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Making UX Work with Joe Natoli
Episode 07, Anne Dougherty :: Behind all great UX is equally great content
June 05, 2018 Joe Natoli / Anne Dougherty

My guest for this month's episode is Anne Dougherty.

Anne is a writer and a UX and content architect who is passionate about making excellent user experiences, film, curling, and, by her own admission, the Oxford comma.

She has over 20 years of experience working in digital spaces, primarily in the progressive non- profit community.

And Anne believes, as I do, that regardless of what problem the user is trying to solve, they can’t do that without good, useful, relevant content.

Here’s where you can find and follow Anne:


Twitter: @annedougherty

LinkedIn: annedougherty

My guest for this month's episode is Anne Dougherty.

Anne is a writer and a UX and content architect who is passionate about making excellent user experiences, film, curling, and, by her own admission, the Oxford comma.

She has over 20 years of experience working in digital spaces, primarily in the progressive non- profit community.

And Anne believes, as I do, that regardless of what problem the user is trying to solve, they can’t do that without good, useful, relevant content.

Here’s where you can find and follow Anne:


Twitter: @annedougherty

LinkedIn: annedougherty

Episode Transcript

Speaker 1:0:08Hello and welcome to making us work to give you podcast. I'm your host Gionta Toli. And our focus here is on folks like you doing a real often glamorous UKCS work in the real world. You'll hear about their struggles their successes and their journey to and through the trenches of product design development and of course user experience. My guest today is and Doherty who among other things is a writer and a US and content architect and is quite passionate about making excellent user experiences as well as film curling and by her own definition. The Oxford comma and has over 20 years of experience working in digital spaces primarily in the progressive non-profit community and she believes like I do that regardless of what problem user is trying to solve they can't do that without good and useful relevant content. Here's my conversation with Ann Doherty on making us work.

Speaker 2:1:10So and how are you. I am well this morning Joe how are you.

Speaker 3:1:14Very good. It's Friday it's ended a week the most joyous day of the week. Indeed indeed. So you if I understand correctly I mean your core area. Not necessarily of expertise but what you spend a lot of time doing seems to be more driven content strategy driven. Is that correct.

Speaker 4:1:37That is correct. I mean the thumbnail sketch of me I like to tell people when I when I go to to meet ups and you know design workshops and things that they say well you know tell me a little bit about yourself and I say well you know I'm a content focused you as a designer. And it's taken me a while to get to to that explanation. When I first made the pivot to officially doing more USX work a couple of years ago as opposed to the unofficial USX work I've been doing for the bulk of my career. When I first made that pivot into into quote unquote real USX work there was no emphasis in the community that I'm in on content at all.

Speaker 5:2:20It was very visually design driven very UI driven very oh what do you mean you don't have a million fonts on your ear pro and what was that when when did I do that.

Speaker 3:2:32You know I went with them in terms of years when was this was actually about two years ago.

Speaker 6:2:37Yeah.

Speaker 5:2:38And so it's gradually taken me a while to realize that no content is an important part of the user experience and it's a little bit like saying that it's not as a little bit like standing at the parade and watching the Emperor go by going.

Speaker 2:2:54Am I the only one who can see his joke.

Speaker 6:2:57Yeah yeah yeah. Oh I am. I am. That is a long way of saying I am a content focused designer basically.

Speaker 3:3:05Well I mean and that's as it should be isn't it. I mean as far back as say you know graphic design before software you know was it was a designers focus. Content has always been in my mind the driving force behind everything and it's the reason you bother to check anything out.

Speaker 5:3:24If you think about it or use anything Yeah it absolutely is I mean you know it's interesting. I mean on the Facebook group you have we have some interesting conversations about well you know what if what if design is the point of the site or the point of the product. And to me that's kind of it's a little bit of a straw man argument without content regardless of what problem the user is trying to solve without content. They're not going to be able to solve it no matter how pretty your product is your app or your site or or whatever you know your your internet enabled kiosk. It doesn't matter if they can't get the information that they need. They're not going to be able to solve their problem and their problem might be anything from is complicated to you know I'm trying to qualify for a mortgage to as simple as I just wasn't pretty new wallpaper for my walkdown Windows machine that my company has given me and the only thing I can do is change the background on my desktop. So you know it really doesn't matter. I mean that photograph that becomes your desktop background is content even though you're consuming it with your eyes it's content.

Speaker 3:4:32AMEN AMEN AMEN. I mean I couldn't possibly agree more. I think the problem and you tell me OK. I often wonder if the problem is when people hear the term content they have a very narrow definition of what that means.

Speaker 6:4:49I think that's part of the problem. I think that you're absolutely right. I think for a lot of people their beginning and end of the definition of content is words. And to a large extent content is words but it's not the only definition of content. YouTube almost the entirety of their content offering is consumed visually audible Dahab the entirety of their content offering is consumed with your ears. So you know it's it's it's a very narrow definition.

Speaker 4:5:25I also think this is possibly my own personal bias but that bias grows out of the experiences that I've had professionally. I think that to a large extent people here are content and it gets kind of disregarded because the bulk of the people working in digital content at least in the first wave of digital content are women interest and women's work is often seen as not important as a fascinating viewpoint.

Speaker 3:5:58Tell me more.

