Minimizing email oppression: 5 Months since IA Summit 2014

ukesummit2014-sqThis month, I got to attend an event I’ve been anticipating for over a year: the Strathmore’s Uke and Guitar Summit. Besides getting to enjoy the wonderful teachings of some amazing ukulele people, I also had a little fun experiencing a “conference” as a first-timer.

It made it a little easier for me to imagine how IA Summit first-timers must feel. The IA Summit is the one place each year I’m sure to get to catch up with the DC IA friends who I made through local events. Even my first Summit—Denver in 2011—felt so much like going home. Somehow all of us getting together in our home doesn’t occur to us. On the other hand, a reunion at IA Summit, wherever it may be, makes complete sense.

But going to a Uke Summit? I went in being acquaintances with a couple local ukers, and I wasn’t sure they’d be there. All those things that are easy when you’re familiar with a group become a little harder—Where do I eat? Which class should I attend? Who do I sit next to??

Happily, by the end, I had made some friends, just as I hope first-timers at IA Summit do.

Things that happened

As usual, there’s lots of collab happening in IA Summit world:

  • Co-chair meetings,
  • ASIS&T + co-chair meetings,
  • Web stage 2 work,
  • Accessibility research and checks, and
  • Venue visit scheduled!

Let me tell you more about that last point: During the week of September 7, Vanessa of ASIS&T, Dan our Experience Director, and I will be visiting our hotel in Minneapolis. We’ll be checking out the spaces, figuring out where things will be, and otherwise scoping things out.

Dan and I also plan to attend this UXPA Minnesota event on contextual inquiry, so be sure to say hello if you’re in the area!

Making email less oppressive

Reading email can be a pain, right? In an attempt to get things under control, I’m currently embarking on massive unsubscribes.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to write emails that are less of a burden on their recipients. Here are a couple tactics I’m trying out, including on my IA Summit emails:

  • Use action-oriented subject lines. If I want the recipient(s) to take an action, I try to put it in the subject. You get bonus points if you include a deadline. Example: “Requesting curation content feedback: By Fri EOD”
  • Use people’s names next to action items. If you’re emailing multiple people, put specific names next to specific action items. I learned this from a coworker at my first job out of college, and it’s brilliant.
  • Separate ideas into paragraphs, and maybe throw in a heading or two. I do this after I’ve drafted the email. It’s amazing the clarity that can come from grouping sentences into paragraphs. Note: One sentence paragraphs are a-ok.
  • Move descriptions into a doc. Sometimes I’ll start writing an email and then discover that it’s becoming hella long. That’s the point when I realize that I should move the description into a Google Doc, and link to the doc in the email.
  • Edit the subject line when the topic changes, or pull topics out into separate emails. When I do this, I use the “forward” feature so that the chain that sparked the conversation can still be referred to by recipients—including me.

These specific ideas happen within my emailing process:

  1. Decide to write an email about something.
  2. Draft the email.
  3. Edit the email.
  4. Decide whether to send the email.

The tactics fit into step 2 and 3. Step 4, though, is important, too. Sometimes I get through writing an email and realize that what I wrote is either (a) better handled at an upcoming or a new meeting or (b) important only to me. If either (a) or (b) is true, I take different actions instead of sending the email.

My motivation, besides the good ol’ “do unto others” adage, is this: I’m finding that folks are more likely to read, reply, and act on the emails I write. Now, that’s communication!

A new volunteer

We now have on board another IAS teammate:

That’s all for now!

But, consider this: At some point, we’ll open our call for proposals.

So, start thinking about what you know and what you’ve experienced that might help our community. The specifics of slots and submissions are second to your noodling and framing your story. No need to wait for us before you get started!

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Teens perform original monologues as Stein, Einstein, Child and more

If you live or work in downtown DC, you have got to take this interactive tour at the National Portrait Gallery: 2014 Portraits Alive!

Seven area teens guide you through the halls of the gallery, each taking on the persona of a famous American. In one hour, you hear personal stories, perspective, and encouragement from:

  • Hellen Keller, author and activist
  • Billie Holiday, jazz singer
  • Julia Child, chef and teacher
  • Joe Louis, professional boxer
  • Maria Callas, opera singer
  • Gertrude Stein, author
  • Albert Einstein, physicist

Each monologue is lovingly performed and written by its performer. The performances are the culmination of their multi-week program where each student selected a portrait from the gallery, researched at the Martin Luther King, Jr Library, and composed and rehearsed their piece. The director of the program encouraged each student to move past a “list of bullet points” to create a flowing narrative from the character’s perspective.

As the group walks from portrait to portrait, the characters engage in discussion with each other and the tour group in a mix of planned dialogue and improv. Whenever a move includes a floor change, two characters announce, “Follow me to the elevator!” while the rest of the group takes the stairs.

I asked several of the students how they picked their character. The answers ranged from “I knew I could dress up as her” to “I was inspired by the way he learned through movement.” (As for the former answer—don’t worry; her performance was wonderful.)

There are five more performances left, including one today:

  • Today, Weds Aug 6 at 2pm
  • Tomorrow, Thursday Aug 7 at noon and 2pm
  • Friday, Aug 8 at noon and 2pm

Meet the group in the atrium at the National Portrait Gallery. You won’t miss ‘em—most of the other folks there aren’t dressed in ball gowns and white wigs.

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The Milk Experience

I’ve been a long-time fan of Planet Money, an NPR show and podcast that explains economics via my favorite communication tool: storytelling.

