Stop Talking So Much

by LISA O

Most of us believe that the more we use words, the more we’ll be understood. It’s communication, right? And we’re always told to over-communicate because repeating using lot of words helps you to be understood. Here’s the problem: At some point, people stop listening.

I’m not talking about those critical things that businesses communicate internally, such as a change in strategy or business model. Those really do need to be heard several times before most of us get it. I’m referring to content that is ultimately consumed by your target audience. Websites, newsletters, print materials, and the lot.

If you think your audience is going to stick around and read a wall of grey text because you think it’s so gosh darn INFORMATIVE, then you’re doing it all wrong. Let me share a few mind-blowing statistics that will change your mind:

  • 48% of a website’s words are read when they’re 111 words or less.
  • 17% of people spend 4 seconds or less on websites. 4% spend 10 minutes.
  • Our overall attention span was a paltry 8 seconds in 2013, down from 12 seconds in 2000. For comparison, a goldfish can last 9.

So what should you do with these statistics? Stop talking so much. Stop thinking that the more words you throw at your audience, the more they’ll listen.

What you need is the right content, boiled down and condensed to it’s thick goopy goodness. Hire a talented content professional who can tease out that solid message, who can break up your walls of grey text into easily digestible bits of information. Your audience, and their attention spans, will love you for it.

3 Ways to Get Content and Design to Collaborate

by LISA O

I’ve worked with more than a dozen designers, both visual and interactive, over the past 20 years. These relationships haven’t always been of the simpatico kind, which is a real shame. If anyone should be joined at the hip at work, it’s the content person and the designer.

When these two disciplines effectively collaborate, they’re unstoppable. When they don’t, it’s like watching two whiny toddlers wrestle over a sippy cup. No one wins, including your business.

Let’s explore three simple but effective things you can do to facilitate a great working relationship for your UX pros.

1. Play matchmaker

When it comes to building a high-performing UX team, leaders should focus on personality fit just as much as they do skills. If you’re lucky enough to have a pool of content designers and visual/interactive designers to choose from, you’ll need to sharpen your matchmaking abilities.

Pair people together who compliment and challenge one another effectively. They don’t just have to produce results, but results that solve a real customer problem, are innovative, and surpass or meet business expectations. You can only get these results if you have people who respect one another enough to push each other’s boundaries and thinking effectively together.

Here are a few great pairings:

  • Doers and thinkers: You’ll keep the doers from moving too quickly, but push the thinkers into action.
  • Strategists and tacticians: You’ll have someone who’s looking at the big picture, while the other who’s focused on the steps it’ll take to get there.
  • Artisans and experimenters: These two will strike a great balance between “good enough” and “pixel perfect.”

2. Keep their focus

Just like any other discipline on your teams, UX needs to know what they’re doing, why, and what are the expected outcomes. That’s easy enough.

The real challenge comes when they produce an experience that doesn’t follow any of those guidelines and goals. This can be baffling for managers and leaders, but it’s really quite easy once you get to the heart of what makes UX tick.

Creative thinking is at the heart of what they do.

These people are trained to think creatively. They get their energy and passion by thinking creatively. They are hired and paid to think creatively. And sometimes as a result, creativity in itself can become more important than strategy and outcomes. Thus, they produce work that is fulfilling to them, but not to your business.

So what are you to do? Keep them laser focused. I have a few simple ideas that really work. To keep your time and sanity in check, a project or program manager can implement these for you (although I recommend that you’re present for work reviews):

  • Create a constant reminder: Post the project goals for everyone to see and begin every meeting with this summary. Every person on your team should hear these goals so often that they can recite them in their sleep. It’s hard to deviate from strategy when it’s repeated day after day.
  • Have frequent and public reviews: Establish project share-out timelines where all work is reviewed, allowing ample time to course-correct. And post the project’s progress on a massive wall for everyone to see. You’d be surprised how quickly a project gets back on track when it’s shared publicly.
  • Hold them accountable for outcomes: Annual goals, reviews, and bonuses can help employees understand the connection between what they do and how they are rewarded. Frank and frequent conversations about how well their doing can help you avoid any unpleasant surprises.