Speaker 4:6:00Tell me more about this so one of one of the challenges that I'm facing with my current employer which is a very very large multinational consulting firm is that we struggle with the division between content and quote unquote EU acts. I personally hold a fairly unpopular opinion that content and acts are actually the same that they shouldn't be in different buckets. That famous Maslow pyramid that everybody's heard of where you know Maslow had the psychological needs and the base and was you know safety and security and then you go up and up and up and some wag has modified that pyramid to add you know Wi-Fi access and then somebody else modified that to put you know an even bigger base below Wi-Fi access since a battery life if you do a similar pyramid for user experience or for service design experience I would actually say that content is at the base of that pyramid has without content KHRAIS.

Speaker 6:7:02You picked a nice font stack and you made a really great color scheme and your layouts perfect. But you're looking at warm up some and nobody cares what's art. It's art it I suppose it's art.

Speaker 5:7:14I mean we can have that conversation about you know whether or not certain things in modern art or art. But I think that maybe on the scope of Pakistan. But you know there but the company that I worked for there is a very strict division between content and us and you people never do content and content people don't feel like they are empowered to talk about content related things that affect the user experience.

Speaker 2:7:41And when I look at the way those two groups are stashed there are some women working in new X but almost the entirety of the content staff is female. That's really interesting. Yeah. I'm curious about the U.S. side of the house. How is it possible.

Speaker 3:7:59I'm really having trouble with this. How is it how is it possible that the folks on the U.S. side of the House don't understand or see or value the degree to which content is the backbone of everything they're putting across the people. What is it that they think.

Speaker 4:8:17I think that I think that it's it it comes from that it comes from that root of us being associated with you being associated with visual design. Now we're getting somewhere. Yeah. And I think that's that's really where that that bias comes from is us and UI have or have gotten and are still for a lot of people conflated when UI is really no more the entirety of us than content being the entirety of you x.

Speaker 3:8:48Took the words right out of my mouth because that's where I was going this is one of those situations where you X and you are interchangeable terms but they're not. No of course not. Of course they're not. But for a lot of organizations yeah they very much are okay and there's still a very widespread misunderstanding of us and of design in general. Okay I think anytime someone says that word everybody thinks visual unfortunately and then that's that's that's 2 percent you know the entire picture.

Speaker 5:9:20Yeah it's it's not. It's it's a very small part of the picture and and you know don't please don't mistake what I'm saying. I mean the folks who are doing X on the side of the House they are very well aware of how important content is and they're very well aware that their strengths may not lay in the content domain. So you know there is a lot of interpersonal professional respect. But I think on a systemic and sort of administrative level there isn't really a grasping of the understanding that without content your product doesn't work regardless of what your product is.

Speaker 3:10:00Okay so we're talking about higher level management maybe we're talking about project management. So that's where is that the area of the organization where the disconnect occurs more so than than in the data.

Speaker 5:10:12Yeah it's higher it's higher up than people who are doing the day to day work. I mean it extends even into this sphere of how projects are actually written up or how proposals are actually written up because I think that one of the challenges that we also face as consultants is that you know in the sphere we're working in which is the public sphere not a lot of our clients understand how important content is and how it affects the user experience. And you know as the sort of the domain experts as the people who are supposed to be helping them deliver better for the people they're responsible to which is they're their users their external stakeholders. It's up to us to write those proposals and craft those projects right from the beginning so that they actually have something that is going to fulfill that promise to their to their internal stakeholders to their users. And I think that because there is that disconnect between the people who are actually doing the work and the people who are very often writing the proposals were going in and pitching to the clients that sometimes when the folks who do the actual work get on site they're walking into an environment where they're already having to fight even more to get good content or get good content governance or get not so much good data.

Speaker 4:11:38Because we're we've reached the point with the ubiquity of Google that everybody understands the importance of search Mosen.

Speaker 5:11:46But we're already having to fight to say well you know you need to you need to have a content strategy you need to have an archiving plan you need to understand how to write for the web even or how to write for an app even and and how to reuse and recycle content and so you know having to to not just fight all those battles but then also fight the battle on the administrative level where it's like well you've got enough content work here for a team of eight and you've put one content person on this project.

Speaker 3:12:21And again in my experience that's common. I mean that's a you just described a very common scenario to me and what I wonder is often because I don't have the answer. And again I'm interested in your take here is that a result of traditional organizational culture inside an organization right. Leftovers from what we're in the digital age. But companies of the company has been around for a long time and your chart is still the orchard is still the orchard even though it's been manipulated a little bit. Is it that or is it that all of this in the digital realm of products. Are we still just in our infancy and we haven't quite grown to the point where it's more than lipservice now it's an integrated part of what everybody does.

Speaker 5:13:08I think it's a combination of those things. I think for many organizations most organizations even. It's a combination of we're still clinging to you know the traditional inverted pyramid model of riding that we all learn in school where you know you have your most important concepts and then you broaden out all that stuff. And we're also I think that some of it is that we just haven't grown up yet and that the folks who are still on the top of that org chart are not necessarily unwilling to learn but they just don't. They don't have like the experience to understand that it makes more sense to write a piece of content one time and reuse it a bunch of different places and how you would actually go about doing that. So. So it's a function of needing to grow and a function of just corporate and organizational culture needing to embrace the idea that you know content is not something that you write down wants and stick in a folder it's going to change it's going to grow it's going to need to get updated. When I was the bulk of I spent I actually spent the bulk of my career working in the progressive non-profit sphere. And so I've been doing this. Been working in digital spaces over 20 years. And I distinctly remember I was working at an agency and one of the major challenges we face was that a lot of nonprofit organizations are still run by management structures or by people who think that their donors actually want to read press releases.

