Jeff Eaton: 5:34
Liz McDermott: 11:06
Chelsea Larsson: 16:48
Kelley Graham: 22:12
Laura Robertson: 27:35
Anusha Jha Rohom: 33:47
Anita Cheng: 39:23
Kristina Halvorson: Hi! How’s Confab?
Kristina: You know why it’s so good every year? It’s because you come, and you’re like, “Oh, I learned this thing, but I wanted to know more about this other thing, and I have this thing that I want to add onto this thing.” The discipline just builds and builds and builds. So, you’re amazing. Thank you.
Okay. We are here now for what is legitimately my favorite part of Confab, and that is the lightning talks. The reason the lightning talks are so amazing is that several of these speakers have never stepped foot on stage before. Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell them who that is. But it’s basically attendees who just threw their hat in the ring to come up here and talk for five minutes about something that they know. That’s it!
So, the bravery that these folks are exhibiting, the stories that they have to tell, the insights they’re going to share, the jokes they’re going to crack ... We need your love because these are exactly … it’s like you just getting up out of your seat and coming up here and talking. So we needs lots of [exclamation] and applause and happiness and love for these people on the stage.
And I’m really, really … we’re very lucky because I’m really good at cheerleading, but the woman who’s about to come on stage, every time she plays two truths and a lie, she tells people that she was captain of the cheerleading squad in her high school, and that’s the lie, but everybody believes her.
It’s Malaika Carpenter. Malaika’s the founder and principal consultant at SayCred Media. [applause] Yes, you’re already doing such a great job! Good! She’s a storyteller at heart, communicator by nature, and a writer and content strategist by profession. She is here to welcome each of our brave lightning talk speakers as they present in the Ignite style, 20 slides that change automatically with each slide displayed for 15 seconds. Ready? Here comes Malaika.
Malaika Carpenter: Welcome, everybody, to Confab’s 2019 lightning talks. I’m your host, Malaika Carpenter, and I am beyond excited to be here. Beyond excited. How’s everybody feeling?
Malaika: Yes! Who is it your first time coming to a Confab lightning talk? Raise your hand. Nice. A lot of first-timers in the room, and I’m sure people who’ve seen this many times, but I’m pretty sure that you guys did not know that today’s event was BYOB, “Bring Your Own Beyoncé.” That’s right. Because I’m sure over the course of these two days, you’ve learned some things that you’re going to bring back to work, and you’re going to walk into work with such utter confidence the same way I walked on this stage, with everything that you know. You’re going to bring your own Beyoncé back.
These seven braves speakers are going to come onto this stage and bring their own Beyoncé, their inner fierceness, talent and sparks, to talk about a content topic in five minutes or less, using 20 slides that advance automatically. I mean, they are literally ... go slay, go slay, all day. But not all day, because they only have five minutes. So not.
You know, one of my friends said, “Hey, what is a lightning talk? I don’t really know what that is.” I said to her, “It’s kind of like dating nowadays. You meet somebody, you kind of get into them, and then all the sudden by the time you really think things are going somewhere, it’s like ‘poof.’ They ghosted you, or they swiped right on someone else.” I was like, “That’s a lightning talk.”
Only that at Confab, you never, ever leave disappointed. You’re going to leave this room today enlightened, inspired, encouraged, and even more curious. I’m so excited to be bringing these seven amazing people up onto the stage. You can also tell I brought my own Beyoncé today too because she came out with the Homecoming live on Netflix. I’m sure it looks like I watched it several times. I know I’m not alone. I know there’s some other people out there that probably have too. I see some hands up as well. I’m going to make sure I keep my references at a minimum, but if I do, forgive me. [sings] “I’m sorry. I ain’t sorry.”
Okay. But in all seriousness, let me get in formation, because I’m about to bring some people who are going to give you information. Okay, really, I’m done. But, for you to make these moments last longer, make sure that when you guys are sharing these amazing gems, be sure to tag our speakers. You’ll see their little social media handle in their slides, and don’t forget to use the hashtag #Confab2019.
