Building Sustainable User Personas

We've done a lot of work over the last 12 months for sporting codes, energy companies and banks. (Maybe plural is overselling it. It was one of each.)

As part of that we built user personas.

Creating user personas is hard work but totally worthwhile. They give us a sense of who it is we’re really designing for: an audience to target. They help us ask questions like: "Is Jamie interested in getting the latest scores while at his desk?" and "How important is it that Sonja see an incident report immediately."

The personas help us make the myriad decisions that we might not otherwise be equipped to make. They boost our empathy.

But there's a hole that clients and colleagues often fall into when it comes time to create personas. Continue reading

Thanksgiving 2014

Today is Thanksgiving in the US. It's a holiday with dubious origins but still celebrated by enough people in New York that a lot of shops are closed and people who work in offices usually take at least two days off work.

My friends Chris and Cathy invited me to their house for Thanksgiving meal. This is the fourth time I've spent the holiday in New York and the second time I've been over to their house to celebrate. Chris makes a turducken, amazing mac & cheese, sweet potato that he infuses with LSD or something (coconut milk and Sriracha) to make it taste extraordinary, a dirty rice and, this year, potatoes cooked in goose fat. We drink wine and tell stories and plead with the children to play nicely.

I like the idea of the holiday. Taking a moment to think about what is good in one's life might help put the complaints that hound us daily aside for a while.

I caught a taxi to their house in Brooklyn. Sometimes I enjoy talking to taxi drivers and I'll usually let them make the first mood. I hate when people talk to me when I'm working but I'll give them a couple of hints that I'm friendly to let them know the opportunity for a chat is there.

My guy today was originally from Rwanda. He's been in New York for five years and he loves it here. He said that as long as someone isn't lazy they can make a living here. He told me this story.

In Rwanda someone might make three dollars a day. Nobody owns a car unless they are super wealthy or in politics. The two often coincide. Most transport is by foot. A few people are lucky enough to have a bicycle. When he arrived in the USA he had never driven a car before.

He worked as a cleaner for a while and then got a job as a bicycle delivery guy. That's how he learnt all the streets. He couldn't believe his fortune when he was earning $200 a week.

He shares a place in the Bronx with several other people. So many of them share the house that he only has to pay about $150 per month in rent. They eat together and look at the most economical way to do so. Large sacks of rice and whole chickens bought in "three-fer" specials keep them sustained for a long time. They waste nothing. Everything is used.

When Rwanda was in civil war, he applied for refugee status. This, he told me, with no emotion. It was a matter of fact that Rwanda was a bad place and a terrible place for the poor, which included him.

The emotion came when he started telling me about the refugee camp in Nairobi where he spent 18 months. The conditions were appalling. He said something about going to the toilet and getting then people getting sick and dying. I chose to connect my own dots rather than ask details. The dots weren't pretty.

In the refugee camp he was forced to wear the same clothes every day. The only time he was provided a change of clothes was when a UN official was due to arrive. Someone taught the refugees songs with synchronised clapping to entertain the UN officials and the camp was cleaned up.

Clean clothes, clean camp and singing refugees: The UN officials never saw the true nature of the camp.

My taxi driver thinks very little of the UN. He yelled and flicked his hand towards the passenger-side window, telling me that Kofi Annan is not a great man and that the Africans who go to the UN do so with little concern for their home but great concern for the guaranteed several years of money and entitlements.

After 18 months he arrived in the USA and was, along with fellow refugees, put into a hotel in Connecticut. There, in the hotel room, were food and beverages for them to enjoy at their will. They didn't touch them until one of the people in charge asked if they were sick and maybe that's why they weren't eating.

The assumption was the food wasn't for them. Even when told they could eat what they wanted, they disbelieved. When it was made absolutely clear that there would be no retribution for eating the food, joy came into their lives. He said the word "meat" with such delight that it made me slightly embarrassed for how much I take for granted.

When he was working in bicycle delivery, a friend told him that driving a taxi was a much better job. They taught him to drive. He said he couldn't believe how easy it was. "This was the gas and this was the brake, and you go."

Through that series of events I arrived at Chris and Cathy's house, aware that it's important to remember how I got to wherever I am, to make me thankful for what is available to me now.

We need Hookturn now, more than ever.

Features to be significantly changed. Decommissioning of 360documentaries, Hindsight, Encounter, Into the Music and Poetica… One possible redundancy with the merging of Books and Arts Daily and the Weekend Arts teams… By Design and RN First Bite to be axed."

The Guardian lists some of the casualties of the ABC funding cuts.

As our government literally decimates the national broadcaster, I'm even more conscious of the need for the ongoing telling of Australian stories in whichever way we can.

We take a lot of pride in where we come from. As Melburnians we're constitutionally required to be parochial. Once every 18 months or so I travel to New York City and I marvel at its inhabitants' parochialism. They put us to shame. I've travelled to Austin, which has the unique position of being a parochial enclave inside of Texas, itself probably the most parochial place in the world.

I'm speaking about parochialism as a virtue, which opposes my personal economic beliefs for globalisation. But the two concepts can and should co-exist. Continue reading

Don’t be scared to share.