Speaker 7:14:52If there's any in what I read press no reporters don't even want to press releases.

Speaker 5:14:58And so it was you know that was a big battle that we were constantly refighting with every new client where you know they'd say Well there's no space in the home page for our for our latest press release and we would have to pick one of the very gentle responses out of the hat that basically amounted to really no one cares about your press releases.

Speaker 2:15:18No one cares.

Speaker 6:15:22No.

Speaker 4:15:24You know it's it's not that you know it's not that public organizations government agencies whatever are unique and not really understanding what their users care about. It's it's endemic. Every organization has this problem it's just the thing that they think is important shifts depending on what sphere they operate in. Sure. And and I think that really grows out of not understanding the audience and walling yourself off to some degree intentional or otherwise.

Speaker 6:15:56Yeah. Well and it's it's really it's a fear reaction. I mean and in some ways it's not an unfounded fear reaction like the thing that the thing that government agencies face is that they're under so much scrutiny. There's just so much public scrutiny of everything a government agency does.

Speaker 5:16:17And so it creates this environment where there's a fear to fail. Nobody's really embracing the whole you know lean mindset where you fail early and you fail fast and you make corrections because there is a feeling that there's no tolerance for failure that if you put out a wrong piece of information the next thing you know your agency head is going to be sitting on CNN getting grilled or getting hauled in front of Congress and you know whatever it happens you know whatever else happens.

Speaker 3:16:49That's worse. Now with the advent of the Internet that's I think that's infinitely worse.

Speaker 5:16:53Yeah it is infinitely infinitely worse. And it's so it's not an unfounded fear. And with nonprofits the whole fail early fail fast thing is really about a function of resources and a fear of being accused of not being a good steward of your donors resources. You know it comes from sort of the subliminal attitude of Well if somebody gives us five hundred dollars they want us to put that Tor program expenses and you know we need to make sure that we're being very careful with every penny. And that's that's really a good attitude to have. I mean that's not an unfounded fear either.

Speaker 3:17:34Well sure. So you want to be responsible. You want to be a responsible steward of what people invest in you.

Speaker 5:17:39Absolutely. But you know in the in the nonprofit world it's sort of the tension between you know people want an organization to do the work but they don't want to pay for the organization to pay for people to actually do the work they want it to happen by magic Yeah because that's the invisible part right.

Speaker 3:17:59That's how the sausages made. That's that's the part that nobody sort of actually sees the existence of because it's glossed over for the most part.

Speaker 5:18:08Exactly exactly. There's a really famous cartoon that I think was originally published in the New Yorker and it's these two you know kind of older frumpy look. Professor Auriol guys you know what the ties in the jackets and the you know Einstein look and hair and they're standing in front of this big chalkboard and they're all these really complicated math calculations on the chalkboard and down sort of in the lower right hand corner there is a rectangle and inside the rectangle it says and a miracle occurs here. The caption on the cartoon is one guy's saying to the other guy I think you need to be a little more specific right there.

Speaker 7:18:49Yeah that's about right.

Speaker 6:18:51And and for a lot of people that's that's how they view you accidents like taxes and a miracle occurs here and out the other end comes this great user experience that's going to increase our donations by 500 percent or reduce the number of calls we get into our call center.

Speaker 5:19:07Or you know make everybody subscribe to our product whatever it is. And so there's a lot of there's a lot of mystery around what you folks actually do now which is you know I get it.

Speaker 3:19:21I mean I keep saying design has had the same problem since its inception and you certainly has the same problem. Since its inception all the offshoots of what we do have the same issue. And what you find is that there's just a struggle for people and largely I think this is older more established national institutions but individuals have a hard time getting their head around this stuff like for instance listening to you speak made me think of of a consulting situation I was in where I was saying look we need to have a meeting this afternoon with your database team. We need to get these guys in the room. And when you talk about content in general the stuff that we're surfacing and three people looked at me like I had three heads and they said well what does data have to do with content.

Speaker 3:20:14And I had a pause for a minute. I said well they're the same thing. This is what we're surfacing to people and we're doing it in a way where nobody understands it in the format in which it's presented. So we need to get some background on what this is how it is this system has cataloged how it's organized and how we could potentially surface it in a different way. And those guys have the answers to those questions and it took another hour of discussing and working through this and making them understand that all this stuff that people are paying you to consume in your system. It's all content. And if we don't get this part right it doesn't matter how exciting what people see on the screen is. Yeah. Doesn't matter. They're going to stop paying you. The reason your customers are complaining right now is because the don't understand how to get at any of this is being presented to them in a way that they don't understand that they can't use to get to go back to the beginning you had to get beyond what it looks like. It's what is it you know. Yeah and that's content to me. I mean it's all content.

Speaker 6:21:24And that's absolutely that's absolutely. You could not have. Have said it better. I mean and maybe that's the challenge I think for content folks to try and open up the conversation about content being a part of you x is talking less about content as an abstract contact concept and talking more about content as meaning.

Speaker 3:21:47Yeah. Yeah and maybe you have the same problem. That's maybe content professionals in particular. OK. These are very broad ridiculously generic term that had the same problem that designers and developers and us folks have which is we fall into the trap of talking about things in the ways that we understand them as opposed to using the terminology in the language and the outcomes in particular are the obstacles in a way that the people signing the checks understand. I mean maybe you just hit something there.

