less is not enough

Less is Less - How Cover

OK. So I’m finally almost brave enough to send you in the direction of my very first ever podcast that I did for the Office 2.0 Podcast Jam. (Assuming you haven’t wandered over there and had a listen already.

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about this ‘cult of less‘ that 37 Signals seems to be leading and whether, in fact, it has an evil side. Well… ok, not an evil side. But is it all as good as it seems?

I started thinking this when I was listening to Peter Morville give the keynote at EuroIA the other weekend. He was pondering the ever increasing abundance of information that we have around us now, and wondering if it was helping us to learn, to make good decisions.

I wondered the same about information architecture and interaction design.

So, I’ve been thinking a bit about these web based project management solutions such as BaseCamp and GoPlan and thinking about what they *don’t* do when compared to more complex software such as Microsoft Project.

Now, don’t get me wrong… I’m not saying that there aren’t some *serious* problems with Microsoft Project but it was, for better or worse, instrumental in teaching me how to be a project manager. This is something that neither BaseCamp nor Go Plan could do.

Similarly, we’ve seen some interesting user testing lately that has shown users asking for more complexity to help enable their decision making.

So our natural response as designers, to simplify the interface, may in fact, be reducing the ability of the people using our software or websites to be able to learn, and to make good decisions.

So, that’s the crux of what I’m thinking of. What do we lose with ‘less’? And is it (always) worth it?

If you want to hear the full blow raving version, you can find it here.

I think I sound a bit less like Judith Lucy in this one :)

Image credit: 37 Signals being featured in HOW magazine

if it was *my* conference… (or, what makes a good presentation)

Empty Conference

While I was at the recent EuroIA conference I wrote a few notes on what I’d ask people to do if they wanted to ‘present’.

I was partly inspired by my recent experience of BarCamp London, and the fact that I was surrounded by smart and creative people at EuroIA, but that it didn’t feel like this was being projected as best it could.

Here’s my list of ‘what makes a good presentation’:

  1. be specific, don’t talk in generalisations, don’t be too high level. This is really unsatisfying and ultimately frustrating – particularly if lots of other speakers are taking the same ‘top level’ approach!
  2. give real examples. Put your ideas in context, SHOW us what you mean, tell us the story that surrounds the example, the context. Help us understand how you know what you know.
  3. details people, I want details! If you don’t have time to go into detail, then your topic is too broad. Pick a narrower topic and really explore it. It’s much more interesting. Sure, it might not appeal to *everyone* in the audience, but they’ll self select and go get a coffee and do some networking if your topic is not for them. For the people who *do* stay, your talk will be so much more valuable.
  4. show me! if you’re talking about a project you’ve worked on, then show me your work! If you’re talking about something technical, then show us some code (yep, even if you’re talking to Information Architects). Be brave! Sure, this might open you up to some criticism, but that will spark interesting conversation, which is the reason we come to conferences, isn’t it?!
  5. take a position. Don’t sit on the fence, don’t take the middle ground. Talk about something you have an opinion on, and something you believe in. Be passionate about it. Again – this requires bravery because no doubt there will be people with an opposing opinion. See item 4 re: interesting conversation.
  6. be prepared and professional. If you don’t take your presentation seriously, then how are we supposed to. Don’t just wing it. Don’t just rehash something you did six months ago and trust yourself to remember it. Know what you’re going to say, prepare great materials (powerpoint, if you must) and rehearse. Present well.
  7. practice, in front of people. Find some colleagues or clients or anyone who might be vaguely interested in what you’re presenting (dogs don’t count). Present to them. Ask them for feedback. Listen. Iterate.
  8. be creative. Try something different. Don’t feel that you have to do a certain kind of talk (the academic type) to be considered credible. Think of novel ways to present your material, ways that might help convey your point more effectively. Ways that might break up the day for the audience. Take a risk. Even if it doesn’t quite come off, the audience will thank you for the variety.

Conference organisers can change they way they call for an evaluate papers by specifically requiring that presenters consider these kinds of approaches in their proposals. Or by mixing up the types of presentation structures they recruit for.

Can we come up with something beyond Presentation or Panel or Poster sessions and actually design new, more hands on, practical formats that we make presenters work to? Can we make sure that a Case Study is not just a Presentation in disguise?

Of course, there’s a place for formal academic style conference formats, but if your conferences is more about practitioners than academics, then let’s make sure the content is appropriate to the audience.

But hey, I’m no expert in conference organising or speaking. These are just a few notes I jotted down after the closing keynote of EuroIA.

What do you think?

(Also, check out Scott Berkun’s ‘how to run a great unconference session’ for the BarCamp version of this post.

Photo Credit: Arnold Pouteau @ Flickr

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but, what is Office 2.0?

So, as you know, I’ve been trying to recruit design and user experience types to participate in the Podcast Jam for Office 2.0. (hello! are you out there!). Something I’ve noticed is that your average designer on the street doesn’t necessarily know what Office 2.0 means, and what’s included.

If this sounds like you, can I recommend that you invest 5 minutes in Richard MacManus’s opening keynote podcast in which he talks about Office 2.0 as a paradigm shift that is more than just web versions of the Microsoft Office suite, and discusses a few examples of Office 2.0 services that you may or may not have heard of.

Meanwhile, an amazing thing about podcasts… I love hearing people’s voices! I particularly love people being surprised to hear that Richard has a New Zealand accent!

And, I’ve noticed that people are saying ‘two dot oh’.

Surely I’m not the only one who’s been saying ‘two point oh’…

or am I?!

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Jam On at Office 2.0 PodCast Jam!

Office 2.0 PodCastJam

The Office 2.0 Podcast Jam kicks off tomorrow – so be sure to go check it out and get involved. There’s some really interesting stuff happening from kick off including podcasts from Richard MacManus, Rosemary Stasek (talking about her experiences in Afghanistan, now that’s a perspective you don’t get at your average conference), and Eric Severson (talking about XML single-sourcing for document management, which is, for now, lost on me, but Anne tells me is very important and often overlooked!)

The online chat is open now, so that’s one very easy way to participate!

But it’s not too late to record a podcast and send it in as part of the jam!
For many of the participants, this is their first experience with podcasting, and I can tell you, it’s pretty straight forward. It’s even easier if you have someone you think is interesting and set up an interview with them! (or get them to interview you, or interview each other!). I’ll be doing some of that during the week using Skype (still investigating the best ‘recording’ option – anyone got recommendations)

One of the GREAT things about PodCastJam is that it allows all those voices who are usually absent from a conference like the Office 2.0 Conference to participate in the conversation. I’m particularly hoping to hear more women speak, more people talk from a design and user/customer experience perspective, and more people based in places other than the US.

So if any or all of those sound like you – let me encourage you to give it a go! Just a short 5-10 minute piece on whatever you think is interesting (you can really only cover one topic well in that time I reckon), and send it off for everyone to consider and talk about.

It’ll be great fun, so get involved! :)

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