Okay. Without further ado, I’m going to bring the first speaker who’s about to slay this stage, and this is Jeff Eaton. He is the senior digital strategist at Lullabot. I got it, Jeff. Lullabot. He’s going to come up and talk about when personalization goes bad. So we all know that the essence of content strategy is getting the right content to the right audience at the right time, but sometimes we can do it in all the wrong, creepy, and too personal ways, and Jeff’s going to get into that.
Please welcome Jeff Eaton to the stage.
Jeff Eaton: So, content personalization. Who here is familiar with it, show of hands? Basically it’s the idea of taking information that you know about the people who are coming to your website or your digital presence, and using that stuff you know about them to give them what they want, or to convince them to do things that you want them to do.
Now, most conversations about personalization are basically executive fan fiction about making money, or sales pitches from people who have a million-dollar product they want you to use. This is going to be a slightly different talk. It is not a talk about solutions, but we’re going to give a little groundwork.
First, personalization starts with signals, those bits of information you know about someone. Stuff like they’re looking at the website at 2 o’clock, they told us their name is Bob, they’re logging in from Safari, stuff like that. It’s the basic facts you have. Scenarios are the stories that you tell yourself about what you think is going on based on that information. Like, “Oh, they’re logging in from a different location than they did last time, so I bet they’re traveling. We’ll say they’re a traveler.” Reactions are what you do differently based on those scenarios you think you’re in. For example, I think Bob is traveling, so we’re going to show him ads for luggage instead of couches. Pretty straightforward, pretty simple system.
Goals and metrics are the final part of that. They’re basically how you measure whether or not your reactions are actually accomplishing what you’re trying to get at. In theory, that probably should’ve been the first thing, but not everything goes perfectly. That’s what we’re going to talk about.
Personalization can go really, really bad, and it’s important to think about those scenarios. This is not a solution-based talk; this is a problem talk. Man, I love that photo. The first and most obvious one, again, is not having goals and metrics in place when you start out. If you don’t know how to measure whether you’re succeeding, you’re just going to drift randomly with the tool that somebody told you to install, and that’s no good.
The second one is not having structured content, not investing in taxonomy and the basic information any system you have will need to use to actually match up content with people. It’s basically just a blob in a mess, and it won’t work for you.
The third one is just-so assumptions. Basically, those stories you’ve told yourself about the scenarios that people are in may work in just the perfect example you thought of when you built out the system, but it falls apart in all of the real-world situations that users find themselves in.
The fourth one is unreliable signals. Basically, not realizing that those bits of data that you’re depending on to know what’s going on, aren’t reliable. Like it only works if they have the GPS on their phone turned on, or we assume that the same person is always using the same account.
The other one is editorial overload. Basically, you’ve created so many different variations of your content that the team you have to actually write and manage and update the stuff can’t actually keep up with all of the work, and it falls into disrepair. That’s no good.
The other one is creepy messaging. We’ve all seen that. It’s like inappropriate levels of intimacy, or something they didn’t actually tell you, you’re guessing at it, and getting those things right is even worse than getting them wrong, sometimes. Right.
It can actually go even worse. Things like bias amplification where those scenarios that you’ve imagined aren’t actually just figuring out what’s really going on. You’re telling yourself a story, but what you get from your systems is just reinforcing bad assumptions.
Illegal discrimination is possible, especially if you work in fields like job seeking, healthcare, housing. You can actually build systems without intending to that do illegal things and harm marginalized communities.
Oh, a pause there. Subversion by bad actors. It’s very easy, especially if your personalization tool builds things that the rest of the public will ultimately see, like most popular content. That can be leveraged by people who want to do harm, even if you don’t anticipate it.
The worst case scenario is very bad indeed. Recently a fairly simple algorithm changed by Facebook to the feed structure was used by the Myanmar government to conduct a propaganda campaign that resulted in thousands of deaths. It can be really bad.
Now, I said this wasn’t about solutions, but it is just a little bit. These are some really great books as you start working on building out a system that can help you think through what your assumptions are, what the impact can have on other people who will be touched by the personalization systems.