Last week I went to a meetup about strategy and content in New York. The theme was 'Show and Tell' and each attendee was supposed to bring a piece they had worked on to discuss the thought behind its content and design.

Only four of us braved the surprise sub-zero November weather to turn up to a meeting room at EMC's office and we were probably all a little disappointed to begin with. But soon we realised that with so few of us there we didn't have to restrict ourselves to three to four minute time limit. Just as well. The things we brought with us demanded more attention and investigation.

A content strategist brought her hybrid strategy/publication schedule template, designed to teach her large accounting firms marketing team that there was more responsibility to creating material than just releasing white papers into the wild.

A self-starting web-designer shared his vanity project to produce online documentaries to capture all sides of a story.

A strategy designer shared an intranet created for one of the world's largest banks to help employees get all the information they needed about their own employment (payslip records, accrued holiday leave, promotion and training opportunities), and how it was being used by the bank to improve employee retention.

I shared a recent Shareholder Review we created for one of our clients to discuss the narrative concept and how the content was able to exist in different formats online and in print.

We left amazed at the work we were all doing and I realised something really important: as an industry we don't share enough.

Sure, there are some who share. There are those who stand up at conferences and talk about what they've learnt. We see them all the time and too often it's the same faces over and over again.

Unfortunately, those of us at the coal-face rarely  talk about or show off the work we're doing unless we're pitching to new clients.

That's not enough.

What I saw that night is that there are people who, like us, are trying to solve difficult problems every day. When we work in isolation these seem like really unusual or even unique problems. If we shared these problems more often we might find that we’re not alone.  We might even find someone else’s problem is congruent with ours. Their solutions might have value for our projects.

We can learn from the experiences of other people even when (and perhaps especially when) we work in different fields. Some challenges are universal.
Designers need to learn the value of talking to one another about our work and why it excites us. We should also share our disappointments to show that it's unreasonable to expect every project to be 100% success.

The luminaries who publish books and tour the talking circuit do some important work, but if they're the only people we listen to we are going to end up with a homogenised set of solutions. But evolution's strength is in variety.

Let’s resolve to regularly share our experiences and talk to each other about the problems we face in creating our work. It takes a bit of guts and it can be a daunting task, but we will never improve if the only thing we share is exasperation at tight or mercurial deadlines. The power we have to improve our work is in sharing our problems, methods and results.

This post was originally published in the Floate Design Partners blog

How to Magic Yourself Better

We do a show that we release as a podcast about being better designers. It's called The Nudge. In it we try to cover some of the issues we think designers face and try to find people who can teach ways to improve on that.

But we don't often talk about the things we're currently doing as a studio to make us better designers; The things we're doing to make ourselves work smarter.

Recently we finished two massive projects. One was the ANZ Shareholder Review. We'll post a full case study about that shortly. The other was the redesign of the way one of Australia's major sporting bodies presents itself to the world.

These two projects took up every resource we had and then some. Many of us worked without weekends and up to 80 hours a week to complete these jobs on time.

That's not a brag: It's an admission. It shouldn't have happened. We should have been able to work smarter and avoid working harder.

During those two projects we already started looking at what we can do next time to make the work go easier. We knew that the way we were working wasn't great but we were stuck for the moment. Mid project isn't a great time to swap between task managers, for example.

But then again, is there ever a great time to do such a thing?

We were using Basecamp for our task management and project related communication. Or I should say, we were kind of using it. Basecamp became a dumping ground for files and messages, tasks that were never completed. It was a graveyard of work we had done, work we had intended to do, and it never gave us an understanding of what was happening right now.

We think this might be where our problem was. Basecamp is an excellent product but it just wasn't working for the way we do things.

Right now we're trying two new (to us) products: Slack and Asana.

Slack is a good team communication tool that many of our colleagues and friends had recommended.

Asana is a task management set of apps that gives the opportunity to categorise tasks in a number of ways, nest tasks to be as granular as we like, and offers snapshots on projects and their progress over time.

We're still in the early days of using these systems and we'll try to keep you updated on what we discover about them and ourselves.

At the moment, though, it's also important for us to realise that these systems can't make people work better but they can offer the opportunity to improve our processes.

Just like buying a new notebook doesn't make you write that novel and having a new bat doesn't make you a better cricketer, having new productivity tools isn't going to magic us into working better. It will take tenacity, discipline and support from each other when things get tough.

We're lucky as well that we work in a team. Hopefully we can do that better soon too.

This post was originally published in the Floate Design Partners blog

The Disruption Fallacy

It may engender a whole new stream of book reviewing, but I doubt it, because people are more interested in writing self-published books than in reading them. And if old media is so passé, why do they care so much about what we think?

Roger Sutton, editor in chief of Horn Book magazine, from
'No, I don’t want to read your self-published book' by Ron CharlesThe Washington Post, October 1, 2014.

We've been speaking a lot about the idea of "disruption" in the office recently. Of course, being urbane designers whose job it is to solve problems, we often regard the concept as nothing more than a buzzword surrounding or obfuscating a difficult truth: The world moved beyond the capabilities of a particular business model.

