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Raining ideas! My sketchnotes from Link Festival 2016

Imagine getting to hang out with the brainiest, zaniest, most purpose-driven bunch of cool people just busting to get to know you, while having your mind expanded in new and unexpected ways with everything from new scientific miracles to timeless quiet reflection. Pshaw, you scoff? It’s all true.

This was my life for 2 – oh so short – 2 days, as part of Link Festival 2016, a conference (ha, the mere word doesn’t come close!) melding design, technology and social change, held by Engineers Without Borders and the ever-perfect Wildwon last week in Melbourne. Plenaries were hosted in the beautiful kaleidoscopic people-cage of Deakin Edge, with various break-out sessions, workshops and panels in the surrounding complex, in which to have your brain and heart amicably and expertly ruffled.

And through it all, I sketchnoted as much as I could, sharing an art wall with the amazing and talented Devon Bunce from Digital Storytellers.

Day 1

The first day kicked off with a lovely light romp through modern tech advances that signal the potential for various future trends, by all-round Nice Guy and Very Bright Sci-Preneur Dr Jordan Nguyen.  Top fun to sketch this stuff. For me there was a lot of familiar topics, given I’ve just come off a vision project where I spent time looking at future trends, but the point about demystifying the role of robots and robotics struck a chord: robots will not take over the world, but they will take over our kitchens. :)

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Eager for more insights into what design could be in the future, I headed over to listen to the panel speak on Design the Materials of the Future. OK, mind blown so much I forgot to sketch. I was rapt. Ferrofluids (brought to us by Leah Heiss) are intriguing, but the practical potential of porous metal structures (by Dr Aaron Thornton) was gobsmacking.

The biggest insight for me from the ensuing panel discussion was that the designers and makers of these fantastic substances are just not the most qualified to know how best to apply them to the real world. Humility and prescience in action. Sure, they have a bunch of awesome ideas, but as I saw echoed several times throughout the 2 days, it’s about matching people with problems with others that have the nascent solutions.

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After a hearty veggo lunch (all catering was by Lentil as Anything again), I headed to a panel discussion for a personal favourite topic of mine: bringing the arts into STEM domains, or The Value of Steam. This one was a bit too much show-n-tell by each of the speakers, but I get that we all had to immerse ourselves in the various worlds of the arts, science, invention and education, for us to then be fully primed for the discussion afterward.

There’s something a bit creepy about a large artwork made out of the cancer cells of a deceased patient… it feels like that sort of thing should belong in everyone’s darling gallery, the MONA. The big a-HA moment for me in the very brilliant discussion was that historically we have been trained to keep science and art separate, but both domains are creative in different and complementary ways; both set out to solve different sorts of problems, and both learn from each other.

It’s a long road ahead when the very educational structures we have are passively keeping this divide. BUT there is hope; I had a top chat with Vicki Sowry (apols for misspelling your name in my sketchnote!), and it turns out more and more universities are pioneering cross-faculty – er – faculties? that combine the good stuff from all disciplines, like the d.school (Institute of Design at Stanford).

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And so Day 1 drew to a feisty close with Misfits And Unreasonable People, brought to us by Kyra Maya Phillips and the frightfully candid Pamela Hartigan. My, how we all squirmed! at her cantankerous take on “giving back” and doing Masters in social entrepreneurship. Brilliant.

As you can see, I took to the misfit stick-it-to-the-man theme of this session, and ended up graffiti-ing all over my own sketchnote. Take THAT. Er. Yeah.

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Day 2

Yours truly gave a workshop session on sketching to explore, explain and envision. Around 60 people sketched along with me, as I went through some familiar material, as well as some new stuff looking at conceptual illustration. It was a delight and a privilege!

 

Back in Deakin Edge, Michael Bones, Simone O’Connor, Koky Saly and Lucy Thomas took us up to lunch with their experiences on pushing for change in their chosen domains. This sketchnote isn’t my finest hour — I was pretty exhausted and distracted after giving my session.