Some key things to take away are, know your goals, know the limits of your data and your assumptions, invest in structured content so the system can actually work, and have people whose job is to figure out how this could be broken, not just how it will work. Finally, prioritize a team that’s diverse and values the needs and the safety of a wide variety of people who will be touched by your systems. Put that before KPIs and metrics.
Thank you very much!
Malaika: Thank you so much, Jeff. I forgot to mention that a part of bring your own Beyoncé is that you get walk-on music, so I asked the Confab team that everyone presenting gets their own walk-on music that I chose for them based on their title and topic. So if you hear their songs, you’ll kind of understand. Just wanted mention that.
But now I’m excited to bring Liz McDermott to the stage. She is the head of web and new media at Getty Research Institute. And Liz, I asked Liz what her personal motto is, and she said to me, “Life is an adventure.” But she’s going to talk to you about how doing a content audit of a website with 4,000 pages is also an adventure.
Please welcome Liz McDermott.
Liz McDermott: Hi. I’m Liz McDermott, and I’m head of web and new Mmdia at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles. I’m here to talk to you today about how and why my team and I decided to conduct a content audit of our entire website.
The Getty Research Institute is one of four programs in the J. Paul Getty Trust. We receive about 1.8 million visitors a year, and we’re the largest philanthropic organization in the world dedicated to the visual arts. The Getty Research Institute where I work houses one of the largest art libraries in the world, and scholars come from all over to conduct research. We’re a think tank for the arts. We also publish books, we host public events, and we put on exhibitions as well.
We share about all of that on our website as well as offering access to 11 research databases, digitized collections, and rare objects. But as Malaika said, our website is 4,000 pages long, and it hasn’t been reorganized in 10 years. So when we were told we were going to embark on a website redesign, we were excited, but pretty overwhelmed because we knew it meant a whole lot more than just mixing up the colors and moving the text around, that we needed to think about a lot more than that.
To calm ourselves down, we thought we would perform a content audit. We figured an audit would give us a structure for performing what we call a qualitative analysis of our website. We wanted to look at things that are in a content inventory like page counts and URLs, but we really wanted to look at qualitative aspects like what do we think our users are doing on our website? What’s our content quality? And I really wanted to perform a workflow assessment.
We wanted to look at our web pages and say, “Well, why do we think users are coming to this content, and are these pages meeting our organization’s goals?” We really had no idea for whole sections of our website how to answer those questions. So I really wanted to look at things like documenting the amount of staff, time, and resources it takes to publish a single web page versus the amount of page views we’re getting for that page and see if there’s sections of our website that maybe can and should be automated, for example.
To start out, we took our content inventory of page counts and URLs, we dumped them into this huge spreadsheet that captured a one-year time period. Then we went back to the original goals for the content audit. We started out in columns, like these ones here. We wanted to document the number of content providers and the number of stakeholders that a single content producer works with in order to publish a web page. We started adding more columns. We had this next one here. We wanted to look at things from a user’s point of view. Did we think users were coming to browse through our archive, check out a book, reserve a ticket to a public event, for example?
We kept adding columns, and pretty soon we had 42 columns, or 42 data points that we’d added. But for each of those columns we wanted to document the set of options that we were using to fill out each of those columns to make sure we were being consistent across all the thousands of pages that we were auditing.
Okay, so what was that like? It was painstaking. Pretty soon our team was on the path to the ninth circle of Excel. We thought we could handle it individually, but we pretty soon learned we needed to talk to each other about almost everything. So that’s what we did. We blocked off chunks of time, we got together in a room, and we all looked at everything page by page. But it was kind of great because it got us really working together and thinking deeply about what is all this content doing here?
What did we get for all the countless hours of hard work? I think we developed enough understanding of our site to put together a pretty effective content strategy. We made all kinds of findings that were really interesting for us. I’m going to share a couple. Like in this first finding here, what percentage of our website is dedicated to just pure communications and advertising events versus what section of our website is dedicated to helping users browse through our archives, for example?
In this next finding here, we documented that one of our content producers works with 19 content providers, and five stakeholders, in order to publish one web page. That’s the kind of information I think will be really useful as we’re navigating a website redesign.