But it's also within our bailiwick to look at the issue of disruption with empathy for both sides and to try to help our clients, whichever side of the disruption line they fall on.

The above quote from Sutton identifies one of the unspoken problems of disruption culture. Survivorship bias pushes us to look at the industries which were damaged by new competition. The newspaper industry is an obvious example. People never paid for news directly. The news was subsidised by the classified ads. Craigslist started and the classified ads dried up.

Nigel Dalton, CIO of REA Group recently gave a talk at General Assembly in Melbourne about his time at Lonely Planet and how they failed to preempt Trip Advisor et al.

That put a really interesting spin on the concept of disruption. Is it the act of the new business models pushing out older forms, or is it failure on the part of the older forms to react with appropriate innovation when the landscape shifts?

We never really hear about the start-ups that failed because the industries they were trying to undermine acted quickly and well to reinforce their position.

And then, in this quote from Sutton, we see an interesting in-between stage. Self-publishing is easy and many people do it. There are parts of that industry where self-publishing succeeds, to an extent. Science fiction and fantasy audiences are much more willing to take risks on reading and discover new authors. Children's books, however, require an element of authority behind them to recommend them and let parents know they are making a wise investment for their children's education and entertainment.

If we look at the microscopic level we see disruption or thwarting, depending on the victor. But if pull out to a more macroscopic level we observe business as an ecosystem, producing wins and losses all over the place. We see evolution as it should be: Businesses succeed or fail based on how well they can live in a changing environment.

There will always be something new coming around the corner. A business in stasis is never going to survive, but a business in panic is only slightly better off. Sometimes what a business needs is a third party to show what's really important and its value as the environment changes.

That's where we come in as designers. Our job is often to be the calming influence, to stop the panic and to develop strategies for showing value to customers, shareholders, staff or anyone else who might need a refreshing vision of the part your business plays in what's important to them.

To paraphrase Yoda: There is no disruption, only do or do not.

To paraphrase Sigourney Weaver: There is no disruption, only Zuul.

This post was originally published in the Floate Design Partners blog

Piracy and self-delusion

The problem is immense and it's killing our culture: We take pride in being the highest, per capita, pirates of television in the world; we cringe away from the idea of having to pay for any kind of entertainment; we allow a select few to dictate what we can legally enjoy for free; and we spend almost nothing in finances or effort to improve the quality of the entertainment product we're producing.

When I say "we" I'm talking, of course, about Australians as a whole.

We are disgusting creatures cheating ourselves out of an identity because we can't bear the idea of encouraging fellow Australians to do their best—unless it has to do with sport, in which case we better bloody win or we can forget about coming home.

What a bunch of hypocritical fuckwits we are. We're more willing to shout something down and dismiss it out of hand than encourage it.

We are, in many respects, still a lucky country. Our arts talent quotient is as out of proportion with our population as our sports talent. Film-making and acting are two of our most recognised exports. We look at local talent who have done well overseas and we claim their accolades as our own. But what did we do? All we did to earn that award was create an arts environment in which it was almost impossible to make a living.

Instead of feeling the shame that accompanies having other people point out the value in the treasure we let slip from our hands, we pretend to still own it. That's just basic fucktardery (look it up).

The problem was created by decades of self-neglect and low self-esteem and it seems insurmountable, but it's not. It's just going to take a lot of work and self-awareness.

As long as Australian commercial TV shows are produced to sedate and Australian films are created to tick boxes built by bureaucrats and Australian commercial radio is designed to silence independent thought, we will not be able to rely on those forms to pull us out of this rut.

Those "traditional" media channels are choking on their own monopolies and will quite happily have our culture suffocate beneath their corpses. They don't care about us.

It was ridiculous to think that we could force them to give us what we needed through piracy. Piracy is a selfish act and we lied to ourselves, saying we were freeing the content and thinking we were getting one up on the media hogs. But we just became arseholes.

Money talks. We always knew it was true. So here's what I'm going to do with mine: Every week that the Powerball jackpot is high enough that it makes me seriously consider buying a ticket (which is usually $10M or over) I'll spend that money, instead, on supporting an Australian crowd-funding project or donating it to a local podcast producer or buying tickets for me and a friend to see some independent theatre, or buying locally produced comics. The potential dividends are tiny by comparison but the likelihood of any positive dividend is so much greater.

This is the start. I'm sick of giving rich idiots my money and I'm sick of looking overseas for validation. We have the amazing talent here and we need to support it. We need to be passionate about it. We need to give it valid criticism so that it can improve and we need to give it the resources it needs to try again.

Those resources are things we have: time, money and attention. We just have to change the way we've been spending them.

Remembering when U2 sued Negativeland because they hated criticism

It's supposed to be a tribute to The Clash but just like the tribute to Joey Ramone, it sounds like a tribute to U2.

via The Nightwatchman: I Thought I'd Give That New U2 Album In My itunes Library A Listen..

I used to really like U2 and then I saw a concert that showed they had no sense of humour. I thought the lack of sense of humour might have been something Phil Janou shot and edited for in Rattle and Hum, but no. It turns out they were just a bunch of people believed their own hype.

I still really like BB King.

Also, how funny is Glenn Peters?