Speaker 6:22:23Yeah that that is really interesting. I'd like to I'd like to unpack that a little bit more. Go for it because I find that to be a really interesting perspective on the problem and maybe it's that. Do you think that we are as as you as professionals.

Speaker 5:22:43Again ridiculously broad you know 12 inch Braasch you professionals content professionals visual designers you know design researchers all of us. Do you think that we need to approach our clients in the same way that we are telling our clients that they need to approach their users.

Speaker 3:23:07I think so but in what way.

Speaker 4:23:08Well in the sense that just how you mentioned like we talked to them about user experience and about content strategy in language that we understand because we feel like they're the domain experts for whatever field they work in. Whether it's you know environmental activism or government policy or health care or financial industry whatever their domain is. And so we feel like they have the domain knowledge and that may be kind of gives them a leg up in in experience and sophistication that their users might not necessarily have. Every audience is different but might not necessarily have them. And so we have to go in and kind of explain to them no you need to not assume that your users know what you know and maybe because kind of mentally we're framing them in a way of okay they have this domain knowledge that gives them kind of a leg up in sophistication maybe we need to make the assumption that they don't know what we know.

Speaker 3:24:15In that case yes absolutely positively. Amen. I will I will get up on the mountain top and shout it's OK for the next you know whatever remaining years of my life I have left. That's how firmly I believe in this and lately I've been feeling like I personally have not been doing a good enough job of explaining that particular point. Because of something I believe in strongly obviously clearly era. I think I would like to see us all do away with all the terminology we use all of it every word every phrase every formal name that we have for everything. And I personally I think that's true in any discipline. OK. But I increasingly. All right. On a daily basis I read you X articles right or things tangentially related to you x or product design or developer or whatever. I cannot I swear to you it's very rare that I ever read something where I can get past the first paragraph.

Speaker 3:25:16And the reason for that is because we immediately venture into the land of jargon and terminology and just bullshit names for processes and all this high minded stuff that only gets in the way of people understanding what the hell the author is talking about. And I think that that has infected all of us in terms of our practice. So I think you're absolutely right. I think a lot of times we automatically assume that everyone knows what it is that we're talking about and the fact is they don't. All they know is that something is not working. They're feeling pain and they don't know what to do about it.

Speaker 5:25:54I definitely agree with you. First of all I'm glad to hear you say that you know in the reading that you do it you find it difficult to get through there because I do a lot of reading myself and very often I get into these articles and I'm you know halfway through a five minute read. And I I just I don't I'm completely lost. It's just terms and it's very confusing when people are using words that they don't know what they mean or they may not mean the same thing that I think they mean because the context around them kind of indicates to me that well wait you're using that term in a different way than I'm used to using it. And maybe it's that. I mean I think part of the problem with with us in general is that we don't even have a common language among ourselves. Right. And we've I know we've talked in the Facebook group about this. You know we've kind of reached the you know beat a dead horse point over this but you know a clear example of this is how people recruit for you x related job.

Speaker 5:27:04You know I just you X developer needs to not become a thing.

Speaker 4:27:08It's just nuts to not become a thing because it just it's just it's just throwing sand in the water and it's just completely confusing and and I don't know. I mean do we create do we use these confusing terms because we're secretly afraid that if we actually expose what we do then we won't be seen as having failed you.

Speaker 3:27:31Partly yeah I think it's also there's a catch 22 involved. The minute you are asked to tell someone what you do or the minute you say OK I'm trying to get a job in this field because the commonly used nomenclature is what it is right. Companies are going to use certain terms for certain things or put out these ads and say we want you X developer or we even you X designer OK is a misnomer. But that's the terminology that's what's commonly understood and accepted to some degree so you put yourself out there you say all right I have to call myself something where people going to recognize that that Yeah I'm that thing that you want. That's what I do. And you don't want to because I think as you as you said you feel like Hanawon. I don't want to muddy the waters further right. And it does it adds to the confusion. But at the same time I think you feel I think a lot of people feel caught.

Speaker 6:28:29Yeah I mean you have to have a way to describe yourself to other people. I mean that's that's kind of the it's kind of the basis of a common language. But I kind of want to circle back for a second why I'm curious about why you say you designer is is a misnomer. Can you can you explain a little bit about that for me more.

Speaker 3:28:48Yeah I can because again it's this conflation of two things when experience design came about as a discipline and I think it grew out of a bunch of things. It grew out of interaction design for one thing right. Alan Cooper's work and then obviously you know done Norman at Apple and some other folks started talking about the experience. Human beings have with a product and their whole point with that was that everything that came before was sort of very narrowly defined and they were saying no this this business these things that we do. It's bigger than that. It's a lot of specific activities and specific areas under a very large umbrella. In other words it's not just visual design. It's not just content. It's not just the mechanics of production right. It's it's all those things. It's human cognitive behaviour it's human psychology it's it's visual messaging it's perception of color and what happened.

Speaker 3:29:51I think so then it became user experience you X which came out of HCI human computer interaction. What happened shortly after that and I believe this is how this thing kind of goes and just about any field people had a hard time getting their head around you act like well what is a you X person. Do people know what a designer does. Right. So the two things were sort of similar. They're living next to each other in a neighborhood. So somebody said it's design is design OK so I'm a designer now and then light bulbs will offer people that OK I kind of get what that is and that's what happened something enters the lexicon and it becomes this thing that means something other than what it really is. So to me those are two different things of someone who does user experience work is not necessarily a designer.