Biggest truth bomb for me: we have to stop assuming that big worthy ideas only come from Educated Grown-ups. Given the free-wheeling nature of kids, and given that more and more digital tools are accessible to more and more younger folk, we can and should expect more robust ideas and prototypes from people who haven’t even finished primary school yet. Be scared. But embrace it.

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The next session I sketchnoted was titled Emergent-Edge Technologies, where I’ll forever cherish and save the best little Impressive Fact to come out with at the next meetup I go to: did you know that 3D printing has been around since 1984? I know, right? I personally think that when 3D printing goes mainstream we’ll have even more landfill on our hands as thousands of people from Wangaratta to Woolloomooloo print their own shoes, stormtrooper helmets and whatnot, thinking it’s oh-so-groovy, only to find that the plastic is kind of icky and dull. And not that durable, either.

BUT hearing the dulcet, smooth and very knowledgeable tones of Oli Weidlich from Mobile Experience brought gravitas to the room, and warmth to my bitter jaded designer heart.

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And so, the moment that I’d all been waiting for came upon me: hearing Dr Jason Fox. Yes, Dr Jason Fox, author of The Game Changer and How To Lead A Quest. Author of the best e-newsletters — yes you read that right — of all time. The Thinking Man’s Motivational Speaker. A true titan in the realm of creativity, business canny, and sartorial grace. And I got to just sit there, listen, immerse, and draw. Honestly, the sheer amount of amazing wisdom and whimsy that flowed forth was just completely unfair, but oh we all revelled in it!

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A big meaty a-HA for me was that collaboration at work is an infinite game. It can’t be thought of as having an end point — that’s an illusion — and as such it should be designed like every other infinite game: with goals, rules and feedback along the way. These mirror Dan Pink’s principles of purpose, mastery and autonomy respectively.

Of course this sketchnote doesn’t come anywhere NEAR doing his plenary justice; I used up so much room just capturing golden nuggets from the banter with Nathan Scolaro from Dumbo Feather before things really got underway. If nothing else, I hope this sketchnote leaves you — as Dr Fox left me — merely hungry for more!

Wildwon’s write-ups of Link Festival 2016:

Sketchnote - Trade Me & How Not To Be Dicks to Each Other
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How not to be dicks to each other

Mark Johnson of Shine Technologies is such a gent. He was nice enough to use one of my sketchnotes in his latest post: Agile UX Conference Report. I think he’s captured the essence of the day really well, and, like Mark, the talk by Ruth Brown and Simon Young of Trade Me was easily my favourite. Which you can sort of tell from the energy I’ve put into some of the lettering in the sketchnote above.

And he even asked permission, too, which is pretty ace. :)

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Making is as valuable as what is made: design thinking at Link Festival 2015

If ever there was a conference that was my happy place, Link Festival is it. In spades. Link Festival is organised by Engineers Without Borders, and this year by Wildwon as well. Earlier this year, over 450 of Australia’s current and emerging leaders came together to work on applying design and technology to social change. See? Three pet topics, right there!

I was fortunate enough to speak on bringing out your inner design thinker: crafting your own tools for change (over on Slideshare), followed by a highly animated workshop.

Let me give you a quick rundown.

We’re not making anymore. This is a problem.

Here’s the thing: as knowledge workers, I think we’ve been conned. Over the eons, we’ve gradually outsourced the making of everything to others. No matter whether you’re in software, finance, health… any domain at all, other people now do the making for us. This sounds acceptable; I mean, we should be paid to think and not do the drudgy menial manufacturing work, right?

But what this has done is, it’s gradually removed one of the greatest means of solving complex problems we have in our toolkit: using our hands to make things — prototypes, real working things — and make things together. And we need to get it back.

Design thinking engages the head, heart and hands

See, I believe people change when they’re engaged in all 3 areas: the head (facts and figures), the heart (the feels, the stories), and the hands (doing and making things, not just talking). Design thinking as a way of solving problems in teams employs all three areas.