Okay, so this daunting endeavor of a content audit, it got us really empowered to become authorities about what is actually happening on our website. It turned the daunting feeling from this … into this.
So if any of you have any questions or you just want to commiserate, please feel free to reach out. Thank you so much.
Malaika: Okay, Liz survived and came to tell us about it. Awesome. Her figure is great for all the pizza she ate, so you must really work out.
I’m excited to bring on Chelsea Larsson next. She is the senior manager of UX content strategy at Zendesk. She’s also a comedian like me. She does improv, and I was like, “Yes.” She’s also a writer, and she uses her humor to empower UX writers and content strategists. I asked her, “What else can you do in five minutes or less other than talk about content strategy?” She said, “Draw someone’s portrait.” So maybe after this we can test it out.
But she’s going to come up and talk about error messages for content strategists. What to do when your content strategy gets complicated and your brain breaks? I’m really excited. Let’s welcome Chelsea Larsson.
Chelsea Larsson: All right. I’m Chelsea, I’m from Zendesk in San Francisco, and I’m going to talk about error messages for content strategists. But not the kinds that we write for our users, the kinds that our brain sends us when we’re working with our collaborators. Yeah.
The difference between a good and a bad error message. A good error message tells you what went wrong, what can be fixed, and what to do next. A bad error message tells you nothing, and leaves you feeling more confused than when you started. Like, “It broke. Sorry.” As content strategists, we’re always trying to avoid that confusion for our users. We catch them, we get them right back on the right path. We have big hearts, we have extremely long arms.
The funny thing is our own paths are not as well tended. Content strategy is still a mystery to a lot of our collaborators, so they don’t always know how to work with us, and they sometimes make big mistakes. Like bringing us into a project way, way, way too late. When that happens to me, this is what my brain tells me. I don’t want to duplicate buttons, but this is the only way I know how to react to that situation.
Or sometimes they say things that make our brains break. My favorite one here is, “Nobody reads this anyways.” Then we should have no words in the product. When that happens, you might start feeling undervalued, misunderstood. You might think you should have written a novel, but then your brain starts sending you really bad error messages. Things that do not empower you, do not help you move forward, offer no solution. Just panic. And this isn’t a good experience.
The good thing is, the things that happen to us kind of happen over and over again so we can identify the patterns, look out into the future, and plan for them. We can rewrite those really bad, unhelpful error messages to be more productive. I’m going to talk about three scenarios.
Being left out of the loop sucks. Maybe you see a design workshop you weren’t invited to, or a product went out that you could’ve helped out, and you get POMO: “the pain of missing out.” More dangerous than FOMO, because it’s already happening. Your brain tells you this: “Nobody told me anything. Nobody cares about what I think. Nobody even likes the English language. I should go home and drink whisky.” Whisky is great, but it won’t solve all your problems.
Instead of this error message, a better one would be, “Yeah, you are out of the loop, that’s confirmed, but there are a couple of things you can do to solve this.” My favorite is just go get coffee with someone on the team. Form a friendship. People will want to work with you if they like you. That’s a better error message.
The next one is being asked to do the impossible. You’re asked to do something that you don’t have enough time or resources to do at your standard. You might want to do it because you were just left out of the loop, and you want to add value, and you want to be seen, so your brain tells you, “Do it anyways.” Even though your brain will break.
This is an especially bad error message because if you do that impossible task once, they’ll keep coming back for more. Then you get put in a repetition of that cycle. A better one is, “You know better. Give yourself some credit. You’ve been doing this for a while.” Go back to that person and say, “I can only deliver this, or we change the date.” You will thank yourself later.
The last one is being straight up disrespected. Maybe that person who was like, “Why do we even need words in the product,” or whoever they were says something even ruder in a meeting like, “You don’t deserve a head count. You don’t do anything for the product.” And your reaction is, “You’re canceled, Bob. You’re out of here.” It will feel so good in the moment, but then that moment ends, and then you’re left with awkwardness forever.
A better error message your brain could send you, instead of canceling your coworker, is cancel the bad behavior. Wait till the time is right. Give them some constructive feedback. You might get a little sweaty, but you might actually bring them to your side and create a champion out of them, and that’s much better than canceling a coworker. Speaking from experience.