Speaker 3:30:41But it became this blanket term for everything and it also invited the direct confusion between you X designer UI designer yeah right visual designer designer of experiences I believe and I've told the story so many times I'm not going to bore you with it the way I learned design in school when I went to school was that the visual result of that work was only one part of the equation. Design is design is design is design whether it's mechanical or industrial architectural graphic whatever the case may be. It's all the same thing. I still believe that. But in the same way that people had had trouble with that. It's just there's this need to put things in boxes and I think sometimes those boxes are inaccurate and doing so causes more problems than it solves. So hopefully answer your question.

Speaker 5:31:33Yeah I know that that totally makes sense that it aligns kind of with where I thought you were going but I was I was curious because you you will very often have a more high level perspective. I have noticed and so I appreciate you know your thoughts and insights on that at that higher level. I just think.

Speaker 3:31:54I think there's a need. We have a need. Like I said put things in neat little categories where everything makes sense and I think that the world at large that we all live in is a lot more complex than that. And I think that trying to do so causes more problems than it solves and it's better to walk into situations where is the issue here and in our case you are having a conversation about content. Right. All right. So for time content where are the content related issues and maybe in going down that path you find out that there's also an issue with the visual presentation of that content or as I alluded to there's an issue with the way that content is stored and categorized. Point being it's never just this one little thing. Now I don't know about your travels but in mine there is never one simple direct piece of the pie that you have to deal with.

Speaker 5:32:46Now it's never just one thing it's always it's always a set of nesting dolls. You know you take this and you open this one up and oh there's one more inside and there's one more inside and there's one more inside. There's one more inside until you're you know down to the tiniest tiniest solid little doll and you know sometimes that tiny solid little doll is well the person at the top of the organization is making all the decisions and won't listen. Or sometimes that solid solid tiny little doll as we'd really love to do this but we just don't have the Fonz or there's no political will or you know what for reasons because reasons.

Speaker 4:33:28So yeah it's never just one thing. And it's you know I also have a bit of a background as a front end developer. And so I kind of I keep coming back mentally to the metaphor of you know for us and how US problems are solved and reveal to aligning it with how cascading style sheets work. You know it's just it's not just discrete NCSA it's not just if you're if you're stylesheet is coded correctly it's not just a set of discrete instructions for whatever system you're working with to say hey use this font use this color in this size with this padding and this Marjon and this float and this clearance and you know every other thing you can think of if it's coded correctly those changes cascade and you is exactly the same way you can't solve a technical problem without affecting content delivery without affecting the UI without affecting the total experience.

Speaker 5:34:36So the U.S. is basically the sum total of all of those things cascading into each other.

Speaker 3:34:42Right. And you just described you know my my issue. In a nutshell with the degree of specificity that everybody sort of insists on it's it's false. Yes I do believe I as individuals. Everybody's talents abilities skill sets certainly gravitate towards very specific areas of this discipline and I think that's important. Yeah but I think these definitions get in the way and I wonder often if they're not what caused people that are removed from what we do often our clients are our bosses or managers or are our product owners or whoever they are. It's awful what sort of helps grow this idea that there's one specific thing we need to look at and that's it.

Speaker 5:35:29I think you're absolutely right. I mean it it's the world is complicated. The rural requires a lot of mental energy and human beings have a tendency to use shorthand.

Speaker 6:35:42Whether it's you know inaccurate job descriptions or you know stereotypes they use shorthand to make it so. Oh I know what this thing or this person is it goes in this box. I can now turn off my brain and worry about other things because I know how things that are in that box. Function. And that's that's really what it is is that the world is complicated and is hard it's just hard to be a person.

Speaker 7:36:16And it just really is.

Speaker 3:36:20Amen. And that's with everything. Right. It's that just one thing. It's it's always a lot of things and nothing is ever as neat and tidy as all this stuff makes it sound. I mean you know my my big thing about formal processes and recipes for success and all this kind of stuff. It's just all too simple. OK. Try to try to employ some of that in the real world and you'll find out in five minutes exactly what it's worth.

Speaker 6:36:48Yeah it is interesting is it. Is it OK for me to say sort of where I'm physically located. Of course. So I'm I'm in the Washington D.C. metro area.

Speaker 5:37:01And I did a bunch of volunteering for D.C. for the conference back in April shout out for you. D.C. It's an awesome group if you Espersen in the D.C. area and you're not a member. Please please please join. It's FREE. And you meet a lot of really good folks and we do a lot of really good stuff. But I did some volunteer work for the conference we had back in April and one of the speakers that we had come in was Dan Brown from shapes and he had just put out his book practical design discovery which I am going back and rereading now for a variety of reasons. And one of the things that he talks about in that book is you know he basically has this sort of four square model of discovery activities and that Foursquare is divided in half with one half being convergent activities and the other half being Divergent activities. And then it's divided in half the other way with some of them are problem solving and some of them are problem definition and some of them are solution oriented. And the thing that he says in the book which I completely agree with even in the second pass is that you know there are a bunch of activities and artifacts you can generate in the discovery process but you don't have to use them all.

Speaker 6:38:24It's like I my spouse's is a cook. My spouse is a fabulous cook which means I do a lot of dishes right. It.

Speaker 7:38:34Makes sense because the way it works on her house is she does all the cooking and I do the dishes and I consider that to be you know we both consider that to be a really fair division. Absolutely.