3. Enforce cooperation and collaboration

I’ve witnessed too many interaction designers develop a complete experience all by themselves, and then ask content folks to ‘fill in the gaps.’ If this behavior is left unchecked, you’re looking at many, many dire consequences. The biggest one being that you’ll get one narrow solution. And when content designers are reduced to a proofreader level, you’re leaving a huge gap in resource efficiencies.

Here are a few things you can do to facilitate a great working relationship:

  • Set expectations early: Without telling them how to do it, let them know that you expect their relationship to be mutual respectful and productive.
  • Get them happy together: Physically move them so they’re sitting side by side. Ideally, all UX in your group should sit together and share a collaborative space.
  • Hear both sides of the story: Ask them to give joint presentations during reviews. If one of them is doing all the talking, you may have a steamroller on your hands.

How to Manage Your Content Designers

by LISA O

If you don’t have a professional background in content, managing those ‘word people’ can be an often frustrating and rocky road. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your relationship.

Happy managing!

Avoid dictation

When their work doesn’t fulfill project goals, avoid leading your feedback with, “What about saying it this way…” This is the equivalent of dictating code to a programmer line by line. It’s deflating for content designers and belittles the whole reason of why they exist.

Instead, aim for a reset.

Restate the project goals and purpose of their work, and what the end result will look like to the customer. This will help broaden their thinking , allowing them to get out of weeds and soak in the bigger vision.

And have some flexibility on first drafts, which are rarely ever viewed as final versions. Content designers are always, always prepared for multiple rounds of word tweaking based on feedback they receive.

Protect their expertise

Your ‘word people’ will hear from every single person in the company on how to phrase things differently. They’ll get conflicting recommendations, often from the same source, and most of them will be horrible.

Why? Writing is viewed as something that’s easy. After all, we do it every day. Email, PowerPoint presentations, and all the other trappings of today’s business make it appear that we’re all experts at stringing together sentences.

As their manager, you need to protect and evangelize their expertise. Loudly. And publicly.

Call them ‘the experts’ in meetings. Defer to them when everyone in the room is piling on the content recommendations.

Let others know that suggestions are welcome, and that your expert will weigh each one carefully. Surprisingly, content designs will consider every opinion. They aren’t dummies. They know great ideas can come from the most unlikely people.

See how smart they are? That’s why they were hired in the first place.

Let them obsess

Word people can debate the merits of a serial comma, or lack thereof, amongst themselves until they’re cross-eyed. Non word people will find this either completely hilarious or completely mad.

If you want a healthy and happy content designer, let them obsess. It’s their passion. Preferably, they’ll do it with peers. If they don’t have any, find them playmates (see Set up play dates below for more).

The outcome of all this obsession is, or should be, an in-house style guide. While it may seem like a lot of fussy nonsense, this guide sets the standard of all of your content. All of it. They set the rules for every single word that your customers read.

Let that last sentence marinate for a minute or two.

Now, don’t you think that serial comma is worth obsessing over?

Set up play dates

Content designers need solidarity. They must have like-minded peers to share ideas with.

This may come as a shock to a few of you, who see them as solitary creatures that prefer to scurry off to quiet places.

Well, that’s true too.

So let me clarify. Content designers, if not naturally inclined to do so, should be strongly encouraged to meet regularly with one other to discuss their work. And by strong encouraged, I mean told to do so.

They’ll resist, claiming that they have no time to meet other content designers or that they don’t need more opinions on their work.

What they don’t realize is that when they’re in a room together, content designers find common causes to champion: the em dash, the bulleted list, how to tackle an cross-sell, or how to phrase a concept in just the right way.

It’s magical to see how quickly they support one another, and how much energy they receive from regular meeting with peers.

Your business benefits too. Since they’re sharing their work with one another, your product or service will have a more consistent voice and tone. And you’ll see more creative content solutions, thanks to the combined expertise of your content designers.

Know their value

If you’ve never managed a content designer before, research what they do and why it’s highly valued in today’s business. A productive team member should never have to justify why they’re there just because you didn’t do your homework.

If you’re still flummoxed, be honest with your content designer.  And try a little humility. It goes a long way in these scenarios.

“Hey, I’m new to your discipline. Can you tell me a little about it?” is a much preferred opening line over, “So why are you here?”

Oh, and do this way before annual reviews.  You don’t want to be that manager.