Errors happen, we can solve for the unhappy paths. Things do get better if you try, and in the meantime, there is still whisky, and you shouldn’t discount its healing power. I don’t only write error messages for content strategists. Here’s one from my friendly engineers who want to write their own copy. “Find a writer or throw your computer in the trash.” This is not a test.
So yes, I am Chelsea Larsson. I’m from Zendesk in San Francisco. Yeah. Thank you.
Malaika: That was so gratifying. There’s so many that I want to print out and put in the office, or just send to my engineer who thinks he can write copy. Yes, so great. Thank you so much, Chelsea.
I’m really excited to bring up our next speaker, Kelley Graham. She is the senior manager of global content strategy at Stanley Black & Decker, and in five minutes she is going to tell us how she transformed her company’s content strategy practice in two years and got all her senior leadership on board. Like, what? Now that’s working magic, and I’m really excited to welcome Kelley Graham to the stage.
Kelley Graham: Hi, I’m Kelley Graham, and I’m the senior manager of global content strategy at Stanley Black & Decker. I’m going to talk about how we took our digital experience from zero to 60 in less than two years. Stanley Engineered Fastening is a division of Stanley Black & Decker, and we make fasteners and screws and bolts and assembly technologies that hold computers, cell phones, robots, smart speakers, hold those things together.
When I joined the organization a little over two years ago, no one in senior leadership had heard of content strategy. They didn’t know what a content strategist did. In fact, they thought my hiring manager made it up, which makes sense. At the time, they had 14 websites all over the world, seven languages. None of the sites were mobile responsive. So I actually think I would’ve been more scared if they had heard of content strategy.
I read somewhere that knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, but wisdom is knowing not to put a tomato in your fruit salad. We knew that our content strategy was not delivering the right digital experience. Now it’s time to put some content strategy wisdom to fix it.
Content audits. Lots and lots of content audits of all those 14 sites I mentioned, a few of which didn’t have analytics. We talked with stakeholders, we talked with distributors, sales teams, customer service, anybody who would tell us what they thought about our content and how it was working or not working.
Then we got a little analysis paralysis. You know, it happens. But pretty quickly we had to get about the business of making our content easier to find, understand, remember, and use. We used tools from GatherContent and Slickplan to help us corral the content from all the 14 sites and prepared for migration onto the Sitecore platform.
What else did we do? We reorganized the content into a structure that was logical, consistent, and brand agnostic. So now if you’re looking for Pop rivets, you can find that information on the Pop brand page, or on the rivets page, or on the automotive industry page. They use a lot of rivets.
We created a series of whitepapers and case studies and other content that was based on customer insight as opposed to the typical product feature. Two weeks before we launched, our automotive team said, “No, you’re not going to launch this site.” They tried to deploy the nuclear option. That was a difficult conversation. Courtney McDonald, I wish you had been there to help me through it. But no dreams were killed that day. We prevailed. We launched a year ago this month, and I’m happy to say that by all metrics, the site is doing great. Traffic is back to better.
Now what do we want to do? We’ve got a lot more to do to get our digital experience back to really transform it. We are ... I’ve got my notes all confused. All right. Here’s what we’re doing. We’re translating the site into seven languages so that we can sunset some of the old sites that we didn’t set before. We are starting a chatbot, so that’s exciting. We’re creating a content strategy that goes beyond re-platforming the site. It’s a content strategy tied to business goals with real KPIs that measure things more than just clicks.
Oof! Robust content calendar. Let’s see. Gosh, it’s like we’re doing so much stuff. User testing. To get more of that content wisdom, right, and “big G” governance because we’ve got a small team, and everybody else out there thinks that they can write and do what marketing does until they actually have to do it. Two years later, senior leadership now understands what content strategy is and how it can solve real business goals. When the robot overlords come to take over, they can find their own damn fasteners on our site.
Malaika: Nothing can stop her. She’s all the way out. That’s awesome. Well done.