Speaker 6:38:47But I'm a baker and she can't bake at all. I mean she's just don't ask her to make chocolate chip cookies. She might as well eat a hockey puck.

Speaker 5:38:57And the difference between it is is that cooking is very you know the way a lot of people cook cooking is very kind of intuitive and very oh this doesn't smell right it needs a little bit more spice or oh I need to stir that up because the burners are a little hot or whatever.

Speaker 6:39:14Baking is chemistry yeah. Absolutely. So that's why I can't pick. Yeah. Baking is Wheatly chemistry so if you've got a recipe where I've this Christmas cookie recipe that I've been messing with for years and it's it's a fabulous cookie it started out as a cookie with butterscotch chips in it. And then one year I went OK well what if I use half butterscotch chips and half dark chocolate chips. Oh my. And then I had egg experiment for a couple of years because the dark chocolate chips don't have as much fat in them. So the cookies were kind of dry. And you know this and that the other thing and it's gotten to the point where it's a butterscotch oatmeal dark chocolate coconut cookie. It's a saying yes. But it's all about figuring out what the chemical balance is right. So if you take out you know the butterscotch chips that have more fat in them and you put in dark chocolate chips that don't have as much.

Speaker 6:40:08You got to add a little bit more butter. Discovery is like that. OK you can't just go Well I'm going to use you know six user interviews and five Web site statistics and three whatever this is then and then we'll have our problem definition. You have to use the discovery activities that are right for the situation you're in. Yep. You know so you may not have access directly to your users for whatever reason your client says no no we don't want you talking directly to users. But what you may have access to is a customer service staff that talks to the users great stand them in for your users because they know what the companies you know they know what the company's customer base they know what their pain points are because they're the ones who pick up the irate phone calls at 3 o'clock in the morning go OK Apple so why can't I get these podcasts off my back. Absolutely correct. Followed redirection in your knowledge base on these podcast will knock him off my iPad. What the what. Yeah.

Speaker 3:41:11And that's an untapped resource. It shocks me that more places don't lean on those people the way they should.

Speaker 6:41:17No they really don't. And but but the whole the whole thing is is that you know there are all these different things that we do in us. And I think that the business of us drives oh we have to create this artifact.

Speaker 5:41:31We must make wire frames or we must make a persona or we must do a user journey map or whatever it is because we need to show the people who are paying our salaries value when in reality you may walk into a situation where you know your clients already hired a consultant who's done the research and done this and all of that and they've got you know 10 personas that they know are accurate for their audience as the third consultant to come in. You don't need to make more new personas you need to synthesize the information that's already been gathered.

Speaker 3:42:03Right. Right. And look at it and say OK does this make sense at all. Is it accurate. Are there holes or are there false assumptions here. Yeah. Leverage leverage what's been done. I couldn't agree with you more.

Speaker 5:42:14Yeah absolutely. And so that's the thing I think we get so current caught up on proving value because we haven't really communicated to the people who hire us what it actually is that we do. We get so caught up on these artifacts that quote unquote prove our value that maybe sometimes we get into situations where we're not really doing the activities that would help us get to that tiny little solid nesting doll even faster.

Speaker 3:42:42And I think that's important and it's a tough thing to do particularly if you're trying to land a gig with a client or you're trying to get a job because everybody wants artifacts. Right that's what they want to see that we do the portfolio course. It's all about artifacts. You know show me what you've done and I get that. Because they do in their own way. Show your thinking and how you approach the work and that's valuable. But it also leaves people with the mistaken impression on both sides of the coin that the path to salvation lies in producing all these artifacts.

Speaker 5:43:22Yes. Yeah I I actually I took your I took one of the first couple of iterations of your portfolio course and that was you know that was one of the reasons that I took it is because as somebody who is focused on content it kind of puts me in the portfolio the whole issue of the portfolio kind of puts me in in particular between a rock and a hard place because nobody wants to read when they look at a portfolio yet a lot of content artifacts are worth based. So it's like well I've done all of this great content inventory and strategy work but you don't want to see my migration tracking sheet. You want to see a pretty picture of the final project product and the UI designer actually gets to claim that work because I didn't pick the fonts and didn't pick colors. You know yeah I helped write the content and give them an idea of what would be a good strategy to put on the home page or on a landing page or whatever it is. But when people look at a screenshot of that they're not going to see the content strategy they're going to see to Fahnestock and the pretty colors and the whitespace and all of the other things that go into you design that I'm not an expert at right.

Speaker 3:44:30And it's it's it's a misinterpretation misinterpretation isn't doing anybody any favors now least of all me. Yeah exactly. And I want to tell you that I looked to your portfolio briefly last night. I didn't dig into it but I did want to make it a point to say to you that I think you've done an excellent excellent job with it. Thank you because your value comes to me just even in the first screen. Your value is coming through loud and clear specifically that everything you do you know works towards results. Right. And it doesn't tie you down to any specific tactical hands on role. And just knowing you and being a socialist for a while I think that's where you value is so I did want to make a point to say that I think you're doing a good job there. Well thank you.

Speaker 5:45:17I appreciate that. I like I said I'm I took your you know I took your portfolio workshop and I took everything you said to heart. I was I was one of the people actually volunteered to have you live critique my portfolio. I don't know if you remember that. I do. But you know I took everything you said to heart and you know really it made me really step back and look at OK it's not just about the work that I've done it's not just about the artifacts I produced. It's about the work that I did. How did that help. Yes my clients achieve their goals.