So what this means is that if you give people ways of making stuff together, it expands the language that they can use, it helps them to come with more ideas (and riff off each others’ ideas), and to iterate and improve on those ideas. Something else happens too: people experience this making together, and share of themselves more for mutual benefit, in ways that they never would if they just sat around talking and pontificating.

In other words: making is as valuable as what is made.

Solving the ‘blank tool’ problem

Many people will give a nod to this, but often they get stuck in going from principle to practice. It’s easy to read articles online about brainstorming and the like…. but how to start? And what makes for better brainstorming?

Here’s where I find some templated design tools can help people kick-start their problem-solving:

  1. Canvases
  2. Scorecards
  3. Posters
  4. Playing cards

My talk goes into detail about each of these 4. We also did a workshop straight after the talk, so that people got to open a pre-fab prototyping kit and make their choice of one of these problem-solving templates.


 


 


 


 

Here’s a great write-up of the 2 days as well, by Wildwon’s Sally Hill. Can’t wait for Link Festival 2016!

Close-up picture of one of my sketchnotes from UX Australia
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Sketchnoting at UX Australia 2013

I’m just back from this year’s UX Australia, with that post-conference fatigue-y headbuzz. There were tonnes of insights and trends to grab hold of, as usual, plus I’ve got a load of sketchnotes to share (below).

We’re all learning UX from each other

First and foremost, I’m noticing that not only is lean UX and agile/UX pairing becoming well-embedded techniques in both agency- and client-side, there no longer seems to be a traditional know-how flow from thinker/author > agency side > client side. Great thinkers and doers are everywhere now, and the flow is multi-directional. We’re all learning from each other.

Practices are great, but we can’t forget the principles and theory

This year there seemed to be much more attention on the techniques and practice of UX, whereas previous years it seemed to be more about mobile/contextual UX. I’d be concerned if conferences only focused on processes and practices, because we can’t short-change ourselves on UX thinking and design thinking. Techniques – and terminology of techniques – will come and go, but it’s essential that we keep sharpening our thinking about the principles of the experiences we create. In short: we still need to stimulate each other with more concepts and more theory, not just the doing stuff.

Don’t get me wrong, the balance was still there, especially with blending strategies with results and outcomes of UX practice (especially Katja ForbesUniversal design for touch, and Gabriel White’s Design at the edges (plus here on slideshare)), but my stand-out fave talk by Andrea Resmini really blew my mind: Navigation as cross-channel sense making (sketchnote below).

A sketchnote of Andrea Resmini's talk: Navigation as cross-channel sense making

In future…?

In future years of UX Australia – in response to my low-level concern and anxiety above – I’d like to hear more about how UX thinking and customer experience (CX) thinking are becoming paired disciplines. There is also quiet rumbling out there about architecture rediscovering itself and its purpose: designing places and spaces for people and not just for architecture magazine covers. We’ve been standing on the shoulders of architects since Day 1 of UX, and we have much to share with each other. Let’s hear more of that exciting stuff.

Sketchnoting!

And ah yes, sketchnoting! I’m a big fan of sketching to explain, to think and to reflect, and it was great to meet and see Rebecca Jackson talk about her sketchnoting experiences. Below is my sketchnote of her sketchnoting talk… a bit weird really… but hey. And as an aside, Rebecca has posted some really great and useful summaries of the conference’s talks; here’s part 1 and part 2.

Sketchnote of Rebecca Jackson talking... about sketchnotes

 

It was also bloody excellent to meet Matthew Magain. I’ve found his drawing-to-explain mastery pretty inspiring in the past, and not only did he and Luke Chambers bring UX to life through the brilliance of The Blues Brothers, but he’s also done a great wrap-up of UX Australia 2013 in his own sketchnotes over on their service to the UX community: UX Mastery.