Well, I’m really excited to bring our next speaker up to the stage. Please welcome Laura Robertson. She is a content strategist and co-founder of London-based agency Contentious. This is a talk that I feel like me and her would have over a proper pint or cuppa, right? Because she’s going to be giving us some content break-up advice because she really believes that content deserves better. I’m going to let her explain why.
Welcome Laura Robertson.
Laura Robertson: Hi, everyone. This is my first Confab, and wow, isn’t it awesome?
I used to be in a bad relationship ... with a rug. I loved the rug, but it had these tassels that never stayed straight, and I couldn’t cope with wonky tassels because I need things to line up. So for a long time I combed the tassels on the rug every night.
In too many cases, content is in a bad relationship with the back end of a website. Out of interest, who really loves their CMS? Put your hand up if you do. Okay. Not a lot of hands. What does content need? To be satisfied, content needs to go to lots of places. Onto websites, social media and Medium, into apps, emails, and Alexas, and to places we haven’t even discovered yet.
Does it get that from the back end of a website? Traditional CMSs only really publish content to websites. Content gets created in multiple places in multiple systems by multiple people, which leads to mess and unhappiness. To feel comfortable, content needs to be accepted as it is. Structure that reflects the meaning of the content is really important. It means that content can be used and understood by people and machines in multiple places and context. Does it get that from the back end of a website? The back ends of websites tend to see all the bits of content as parts of a page, not as elements of structured, connected data. But the page is an old-fashioned print paradigm, and we need to think beyond it.
To be happy, content needs to be cared for. The way content gets created and maintained matters. Content needs to be created with tender love and care and looked after throughout its life. Does it get that from the back end of a website? Most traditional CMSs are built by developers for developers, which means that content workflow and governance are either awkwardly retrofitted or not considered at all.
To reach its potential, content needs to be respected. Content needs to be seen as an important discipline in its own right. It needs to be given status and strategic importance, space, time, and expertise. Does it get that from the back end of a website? I’ve worked on too many projects where content is seen as filler left until the last minute and done on a shoestring, but it shouldn’t be the poor relation to design and development.
To feel calm, content needs to have a nice home. Content needs a user-friendly interface where non-technical content experts feel welcome and motivated and can do their best work. Does it get that from the back end of a website? The content interface in nearly every CMS I’ve ever worked with has been clunky and secondary to technical functions. They’re just not made for each other. There are fundamental incompatibilities which are not just technical.
People’s attitude to content is shaped by the system they use. Too many people think that our jobs are just about pushing buttons. Now, we can try and fix the relationship. We can add plug-ins and APIs and custom workflow modules. We can improve the editor interface, but the cultural issues won’t go away. People’s mindset won’t change. I think we need something different.
Lots of talented people are working on decoupled content management systems. I think we need to get behind them, and importantly, make sure content strategists are involved, or in charge. Because I’m dreaming of a world where we all love our content management systems.
What if we had content management systems that started with the content? Content would have a better chance of being properly resourced, respected, valued, and understood. What if we had content management systems that were built around the needs of creators and editors? Looking after our content would be easier and more fun, and we’d do a better job of it as a result. What if we had content management systems that weren’t wedded to a particular channel? We could create once and publish everywhere.
Basically, I think we have a better shot at creating happy, connected, future-proof content if we set it free from the back ends of websites. To go back to my rug, I now own a new rug which doesn’t have any tassels, and we’re much happier together. Thank you very much.
Malaika: We are more than halfway through lightning talks. I want you guys to give it up for all the folks that have come on this stage so far. Have you guys learned some new stuff from even just them? Yes? Awesome.
Well, I’m really excited to bring our next speaker up. Anusha Jha Rohom. She’s an independent content strategist, and she came to Confab for the first time all the way from India. Like, wow. Very cool. She has a talk that I really feel like is going to round out a lot of the morning sessions that we had yesterday that allows us to stop and take a minute to consider the world view of our audiences, to realize that we’re not really creating for everyone, but if we believe that we are, then we need to think about the impact that our work has on everyone literally.
I’m really excited for Anusha to come up and give her talk around content strategy for an illiterate or non-English speaking audience. Please welcome Anusha Jha Rohom.