Speaker 3:45:50Yes it can be a painful way forward. In some ways because like I said everybody expects the artifacts because that's what everybody else is doing. And I will tell you though that the path to doing the work that you are a meant to do extremely good at and see. That is of most value to the people who are going to pay you to do it has everything to do with divorcing yourself from some of that stuff. OK I have not shown anybody a potential client. Of course I haven't had a potential employer for a very long time but I have not shown a portfolio quote unquote for at least 15 years probably more than that out and deciding to stop doing that was a very painful difficult decision but it was something that was gnawing at me in the back of my mind. And there were a couple of people who I really respected that told me that gave me that advice and said look if you keep tying yourself to these things that is people's perception of who you are what you do and where you value is that is true.

Speaker 3:46:57And it's that's not the case. So you got to stop singing this song. And finally I did and it was hard at first but you know the results hopefully speak for themselves. It's bigger than that. Everything I do everything I take on is bigger than that the companies who trust me. All right. Because if they're going to pay me I feel a great responsibility of that. OK there. And trusting me with their hard earned cash. And I don't wanna ever promise that Oh well I know right now it's this hurts this hurts this hurts this. You know we've got to find out. Capsule is like saying we can't afford to solve the problem here. So it's tougher but it's a good way forward.

Speaker 8:47:40It is a very good way forward and it kind of takes me back a little bit too to college. I went to a Catholic university. And we had a religion requirement as undergraduates. And I actually managed to get out of the Catholic University of America without ever taking a class in Catholicism. OK. I did. Yeah I was excited. I took an architecture class that satisfied the religion requirement. I took the basic survey. I took a philosophy class that satisfied the requirement but the class the class that I enjoyed the most was actually a survey of Eastern religions so we looked at different kinds of Buddhism Dao is a little bit of Hindu and some other things that are lost lost in the mists of antiquity. But one of the books that we read that I think is directly relevant to being a practitioner with something called Zen Mind Beginner's Mind.

Speaker 4:48:42And basically the whole concept of the book was that in order to actually be a practitioner of Zen Buddhism you had to let go of the idea that you were an expert. You had to let go of the idea that you do anything and you had to approach each situation as if you were an abject beginner and you knew nothing.

Speaker 5:49:07And I think to a certain extent that's a really good mindset for us people to have because it will help us not walk into a client's office with a preconceived notion of Oh you're in the healthcare sphere these are the problems that you're going to have or you're in the public sector. These are the problems that you're going to have or you're a non-profit. These are the problems that you're going to have. Yes there is to a general extent commonality within all of those different domains of the problems that an organization or an agency or a company might have. But if you walk in going OK I need to open my mind and listen to what the people who are writing my check are telling me their challenges are that you're ultimately going to get a better solution for them than if you can't put your feet up on the desk. Yeah I know what's going on here.

Speaker 3:49:58Yeah and I can't believe you mentioned that book The Suzuki Book because behind me and I don't know if it ever shows up in any of my screenshots I take from this office. When I bought that book it came with a little print really and the print is the same illustration that's in the book. I believe that's the whole deal we're in the beginner's mind there are many possibilities in the experts mind there are few. And that's why if stuck to the wall behind me because that is sort of my guiding principle for everything. Don't ever assume that you know it's a mistake and it prevents real progress real meaningful results or outcomes of any kind. I absolutely agree. Sounds amazing that you brought that up. Sidor I was literally I swear to you I sort of had chills. You know the herem are standing up. When you were talking about it. Well my work is done here that really blows my mind on Friday. So we got a little bit of time left. We do so I want to puts you on the hot seat here. And as you hang some hopefully interesting challenging questions. OK. What test your patience.

Speaker 4:51:13More than anything else in general or in the works sphere either. Oh in the work sphere what tests my patience the most. This is going to sound horrible. Is developers who are more focused on functionality than on the people who are actually going to use the product they're building. How do you deal with that.

Speaker 6:51:43Take a lot of walks take a lot of walks around the block and very gently remind them that you know for example you've built a stripper pole Content-Type and all of the fields that are in the functional specifications are in the content type but they're in an order that doesn't really make any sense to the people who are actually going to be working with the system and maybe could we rearrange them like this and just kind of remind them that while they may be having fun with code that ultimately they're writing something that people who aren't as sophisticated as them are going to have to use what's our curiosity what's what's the ratio of responses in terms of people who sort of go oh yeah you know I didn't really think about that versus people who are.

Speaker 3:52:34Well no this is my thing stop talking to me.

Speaker 6:52:36I've never gotten 100 percent. No this is the way it is and just deal with a response. That's good. I've gotten everything from oh I just didn't think about it too fine. All right we'll put the fields of opportunity. And you can't see me rolling my eyes but I am. And I think what I do have to say the good thing is that the developers that I've worked with. It's been about I'd say 70 30 of 70 30 on the side of I just didn't really think about that. And now I know better.

Speaker 5:53:16And whether or not they carry that forward into other projects that they're working on with other people I don't know. But that actually makes me feel pretty good that maybe I'm able to kind of widen their viewpoint a little so that they consider not just whether or not the coat is beautiful and it works efficiently but how the person that they're ultimately going to that they're building the thing for is ultimately going to use it.

