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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Building the IA Summit team: 10 weeks since IA Summit 2014

These past two weeks I’ve very much enjoyed a visit to Iowa to visit my alma mater and to Illinois (near St. Louis) to visit my family.

Along the way, I also got to see Des Moines (in just two hours) with a most excellent tour guide: Scott Kubie. You may recognize his name from either of his IA Summit presentations about telling your job search story and making concept diagrams. Through a series of unfortunate situations, I didn’t see much of Des Moines while living in Grinnell, IA, and I was really happy to finally sample its awesomeness. So, big thanks to Scott!

Things that happened list

Meanwhile, things chugged along in IA Summit land. Continue reading

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