Anusha Jha Rohom: Hello, everybody. The internet and the associated digital products have largely been developed by the English-speaking world for the English-speaking world. Content strategists should take note because of the increasing globalization. Now, over half of the web content is in English. I’m not even talking about China, but in India only 10% of the population understands English. That was okay up until 2010, but by 2030, 1.2 billion Indians will be accessing the internet using their smartphones in one of the 400-plus Indian languages and dialects. Will they be engaging with your business?
On the left is the kind of audience the internet has been catering to all this while. On the right is the potential. The potential to share the benefits of a digitally connected world, but also potential for business. In E-tail alone, India holds the potential for $10-12 billion worth of business opportunities up until 2021. But trust, language, and localization is key to making that happen.
“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world,” said by Ludwig Wittgenstein. This is important because what we read and what we cannot read shapes the perception of our world. Very important in these divisive times. So yes, we have translation services, but they are not yet up to par. This is a government website. One side is English, the other side is Hindi. Important details missing in Hindi, the official language. So a lot of work to be done over there.
What to do when the audience is illiterate? There are quite a few. What if the language that they use does not have a script? Yes, such languages exist. So giving people access to internet is not sufficient. It has to be made usable. Content strategy as we know it, some points that are to be taken into consideration. I can’t go into all of them, but yes, video and voice, very important. Also, the content life cycle is not all digital. Content design, yes, we need it. Sarah Richards, we need you back there. Please, come.
These are all government websites. They make government officials happy. For users, mm-hmm [negative]. System design, we need translation. This is a need of ours. We need really good translation services, but of course, the one which are not biased, and good luck with that in a country like India where it’s very difficult not to offend anybody because it’s so diverse.
Digital illiteracy. We are very used to digital interfaces, how to work with them, swipe and scroll. Is the audience familiar with that? Mm-hmm [negative]. That is Nundalal, he’s an army veteran. He cried after losing his place in a queue to withdraw his hard-earned money from the bank during the demonetization drive in 2016. He did not have internet banking or mobile wallets. This transition shouldn’t have to be so harsh and hard where people needed assisted consumption of content, something like a Google’s internet where people who know what to do slowly bring on board people who don’t.
That is why we need to think about content strategy within service design. Service design is obviously getting the job done, at the end of the day. What I’m trying to say is we have to think about the humans in the chain of content. Government schemes, for instance, they convey and distribute benefits through entities on the ground. We have to take them into account, like daycare centers. People on the ground who can get the work done.
It is a hybrid network that we are talking about. It is not all digital, it is not all English, and we have to work with that because at the end of the day we have to deliver value to every audience. That is all we are concerned with.
So yes, these are new challenges, these are different challenges, and I really want you all to start thinking about them. Five minutes left or talk about all these issues. So yes, takeaways. Access alone is insufficient. Usability is essential. Translation is vital. We need really good translation solutions. And you must consider content strategy within service design.
Thank you so much. Available for more questions if anybody’s interested. I hope I’ve got you interested in these issues. Thank you so much for listening.
Malaika: Thank you so much, Anusha. It’s so important to be talking about these new challenges because it’s so important in our work. It’s the cost of what we do to be considering how we create and how we design a thing impacts someone’s life. I think all throughout this conference, we’ve been seeing how important that is. Thank you so much, Anusha.
Last but not least, we are at our final, amazing, brave speaker who’s going to slay. Welcome, Anita Cheng. She is the content designer at San Francisco Digital Services, and I asked Anita to describe her talk using five words or less. She said to me, “Question authority with annoying questions.”
Welcome, Anita Cheng. Take it away.
Anita Cheng: Hi. I’m Anita, and I work for the government. Not only that, I write forms for the government. Today I’m going to teach you how to be a heroic advocate rebel toddler to write these government forms.
It’s actually not that bad for me. When people ask me what I work on, my short answer is weed. More specifically, cannabis business permitting. You know what’s really fun about it? Not the weed. I don’t know what I’m doing, but it turns out nobody knows what they’re doing either because the state of California legalized the recreational use of marijuana back in 2016, only three years ago. Or two and a half, more like. Trump got elected, and now we have weed. Eh.