I’ve put all my UX Australia 2013 sketchnotes together on Flickr, here. I set myself a challenge of pumping out sketchnotes from every session I attended. It was pretty gruelling, both mentally and physically*, but highly worth it. I also tried out some other ideas I’ve had: rather than just spraying drawings all over the page, I tried conforming them to letter-shapes. I even tried doing one as a comic strip…but… let’s just say that one needs more prep and practice!

 

*OK, not really physically. Knowing loads of people who enter marathons, pull all-nighters at hospitals saving lives, etc, I can’t EVER use the word ‘gruelling’ when it comes to sketching. ;)

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Oz-IA 2010 conference awards

OK, yes I know the title is a bit cheeky, but if they were to give out various awards for the Oz-IA 2010 conference presentations (Friday’s at least), these are the ones I reckon should be given.

“Really Socially Significant” Award for most inspiring

The most inspiring presentation was by Shoaib Burq: Community Data Models for Humanitarian & Development Work. What started as a fairly clinical demonstration of OpenStreetMap (OSM) turned into a thrilling helicopter ride through the relief efforts triggered in Port au Prince after the Haiti earthquake. I’d read about social mapping apps like Ushahidi and Sahana recently, but seeing the various knock-on effects and the growing adoption of OSM was a truly inspiring application of social information.

“Don’t Drool Over My Presentation” Award for best typeface used in a presentation

The best typeface (and just all round visual design, really) was for Matt Balara’s EBooks – More Than Print in Pixels (I think the titles were in Auto 3?). The effect was probably enhanced coming after straight after Shoaib’s presentation, which was largely maps and Arial. Matt pointed out various aspects of how EBook experience design hasn’t quite matured yet. He also had some ideas of how to incorporate social functionality into EBooks. These would really need to be done in the context of each particular book and book type. The thing is: reading a book is typically a singular activity; trying to incorporate real-time social activity would in some contexts be counter-productive to the act of reading. But incorporating social information relevant to that publication would work really well.

“We are SO With You” Award for best delivery

This award could easily go to Matt Hodgson – his dynamic delivery style and use of Prezi and embedded video in presentations is the best I’ve seen – but Samantha Starmer has to get the award for best delivery, with both her presentations: Ubiquitous IA and Information Architecture Analytics. She just had a familiar, energetic but humble approach to her material, and credited her team for much of what she was talking about. For me, it spoke to the spirit of the Oz-IA conferences; it’s very much a conference for the practitioners and professionals sharing experiences and nuggets of hard-won wisdom.

“Pearl In The Oyster” Award for best a-HA moment delivery

The feeling of “a-HA! Yes!” was palpable in the room when Justin Tauber and Judd Garratt presented What SEO means for User-Centred Design. They somehow pulled off selling SEO to a crowd who would normally be fairly prickly towards a snake-oil practice like SEO, while being humble. The best take-out for me was considering the cognitive connections going on between what people search for on Google and what they arrive at on the target website, and essentially viewing Google as your website’s home page, since this is the start of (most of) your customers’ experience.

“Here We Go Again” Award for most deliberately inflammatory statement

Right when I was thinking how negative David Sless’ presentation The politics of information design was, as he was extolling that people’s reactions are essentially based on feed and/or greed, he distracted me by flinging out the statement that personas are of little or no use (something like a group hug?). I’ve thought a lot about this recently, and I know that personas are an easy target, because they’re easy to do badly. And I’m all for a bit of cut and thrust in these presentations. But his reductionist approach to dealing with stakeholders and politics didn’t help. But it was certainly useful to look at the principles at play when information designers have to insert a new system and new way of thinking into an organisation; the integration of Machiavelli’s quote “It is far safer to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both” and Walter Benjamin’s quote “There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism” was really good.