Speaker 3:53:41I think so and I think that's why you're there. I think that's why multidisciplinary teams are essential yet quite frankly it's it's hard for all of us to get out of our own way. And it's also why I'm not a fan of the all in one unicorn person who does everything but we can we could be on that all day. But but that's that's very heartening and I think that's reality in most cases.

Speaker 6:54:04Yeah I'd be happy to come back and talk with you about that but that we're going to have to schedule our chat later in the day so I can justify drinking that we do.

Speaker 3:54:16Fair enough. You're actually fairly close to me so we could do that and in person we could we could but I really I can't justify the 930 am it does understand I don't want to foist that on you either. I know that your master's in film and video production so you had let's assume that you're on a desert island question right. Let's assume you're on a desert island with power and you can watch movies one movie you get to be with you for the rest of eternity. What is it.

Speaker 9:54:50Ah wow lol that's really hard.

Speaker 5:54:58One movie that I get to be with me for the rest of eternity.

Speaker 3:55:02Right. I get it's cruel isn't it.

Speaker 6:55:04That is really cool. That is that is incredibly difficult. One movie that I get to be with me for the rest of eternity. It's Casablanca Yeah it's Casablanca. Why it's nearly perfect. I would tend to agree with that. Yeah. There are some you know from from a film nerd perspective there is a lot to recommend the director's cut of Blade Runner. There is also some things that recommend against it and they really have to do with story continuity. Otherwise you know if if if I could if I could go back and make strategic cuts I would I would possibly change my answer to and cut of Blade Runner but not being able to do that. It's Casablanca.

Speaker 3:56:01Excellent they're both excellent choices but I think you've been an excellent choice. Thank you. One last one. Sure. What is the hardest or most difficult thing you have ever done.

Speaker 6:56:14Just a personal question or a professional issue it can be either the most difficult thing I ever did was leave my uncle in the hospital while he was dying of a brain tumor to get on a train to come home to go back to work. It's not a happy answer.

Speaker 3:56:31No it's not but I've been in a similar similar situation and I know exactly what you mean.

Speaker 8:56:37Yeah it was. It was the most difficult thing I've ever done.

Speaker 3:56:40This is this is life right. It's a series of difficult choices some in greater extremity than others.

Speaker 6:56:48It it yeah it really is. I mean like I said being human beings hard. It certainly is. It is very hard sometimes sometimes harder than others. Where do you think our resiliency comes from. I'm still looking for mine. Sometimes I think I think our resiliency is based in the idea that space to do to key ideas that will get another chance to make better choices tomorrow later whatever some point in the near future and it's based on a faith in ourselves that will make that we will make better choices. So hope really does spring eternal. Well you know I don't I'm not a big fan of hope as a concept and part of the reason I'm not a big fan of hope as a concept is because hope in that kind of you know political slogan kind of way or that you know Alaska governor kind of way kind of to me removes the responsibility for making the choice from the individual. I mean if I make a choice I'm responsible for the consequences of that choice. And there are yes there are factors that are going to affect me that are out of my control but the way hope is a concept is sort of floated in our society. It's kind of like well I'm just going to hope and you know everything will turn out OK if I just have hope. It's kind of like my mother says you know Jesus doesn't care if you run out of gas.

Speaker 6:58:26They don't pray to Jesus that you're not going to run out of gas. Pullover and put gas in your car.

Speaker 3:58:36I love that that more than you can possibly imagine. Which makes sense right. Hope is wonderful but without action.

Speaker 5:58:44Exactly. I was reading I was reading an article I have a ridiculously deep unread pocket list. And I was reading an article this morning on medium and it was called good habits versus bad habits and the way the article author started it was he said you know there are all these lists where it says you know they they make these false promises of you know if you eat two eggs over easy with wheat toast while doing push ups and you know reciting your mantra simultaneously you too can be a millionaire in five years.

Speaker 6:59:21You know his whole thing was that you know if you pick up the habits of other people who are successful hoping that you're going to have the same success that they had. You're not living your life you're living their life. And to me hope is a concept that has that same thing. It's like I don't want to live a life that somebody else dictates for me. I want to make my choices and live with the consequences of them whether they are good or bad weather or I make a choice and outside forces push that choice in a different direction. So I have to make another choice. I want to live the life that I want to live. And if that means that I have to exercise five times a day you know five times a week because if I don't I won't sleep then that's the life I need to live whereas somebody else can function perfectly well on four hours worth of sleep. I know I can't do that. So it's really all about making making good choices.

Speaker 7:60:16And I would call that a mike draw. All right I guess we're done that and it has absolutely been a pleasure talking with you. I could do this all day. To be honest with you. Well thank you Joe it was it was a pleasure talking with you too. And I'm glad we found a time. Worked for both of us. And yes absolutely we could definitely do this all day. All right let's do it again sometime. Yes OK. In the meantime I wish you all the best in the world you most certainly deserve. Well thank you. I appreciate that. And Rebecca Achie sir. All right take care. You too.

Speaker 1:60:46Bye that wraps up this edition of making us work. Thanks for listening and I hope hearing these stories provide some useful perspective and encouragement. Along with a reminder that you're not alone out there. Before I go I want you to know that you can find shows and links to the things mentioned during our conversation by visiting give good you slash podcast. You'll also find links to more Eurex resources on the web and social media along with ways to contact me if you're interested in sharing your own story here.

Speaker 10:61:17Until next time this is Jonah Natoli reminding you that it's people like you who make us work.

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