But now the question is now what? It’s legal, how do we regulate this? Policy makers in Sacramento as well as San Francisco are trying to hash this out to the tune of almost 200 pages of regulations, but there is no existing paper forms, so we can start from scratch. Now, forms expert Caroline Jarrett once tweeted, “There is no user need for a form,” which is a really interesting question to think big picture about how to write for something that doesn’t exist.
But unfortunately, opening a cannabis business is not like getting a marriage certificate. The Office of Cannabis wants to know if you are responsible enough to sell a federally banned controlled substance, and not if stuff like this happened to you. Getting robbed at gunpoint, which is a lot of pretty complicated back and forth, right?
So the state has forms that ask you questions that you cannot answer unless you’re already operating a business, which is hard when you don’t have a business. It’s like, “Okay, I’m going to provide a list of all my delivery vehicles, but from where? My imagination?” People do do that. They will make things up, and they often have this reaction while doing it. This is a real moment from a real usability test when we asked one of those questions. Double-handed face palm. Oh my gosh.
In order to write forms that people can actually answer, you have to know the business process behind the form, and then you have to be an advocate. You have to fight for your user, and not just being a heroic advocate, but you also have to be a rebel. Question authority. Because in this case, the rebel is the one who uncovers the real truth. Because most of the time people are like, “Oh, that’s just the way we’ve always done it,” but in this case nobody knows what they’re doing anyway.
And don’t just stay a heroic advocate rebel, but a heroic advocate rebel toddler. Stakeholders don’t know what they want, especially when there is no work to work off of, so you have to squeeze it out of them with annoying questions. I have two main annoying questions that I always ask when writing this business form.
The first one is what information are you actually looking for here with this vague requirement? For example, the city of San Francisco dictates that the application must absolutely ask for the name and contact information for the employee on the premises that is responsible for the maintenance of the video security system. Now, the problem is that when we actually asked it that way, applicants didn’t know what to put for that question because they thought, “Not only am I running a cannabis business, but I have to hire a full-time video person too just to have someone to put on this field. Like maintenance system, what does that mean?”
Actually, no. The Office of Cannabis wants to know if there was someone at your business who is checking to see if the video is working every day, and who can access footage. So that is a completely different question. I thought, “Well, why not rewrite the application to actually ask for that?” Now, that is a question that people can actually answer without having to hire another person just to put in there.
Now, annoying question number two is will any possible answer here prevent them from getting a permit? For instance, if they can put “I don’t like green eggs and ham,” and it doesn’t make a difference, then why are we asking them that question. This is the example of a state form for cultivators where the state asks them how are they handling their waste. Like who’s doing it, how are you doing it? This is about 10 fields. What does San Francisco actually need to know about this? Turns out, nothing, because there is one company in the entire city that handles business waste, so everyone’s answers would be exactly the same. So why even bother asking? That is 10 fields completely done away with, not even on the form. Which is great.
That is your start in being a heroic advocate rebel toddler. Question authority by asking annoying questions. Write forms that people can actually answer. Do it for the user because as we all know, it’s not really about being able to fill out a form. It’s about life-changing experience like opening a business. Thank you.
Malaika: Keep it going! Keep it going, keep it going. Keep it going. Keep it going! Louder! Yes! All seven of these amazing speakers, keep it going for yourselves. We did it!
Wow. I think the one phrase that encapsulates what was shared today, Anita said it best. Do it for the user. Do it for the audience. Do it for that person. I think that really encapsulates a lot. Whether we’re thinking about the ethics of what we do in personalizing our work, or we’re thinking about how we design things for people to use, or we’re thinking about the functionality that we need to do our work better. So many of our speakers talked about amazing things. I hope you all got value out of them, but I think if nothing else, do it for the user. Think about the social impact of our work. I think that’s so important.
I want to thank all of you guys for coming out. I also want to take a moment to thank Kristina and the Confab team for having me host. Thank you, guys, so much. I also want to thank each and every one of the speakers that came on this stage and slayed. Did they slay, guys?
Malaika: Yes. Yes.