“Make It Up Then Back It Up” Award for most entertaining presentation

Matt Hodgson gave us the whole package in The Social Psychology of IA: a dynamic delivery and dynamic visual, video snippets woven through the messages, even audience participation. But we’re not talking popcorn entertainment here; he was able to take what could be quite dry material and made it insightful and enthralling. The great thing was that it wasn’t just juicing up dry content with visuals and Big Bang Theory videobytes; he deftly connected workshop practices and behaviours with psychology principles such as Tuckman’s ‘forming, storming and norming’ (one significant takeout was that group activities inevitably only reflect the needs of the one).

He also dissected inherent behaviours going on in social information systems, such as social validation, group acceptance, expert power and referent power, which for me comes up all the time in the systems I’m desgning.

“Opportunity Goldmine” Award for best edge-of-the-seat experience

Oliver Weidlich and Rod Farmer gave themselves a tough act to follow from last year, but they chose a different tack – successfully so – for this year’s presentation Designing for mobile convergence. They showed how the convergent mobile experience (a focus on getting everything we can onto one device) has matured to continuous mobile experience (a focus on contextual opportunistic design), and reviewed various interaction design features that are currently in the market. This included being able to surface contextually significant content (e.g. Windows Phone 7) rather than a static information display (iPhone), multitasking, and canvas-style sliding areas of content.

I’m glad they called out a trap that I’ve observed in projects I’ve been involved with, where clients can say “I want to do on my mobile what I can do on the web”, which ignores the contexts and usage patterns unique to using handheld devices. Great stuff all round.

Day 2

I wasn’t able to go to Oz-IA for the second day; if anyone has links to write-ups about Saturday’s presentations please let me know!  :)

Links (that I know of) to what I missed:

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Sketchnotes from Oz-IA 2010

Last Friday I went along to Oz-IA, for the second year in a row, and even though I couldn’t go on the Saturday I got a lot out of one day. I thought I’d post some sketchnotes here that I did on the day. The rest are over on Flickr.

Update: I’ve written up a quick take on Friday’s presentations here.

Oz-IA has been running for years now, and manages to unearth and showcase great examples and thinking in the information architecture space specifically, while still keeping a healthy holistic experience design flavour in general. This year there were various aspects of service design and holistic contextual design coming to the fore, which is a welcome thing.

Here are some of the sketchnotes that I did on Friday. I’ve posted all of them on Flickr as a set.

Community Data Models for Humanitarian & Development Work, Shoaib Burq

From: Community Data Models for Humanitarian & Development Work, Shoaib Burq

From: Ubiquitous IA, Samantha Starmer

From: Ubiquitous IA, Samantha Starmer

From: The politics of information design, David Sless

From: The politics of information design, David Sless

From: The Social Psychology of IA, Matt Hodgson

From: The Social Psychology of IA, Matt Hodgson

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10 golden rules for writing for the web

This is the second talk I gave at the recent Create Conference (November 2009), which is all about more effective writing for websites. I thought I’d reproduce it here for those who were asking me about it afterwards, and for anyone else for whom this might be useful. You can also view the slides (below) and on Slideshare. There’s nothing really ground-breaking in this presentation, but it’s intended to be a primer for anyone who wants an introduction to writing for online media. It’s also tailored a bit to church websites.

Short version

You can view the slides of the presentation below:

Can’t I just whack the A4 brochure onto the website?

Before we plunge into the 10 golden rules, it’s worth comparing the traditional way of reading with the online way of reading. I’ll look at differences in format and our reading behaviour.

Format

  1. Print tends to be portrait format, whereas reading in a web browser tends to be landscape format; this affects how long our eyes can sustain reading along one horizontal line before fatiguing and getting distracted.
  2. In print, you’re more or less locked into a linear bunch of pages, where one follows another. With web, you can jump all over the place, usually with links. The one different example I can think of is those old Choose your own adventure books I used to read as a kid. They were the web of my childhood!
  3. Printed material rarely has text opening and closing and popping out at you, whereas in the online space, there’s all sorts of dynamic things going on to show and hide text in the context of what it’s there to say.
  4. Online material has the added dimension of time; it takes time to download, it’s not (yet) instant; in print, all the information is already there when you pick it up.
  5. We have some control over its presentation (in web browsers and handsets), e.g. how big or small the text is; with print, the producers have total control.