A recent one, Episode 555: Why is the Milk in the Back of the Store?, covers a perennial example of how grocery stores, and businesses generally, aim to manipulate customers.

I think y’all will enjoy listening to the 16 minute story. It’s an excellent example of:

  • How the layout (or information architecture, if you will) of a store can affect customers (or users);
  • In a macro view, how to get to the truth about that effect;
  • In a micro view, in a couple cases, how not to get to the truth; and
  • What to do when the truth is still fuzzy.

Another highlight for me: The two main experts interviewed, food writer Michael Pollan and economist Russ Roberts, held their roles of expert with integrity. They each argued for their theory with zeal, and when the data was in, congenially accepted it and integrated it into their theories.


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The other side of micromanagement: 4 months since IA Summit 2014

Oh boy! I’ve gotten so caught up in IA Summit and the rest of life, we’re already to four months since IA Summit 2014.

One non-IAS thing from this past month: Tony and I checked an item off the bucket-list-we-didn’t-know-we-had.

A rainy DC afternoon introduced us to the first full-arc rainbow we’ve ever seen. For the brief 10 minutes it graced the sky, I felt that sense of wonder that only nature can bring. I hope you one day get to experience the same thrill!

Things that happened

Here they are:

  • Lots of co-chair meetings. (I’ve lost count!)
  • Lots of web team collaboration. Resulting in the soft launch of our IAS15 site. Note that it’s stage one, so if you see something that needs improving or filling out, assume that we’re on it.
  • An ASIS&T checkin.
  • SO MANY documents, document updates, and emails. We are IAs, after all

When you find yourself on the other side of micromanagement

I am a big picture, possibilities person. This means a number of things, including:

  1. My first reaction when considering an issue is to explore that issue. What’s the goal? Have we done something similar before? What are the constraints? How can we get around those constraints?
  2. Once I do that, I can think of many different ways to address an issue, and so, I
  3. I can often get behind more than one way to do something.

When I’m on a team that’s collaborating equally, or one where there’s a specific leader, this works out relatively well. I spout out ideas (possibly trolling any detail, linear people with some off-the-wall ones) and then some or none of the ideas are used.

But here’s what I’ve been finding on IAS: It seems that a leader spouting ideas can be easily misread as a micromanager. Folks then might feel a bit like they need to, I don’t know, run away and hide. And that makes it hard to get to part 3.

I can’t blame them: There’s nothing that squashes my motivation and capabilities faster than someone saying, you must do it this way, at this time. I, too, want to run and hide from that leadership style.

So, I’m practicing when to bring something up, and how to help folks know that I’m not trying to bulldoze them. If I come up with any rockin’ techniques, I’ll be sure to report back!

New team member

We’ve got one new team member:

  • Dani Nordin is our front-end developer. Welcome, Dani!

That’s all for now. For homework: If it’s summer where you live and it is raining, double check for a rainbow.

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UX research, Rwanda, and nta kibazo

When our team of researchers and designers arrived in Kigali, Rwanda four years ago, we arrived in a place that was entirely new to us.

Researchers and designers often aim to improve something unfamiliar to them. As the four of us soon found out, we also needed to remodel our research tools.

For background on the Rwanda we arrived in and the project we worked on, check out the companion to this post: The World Cup, Rwanda, and User Experience Research.

Without a schedule…

Our research plan did not include the schedule you might expect, with slots and breaks and participants all in a row. Instead of making sure we were on the appropriate calendars, our staff in Rwanda responded to our requests with “Let’s wait.” Continue reading

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Meetings vs getting stuff done: 3 months since IA Summit 2014

It’s summer! (Here in the northern hemisphere, at least.) Saturday was the first official day, but the weather’s seemed like it for quite some time.

A highlight in my summer is that we’re subscribed to a CSA—which means that, once a week, we get a mystery box of amazing produce. So far, we’ve received strawberries, radishes, greens, spring onions, and more. Our meal palates and palettes are very, very happy for it.

Things that happened

These last two weeks, the team has been focusing on each of our assignments. Getting the website closer, refining details that contribute to big ideas, and the like. Here are some specific things that have happened: Continue reading

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The World Cup, Rwanda, and UX Research

IASummit-illustrations-RwandaFour years ago in 2010, just as it is now, a World Cup was happening. From here in the US to across the pond in Belgium to an eight hour flight south of there in Rwanda, people gathered around TV sets and radios, excitedly following passes and kicks and fouls and goals.

I know this not because I was one of the watchers, but because I kept seeing the watchers. Much different from my 2006 World Cup experience, I didn’t see them much in the US. Instead, I saw them in Rwanda.

Along with another researcher and two other designers, plus some other folks in our organization, I visited Rwanda for twelve days in 2010. We were there to find out whether or not our users—Rwandan teacher trainers—could use the thing we were building—a website to help them get English-language resources.

Our team was part of a bigger project, the Rwanda Education Commons. REC aimed to help with a lot of problems, but the website I worked on focused on a big one.

How the program came to be

IASummit-illustrations-BooksIn 2009, a new language policy took effect in Rwanda. It said that all schools in Rwanda would be taught in English. Whatever subject a teacher was teaching (well, other than languages), it would be taught in English.

Teaching algebra? Do it in English.
Teaching ethics? Do it in English.
Teaching French history? Do it in English.

Before this declaration, the official language of schools was French. In 2010 and today, privileged Rwandans tend to be at least bilingual. Most speak Kinyarwanda, the indigenous language, which is related to Swahili. For their second language, most Rwandans will speak either French or English, and many have varying familiarity with the third. Continue reading

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