Product Management User Experience

ProductCamp Vancouver presentation

I had a great day yesterday at the first ever ProductCamp Vancouver. Lots of great information sharing and networking with various people both local and beyond.

My presentation, UX for Product Managers, is below. Thanks to everyone who attended and for all your feedback.

Creativity User Experience

UX ideas in the cards

My latest UX Magazine article, UX Ideas in the Cards, is now available or you can read it below. In the article I discuss some of my favourite UX card decks and how these tactile, easy-to-use tools, are great for expanding your creativity and problem solving. Enjoy the read.

User Experience

Plain language tenets in UX

My article, Plain Language Tenets in UX, is now live on the UX Magazine website. First of many articles I will be contributing in the future.

Information Architecture User Experience

Doing a content audit or inventory

This is a re-post of my article Doing a content audit or inventory that was posted on the nForm blog January 26, 2010.

This past couple weeks I’ve been doing a large content audit and inventory. With the increased attention on content strategy the audit/inventory seems to be making a comeback.

In this post I’m going to share my recent approach and talk about the tools and process I used to get a comprehensive audit/inventory done.

Audit or inventory?

Before I start though I want to clear up some terminology – in particular the difference between a content audit and a content inventory. Some use the terms interchangeably, but I think there is a difference (I could be wrong), so here’s my take on it:

An inventory is quantitative. An inventory is to help you paint a picture of how much content the site has and to help in the identification of the specific pages/URLs/content as well as any other meta data I can gather. I prefer to do these using a tool to automate much of the work.

An audit is qualitative. An audit helps me understand what kinds of content there are, shows me how pages are currently organized, connects me with the voice and tone of the content and helps me uncover the subject matter so I can be conversant about the site with my client. I prefer to do these manually, reviewing the content on as many pages as I can (for larger sites this might just a sample of the overall content – every X page or page/document type – or a level or two deep).

Doing a content inventory

I’m the first to admit that the task of doing an audit/inventory can be a significant undertaking, tedious and even “mind-numbing” as Jeffrey Veen once said, so I’m always looking for ways to make it easier. Below are a couple tools that can help speed up your work:

  • iGooMap (OSX) is an application that was designed to help create Google Sitemap files for search engine optimization. What I particularly like about this application is that it can pull down a list of URLs with the date last modified from the server (which can be helpful in showing when content was last edited and expediting the ROT or OUCH assessment). It exports files to an XML Sitemap file or to a text file listing all the URLs. You can also filter extensions and parameters from URLs, disallow certain files or folders and view bad links.
  • Integrity is an application that was created for webmasters doing link checking and has been extended recently to allow you to create XML sitemap files as well. It also can export the results of your scan as a .CSV file or as an XML sitemap file, allows filtering and the ability to ignore certain parameters. Like iGooMap it also shows you bad links.

Note: if you are a PC user there may be comparable Google sitemap creation tools, but I don’t have any suggestions for you. For link checking, I’d suggest trying XENU Link Sleuth

The advantage of using a tool to automate some of the work is that: is that it gives me a comprehensive list of URLs without much effort and can run in the background while I do my audit or other work. While tools are helpful, they tend to scan everything they can find via a hyperlink. So once I have my list of pages I usually try and spend some time cleaning up my inventory. Here are a few methods I use:

  • Load the list of pages into Excel (each page URL on it’s own row) and then sort the column ascending from A-Z so that the URLs appeared based on their site file structure. This speeds up the grouping of content in the spreadsheet and makes it easier to locate similar content based on the URL path.
  • If you have URLs in a mix of cases it can be hard to scan and read. So to make them all the same case using Excel’s LOWER function.
  • To locate duplicates within the spreadsheet use Excel’s COUNTIF function and some conditional formatting, then quickly identify and flag duplicates and delete them from the spreadsheet. If you’re not an Excel wiz, try this tutorial on using the COUNTIF function to find duplicates.
  • Consider moving other content/file types (PDF, Word Docs, Video, Audio, PowerPoint, etc.) to other tabs in your spreadsheet so that you can separate the pages from the files on the site and really focus on the content that’s HTML. I usually have one for Documents, Audio and Video respectively.

Doing a content audit

When I work on an audit I create a spreadsheet with a few columns set up:

  • Content ID (optional). Some people like to number everything, but I don’t. Personally I find this hard to read and even harder to navigate.
  • Levels. Here I record the page name. Rather than rely on colored background or other reminders I use a column for each level within the site (labeling it simply as L1, L2, L3, etc.). This helps me see the relationship of pages to one another more easily that the numbering scheme used above. I usually don’t go more than a few levels deep and keep the column width small to make it easy to read.
  • URL. The page URL
  • Document type. Here I list what template the page uses or the type of page it is
  • Owner/Maintainer. Here I list who’s responsible for the content. This I usually have the client fill in.
  • ROT or OUCH. ROT stands for Redundent, Outdated and Trivial. It’s a bit ambiguous so lately I’ve been using Gene Smith’s suggestion of OUCH (Outdated, Unnecessary, Current, Have to Write). This you can document or have the client fill in.
  • Do not review. At times there is content that simply just doesn’t need to be reviewed. It could be historical, time-based content (like past press releases or newsletters) that just isn’t worth the time reviewing. You can speed up this task by flagging the content in the spreadsheet. I might take a stab at this or have the client do it.
  • Notes. Here I’ll record anything that I want to make note of or mention.

Combining the two approaches

Sometimes it is worth combining the two methods. When I do:

  • I start by doing a manual audit of the site
  • While I’m doing the audit I create a content inventory to get a list of pages and when they were possibly last modified/updated and clean up the inventory file – removing duplicate URLs and cleaning up formatting
  • I open both spreadsheets and copy/paste the pages from the inventory to the manual audit that were not reviewed giving me a complete list of all the content on the site
  • I may have the client identify the page owner/maintainer, OUCH, which pages we may be able to ignore and which content might be relevant to particular audiences

A couple final tips

  • Make sure your scanning tool indexes all the various file extensions. Most are made for search engine optimization and as such exclude a number of extensions.
  • Double check for redirects. These could point to redundant pages in your inventory.
  • If you have content behind a login area, see if your tool will allow you to enter login credentials to capture this content. If it won’t, you’ll likely have to do it manually.

Hopefully these tips and tools help to make your content audit/inventory work a bit smoother.

User Experience

The fine art of listening

This is a re-post of my article The fine art of listening that was posted on the nForm blog December 22, 2009.

As UX practitioners we help create things that are better, more usable, better organized, easier to engage with, help sell more stuff or reduce costs (a non-exhaustive list). Many of our methodologies and approaches leverage a single important skill – listening. And while many of us recognize the importance listening plays in our work few of us are really good at it.

According to research about listening:

  • We spend about 45% of our time listening
  • We can recall about 50% of what was said after someone speaks and comprehend about 25%
  • Spoken words only account for 30 -35% of the meaning. The rest is transmitted through nonverbal communication that only can be detected through visual and auditory listening
  • The average person talks at a rate of about 125 – 175 words per minute, while we can listen at a rate of up to 450 words per minute

Effective communication and relationship building, whether with clients, peers or others, is dependent on good listening habits. So how important is listening in our day-to-day communication?

  • Ralph G Nichols and Leonard A Stevens (researchers from the University of Minnesota and the University of Iowa, respectively) in their Harvard Business Review article, Listening to People found that managers and office workers earn 40% of their salaries listening; executives earn up to 80%.
  • Three of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People are dedicated to communication and listening. Take for example Habit 5 that states, “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Effectively listening can help us understand a situation; make informed decisions; be more efficient and productive; build trust and respect; and help us develop strong relationships with others.

Here’s some examples of places where listening is required in UX:

  • During sales: this is where we build relationships and understand need
  • During design research or discovery: We need to actively listen and be attentive to the inputs being provided. Through listening we learn about the needs, pain points, issues, opportunities, goals, interests, etc. of our users
  • When facilitating: Listening is critical to ensuring that we effectively guide discussions and gather input/feedback about end-user or business needs
  • When presenting deliverables: Listening to what people say about our work through dialogue and feedback.

The good news is that like other forms of communication such as writing and speaking, listening is a skill that can be learned. All it takes is a bit of understanding and practice. Some of you will be great at it immediately, while others may need to continuously practice and build your skills.

How do you get better at listening? Here’s some suggestions:

  • First, clear your mind so you can actively listen.
  • Second, be quiet. Shut up. Don’t talk. Really, be quiet. Learn to tolerate silence and don’t interrupt. Hold back on the impulse to immediately answer questions or to jump in and share your point-of-view while others are talking.
  • Third, try changing how you listen. Try to capture the message (listen with your ears, mind, eyes and heart). Make eye contact, use an open posture and be attentive to body language, volume, tone and pace. Look deeper than just the meaning of the words and try to understand the reason, feelings or intent beyond the words. Be empathetic, objective and analytical.
  • Fourth, comprehend what was said.
  • Fifth, clarify by paraphrasing back what was said. Use your own words to confirm that what you’ve heard is correctly understood. If you are told that you didn’t understand it correctly, try asking people to re-communicate it as a metaphor, this can often get you back on the same page. If you don’t understand something, say so.
  • Lastly, respond to what was said (if you need to) or ask more questions and keep on listening.

If you want to practice these skills, give this a try:

Walk up to someone you don’t know and introduce yourself. Shake their hand and ask who they are. Then listen, ask questions, listen some more and don’t talk except to ask questions. See what you can discover.

Information Architecture User Experience

Reflections on CanUX

Another CanUX conference has wrapped up. This annual gathering of UX professionals (mostly Canadian) is a great opportunity to connect with one another, share knowledge, ideas and approaches. I love attending and can’t imagine a year without it. This was the last year for the conference in Banff, coming years will see it move around (as I understand), a chance for others to get in on the action.

Design Slam

Matthew Nish-Lapidus and I put together this year’s design slam topic about food banks. The topic turned out to be a good challenge and though some similarities existed between solutions (e.g. colour coding, sorting methods), it was a great way to get people warmed up and thinking on Day 1.

Lane Becker – Get Satisfaction

Lane, a co-founder of Adaptive Path, shared with us his view of the ever-evolving landscape of customer satisfaction and how organizations are changing and learning to adapt in this age of transparency. The success of his company, Get Satisfaction, is impressive (over 28,000 companies on the roll) and some fantastic brands using the tools to connect with customers.

Jess McMullin – Business Origami

Business Origami
Business Origami

Jess shared his BETA of business origami — a methology originally created at Hitatchi. With thousands of cut-out paper characters we helped map scenarios for a number of problems. As basic as this tool was, the complexities of some scenarios could be effectively communicated. Everyone had a blast trying it out and sharing feedback on the BETA run.

Nathan Curtis – Modular Web Design

Nathan, from EightShapes, shared with us his approaches and thinking on modular web design. We were introduced to patterns, components and how these elements can be combined to speed up UX deliverable development. I’ve been using a similar approach for the past couple years (minus the InDesign supported workflow) and found it very interesting. I think the best part was the hands-on group work at tables that helped people understand components and how they can be re-assembled to create other pages.

Chad Fournier – Shaw Communications

Chad shared with us the Agile UX approach at Shaw in re-tooling their customer call centre application. An interesting inside look at creating a UX culture, advancing the purpose of UX, finding success and building on that success over time. Chad and his team have a lot to be proud of here and have clearly delivered a lot of value to the organization.

Matthew Milan and Alex Eberts – Akoha

A walk through the path to the game Akoha — a game that has the goal to make the world a better place. This start-up is exploring ways to leverage social capital and will be curious to watch over time as they continue to re-invent themselves and try to find their market niche.

Kristina Halvorson – Content Strategy for the Web

An entertaining and information-rich presentation from the author of Content Strategy for the Web. She was so excited when talking that she almost forgot to breathe, but had a lot to say and share. The big take-away is that you need to include content as part of our process — not as an afterthought. The exercises were a good intro into the pains of writers, the need for copy and the benefits of having copy earlier, rather than later in the process. Although you have to wonder how many people went back to the office and continued the same-old-same-old with content.

Rahel Bailie – Content Strategy Case Study

Following Kristina takes guts and Rahel delivered a ton of confirmations and insights into her content strategy and approach. I really enjoyed seeing some real-life application and the depth of effort and role of writers in interactive projects. Lots of room for growth in this area of UX, especially for those with a command of words, language and organization.

Peter Merholz – Upgrading our Mandate

Peter, as always, gets the last word. His talk took us through a range of inspiration, big and practical ideas. What really stood out for me from his talk is that designers are really becoming facilitators. We solve problems, that aren’t always visual.

p.s. if you are looking for a great run-down of the conference from Twitter, check out the work that Bryce Johnson did pulling them all together or Murray Thompson’s sketch notes

Information Architecture Jobs and Careers User Experience

Farewell CM, hello nForm

On October 28 I wrapped up my work as Director of Information Architecture at Critical Mass. I really enjoyed the role, especially getting back to managing people and work (something I’m told I’m good at). Over my five months at CM I tripled the size of our team; addressed a number of issues within the practice; improved the quality of the work we produce; and mentored, coached and played a supporting role for all on the team. I had a chance to work with many talented folks across IA, Creative/Design, Planning and Project Management on a wide variety of projects including AT&T, Adidas, Nissan/Infinity. CM was a great extraordinary experience. But, in the end my work/life balance was suffering and I decided that I needed more time with family (an aging/ailing in-law, my son starting school and my spouse’s busy career among the things needing more attention).

I was expecting to just take some time off for a bit or to do just a bit of contract work, but a few opportunities came up. In the end I decided to join Edmonton-based nForm User Experience as a Senior User Experience Consultant. nForm does great work and I’m looking forward to working with them on a number of exciting projects.

User Experience Visual Thinking

Visual thinking & note-taking

This post also appeared on the Habanero UE Group blog. Cross-posted here for information sake.

Yesterday, I attended an online webinar put on by VizThinkU entitled Visual Note-taking 101. The speakers/sketchers were a wonderfully talented bunch including Austin Kleon, Sunni Brown and Mike Rohde and moderated by Dave Gray (XPLANE). The format was informal and took us through a variety of techniques around visual thinking over a joyous 3-hours. Check out some of the great sketches from the session by Austin (included below with permission – thanks Austin!).

Mike Rohde

Some take-aways from the session:

Drawing is pictures and words together in space.Visual thinking is comprised of drawings, to which we add words to fine-tune meaning and then we can arrange and juxtapose to create connections. Interestingly, the wireframes we Information Architects produce are comprised of the same elements and all are critical to someone understanding our work.

Everyone can draw. You just need to learn the basics. Using Dave Gray’s visual alphabet it really isn’t hard to draw most things. The basics include the following: a point, a line, a circle, a square and a triangle (you can extend this as well a bit with a rectangle and a swirl).

Many clients like to say they can’t draw and I think this is a great way to show them they can and get them involved in sketching out ideas and their user experience. I’ve been using this same technique with my son over the past few months and it’s amazing to see how quickly kids can learn to draw using these principles.

3526504940_7fd75fc735_oBuild a symbol library and vocabulary. Each of the presenters yesterday had a toolkit of things they use regularly. Austin has a particular way of drawing clouds and the sun; Sunni breaks her drawings into sections with dividers to make things easier to digest; while Mike uses typography and design basics (layout, size, color, shading) to show importance on the page. All of these are elements they can use quickly and easily and pull from their toolkit as needed. I see this as similar to the modular thinking and frameworks based work many IA’s and developers are now using to speed up work.

Start where you like. Austin likes to start in the middle and work his way out, Sunni tends to start top left of her paper (usually adding a title, the company logo, etc.), while Mike starts where it feels best to begin. All were valid approaches and changing up where you start sketching may help shift how you approach your work.

Listening when sketching is a fine art. Some tips from the session included:

  • Listen to the speakers tone, volume, cadence, emphasis, speed, metaphors and similes, references to structure and gestures when determining what to draw
  • Prioritize what you are capturing
  • Cache ideas with simple reminders (like bread crumbs) when you can’t catch everything being said
  • Relax and don’t worry about what others think of your drawings
  • Add your own personality (each of the presenters had their own style)
  • Keep it simple

There were also some great books referenced during the webinar worth checking out:

  • Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book: Make a World – Edward Emberley
  • Handbook of Pictoral Symbols – Rudolf Modley
  • Beyond Bullet Points – Cliff Atkinson
  • What It Is – Lynda Barry

Happy visual thinking!

User Experience

Sustainability and user experience

I work in an industry where most of what we create doesn’t last very long. Businesses change, technology changes, needs change, products change, and people change. Before you know it, the website/intranet/application I once helped build is eventually replaced, overhauled and the countless hours, effort and time of many individuals is erased in minutes from a server somewhere.

Sometimes I get to do the tweaking/replacing of my past work, and it’s often educational to go back and see what you thought a earlier or how something has changed since you first created it.

On other occasions I get to see what another firm/agency does with a client I once worked with and I learn where I could have done better or watch good work be replaced by bad work.

Seldom does anything last forever. The sustainability of our craft is short.

At best, I’m often able to capture screenshots of past work, copies of deliverables (site maps, wireframes, sketches, mockups). At worst what I’ve created in the past ends indexed in the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to haunt me forever.

So I’m going to toss this question out there. How do we as user experience folks create sustainable work?

User Experience

User Experience Done Right!

Habanero is holding a two-day training event (in Calgary on December 3-4, 2008 and in Regina on January 26-27, 2009)

User Experience Done Right! provides participants with a variety of tools and techniques for creating exceptional user experiences. The course is designed for executives, IT managers, project managers, developers, and designers who want to learn how to make websites, intranets, and web applications more usable.
For more information or to register, please visit