Behaviour

  1. In print, there’s not much of what psychologists call cognitive load in turning a page. In web, we always stop and think at some level “where will this link go? Will it go where I expect it to go? Do I have time? Will I keep going in this direction? Or another?” and so on.
  2. People are very task-oriented when reading content online, and have diminishing patience the longer they have to read text. People scan rather than read all the text on a screen. This is known as the F-pattern. You can see this F-pattern in action in the heatmap screenshots here.
  3. The increases in download speeds has actually made us jump around websites more, so we’re even more impatient and more fickle than we used to be about staying on one page.

OK, so with these things in mind, let’s jump into some golden rules:

Rule 1: Be clear

Think about why you’re writing in the first place. What do you really want to say? It can be easy to shift into auto-writing mode and churn out the same phrases, but we all appreciate accuracy and clarity. Avoid clichés and phrases that don’t actually mean anything. Avoid acronyms and prioprietary terms that readers may not know what they mean (unless you’re going to explain what they mean). In ‘Christianese’ we have to be careful using words like sermon, worship, grace and parishioner. Even the term ‘non-Christian’ can be pretty alienating.

Rule 2: Be concise

Considering what we know about online reading behaviour – that people scan, rather than read – be ruthless in cutting your text down; be as sharp and brief as possible, without losing meaning and clarity. Use shorter sentences and shorter paragraphs.

Rule 3: Be compelling

Have you thought about what reward there is to your reader for reading your content? Know your audience and decide who you want to grab first. Depending on the nature of what you’re writing, be bold, stake a claim, be exciting and excited, be honest, be real, be confident. Use words that will resonate the most with your intended audience, and not necessarily you. Using keywords that people are actually looking out for as signals to ‘hook’ onto will not only make it a more compelling read, but it will attract more visits to your website through search engine indexing for those keywords.

Rule 4: Be creative

Could there be a new way of presenting your message, rather than three paragraphs and a title? Would starting the content with an intriguing question help? Could it be presented like an IKEA catalog? A chart?

Rule 5: Be current

Replace or remove old content. Update the home page. Update the blog. Leaving outdated content lying around a website is like never cleaning the church. Who’d want to walk through a door and have to brush away the cobwebs? Or brush the crumbs off a chair before sitting down?

Rule 6: Mind your spelling and grammar

It is worth it, it does matter, people do notice, and it does reflect better on you and your church/organisation. Why? In his book Don’t make me think, one of Steve Krug’s lessons is to remove the points of friction between your message and people’s understanding. Every error or poorly constructed sentence we have to read makes us stop and think, which distracts us from the actual goal of the writing. So mind your apostrophes and ellipses, learn about sentence fragments and clauses and use commas correctly and so on. Try to use active voice where you can. Separate your ideas and statements so that there’s one idea per paragraph. But having said that, know when you can break the rules of grammar a bit, to add colour and interest to your writing.

Rule 7: Arrange your content for scanning

Remembering that people scan online content, there’s lots of things we can do to maximise the scannability of our content:

  • Use plenty of subtitles
  • Short paragraphs
  • Bulleted lists
  • Think about the priority of your messages. If people only took one thing away from your web page, what would it be? What’s the most important message? Make sure this is most prominent, and so on.
  • Use magazines as inspiration to see how they move your eye around the page. Think about the various chunks of information they present that help scanning. Think about how you can chunk your content into a title, a primary area with, say, one leading paragraph, and a couple of associated content areas.

Rule 8: Adapt your writing for the right type of website

Writing will be different depending on whether it’s a ‘location and directions’ page on your church website, or on a blog, or on Twitter. Here are some applications:

Twitter

  • Make those 140 characters count! Hone your skills in clear concise text.
  • If including links, it’s good to include a punchy lead-in for the link, but even better to make it personal and different, e.g. “This blog post changed how I pray! [Link]
  • Remember to use link shorteners, like bit.ly and clicky.me
  • Leave room in those 140 characters for others to retweet
  • use hashtags, like #create09

Blogs

For blogs, I’ll focus on the headings. According to top copywriters, there’s a 50/50 rule of headlines, where they say you should spend half the time it takes to write an article just on the headline. Here’s where we can apply our rules 3 and 4 (being compelling and creative), e.g.:

  • Read this, or the puppy gets it!
  • How to design better church handouts (or How to anything, really)
  • Top 10 reasons… 10 Golden Rules… (you get the idea)
  • What I didn’t know about Jesus

Marketing and advertising companies know that on average, 8/10 people read headline copy, but only 2/10 will read the rest. That’s why it’s important to invest time in a killer heading. To be effective, try to make it useful, convey a sense of urgency, and convey a unique benefit.

You can also use subheadings within your blog posts to tell the story of the post:

  • “I used to mock Christians”
  • “Then He turned up”
  • “Now by God’s grace I’m planting my third church”

Another tip for blogging: front-load your post. Start with the conclusion. You can then include the rest of the vital details, and then off you go. Next time you read a newspaper article, just tick off how many of the who, what, when, where, why and how of the story are dealt with in the headline and first paragraph.

Rule 9: Don’t let the experts write your web pages

By this I mean, just because you’re super knowledgeable and passionate about your subject, you may not be the best person to write the web page. If it is going to be you who writes the content, I hope these sorts of rules help. But delegate and share the load if you can, and if you think it’s appropriate. Here’s some ideas on how you can do that:

  • Assign one person to take charge of gathering all the content from everyone who has the content. They might be the writer, or they might just be someone who is champion of the website, or tends to be the person who just gets things done.
  • Ministers and pastors, endorse this person to your congregation or organisation, give them support and authority to gather the content and ask people’s time to interview them.
  • Define a content workflow: for each page, or content type, who writes, reviews, edits, approves and publishes? Think about a publishing schedule: change the home page once a month? One blog post a month? A few tweets a week? That sort of thing.

Rule 10: Use content templates

Make it easy on yourself, and others tasked with content on your website, and come up with some templates. These are a big help for people you need to get the information from, and it makes it much easier to know what ‘boxes to fill in’ rather than giving them a ‘blank canvas’. For example, a template about a church event could look a bit like this:

  1. Title
  2. Short description, mentioning purpose and selling benefit
  3. Where is it
  4. When is it (date and time)
  5. Cost
  6. Contact information
  7. RSVP date
  8. Full description
  9. Quote from previous event?
  10. Photo from previous event, or a generic ‘event’ photo?

Well that wraps up the 10 golden rules. I hope you found them helpful. Are there any areas that have particularly helped you in your writing? Do you have any other ideas that have helped you?

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10 tips to boost your Google ranking

This is the first talk I gave at the recent Create Conference (November 2009), which is all about improving the organic search engine results rankings for your website. I thought I’d reproduce it here for those who were asking me about it afterwards, and for anyone else for whom this might be useful. You can also view the slides (below) and on Slideshare. I’ll say up-front that there’s nothing ground-breaking in this presentation, but it’s intended to be a primer for anyone who wants to get started in search engine optimisation. It’s also tailored a bit to church websites.

Short version

You can view the slides of the presentation below:

Wave your hands in the air

Years ago I was down the front at this concert in Canberra, it was near the end and the guitarist strode up to the front of the stage and got ready to toss his pick out to the crowd. Now, who knows how he would choose where he’d throw that pick – or who to – but I jumped up and down and waved my arms around like a total git, as much as I could, to get his attention. And it paid off – he threw it right at me, and I caught it!

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is EXACTLY like that – it’s all about getting your website to wave its arms around to say hey! Here I am! