3. Get help with errors

To help our users accomplish these goals, we really have to know our users. This is a common theme to many of my blog posts, that is in support of any other guidelines or principles we might take from Carroll’s minimalism theory. To help our users do more, read less, and get past any errors, our minimal, focused content must encourage action and exploration.

To know what is necessary, what is useful, or what needs to be done, we must know our users. Every choice we make – from individual words, to the design of web pages, to architecting our content – must be made with a clear knowledge of our users. Every theory or guideline really does begin with knowing our users. Minimalist documentation is not only about what to include or exclude, but it is also about ensuring that what you do include is the most appropriate content for your users. Minimalist writing does not always mean using fewer words—it means using just the right words at the right time.

Posted in Content Strategy, Information Architecture, Uncategorized

Less is less

It was interesting to read about the user experience of libraries and the various programs that they offer in this article, Less is Less by Aaron Schmidt in the Library Journal. Schmidt reacts to the phrase “less is more” and wants us to see that “less is less” is a positive more minimalistic view than this classic design concept that argues for simplicity and minimalism (which I talked about previously, in looking at mobile user assistance). Sure, it’s just playing with the words, trying to find the words that speak to you and your approach to ensuring a great user experience.

I think both of these phrases speaks to the idea of doing less allows you to focus more time and resources on fewer ideas, thereby making each idea better, or more better if you’ll allow me a very informal colloquialism. “Less is less” is a tautology, one that really isn’t better at conveying the meaning that the original “less is more” does actually convey. But, it did make me stop and think about the key design principles behind the phrase: simplicity and minimalism. I discovered that I’ve never written about minimalism in my blog. I think I know what my next blog post will be about!

Posted in Content Strategy, Information Architecture, Language

User Experience and Usability

I seem to be running into and responding to a number of articles posted on “interaction design” these days. This article, “User Experience: What is Usability,” is apparently excerpted from a course called “User Experience: The Beginner’s Guide.” It starts out with a lovely pie chart that tries to summarize a definition of UX and usability, but what I love most in this article are the 5 usability dimensions attributed to Whitney Quesenbery:

  1. Effective
  2. Efficient
  3. Engaging
  4. Error tolerant
  5. Easy to learn

While these 5 dimensions are meant to help evaluate how usable a product is, you could consider content as a product, and evaluate how usable your content is. Is it accurate and complete? Does it take little time to read and complete? Is it enjoyable or interesting? Does it help prevent errors? Is it easy to learn? Yep, applies to content as well as a product overall.

Posted in Content Strategy, Information Architecture

Context is king: Words are essential to interaction design

Content is king. Clarity is king. No, wait, CONTEXT is king. I had to laugh when I read yet another claim to the throne in writing clear content.

At the end of this article, “The Most Essential Ingredient in Interaction Design? The Words,” by Jerry Cao, Kamil Zieba, and Matt Ellis, they have a section titled “Context is King,” that includes a most wonderful checklist for writing “interface copy” (there it is again, the focus on copy or words in the web interface), which I will once again expand to be most all content we produce as technical communicators. This article is actually a reprint of a chapter in an eBook, “Interaction Design Best Practices: Mastering the Tangibles.”

In this “Context is King” section, the authors state:

“the first step to any writing endeavor is to know both your audience (your target users) and your medium (web page content, sidebar, pop-up, etc.)”

This last parenthetical statement leads me to think they are even venturing into content marketing and not just web interfaces or content in general. The checklist that they present is actually from a separate article by yet another author (Des Traynor), and really centers on some of the journalistic questions of Who, When, and a couple of What questions. It also asks about “tone” or writing style as well as the “format” or medium in which you get to communicate.

Posted in Content Strategy, Information Architecture | 2 Comments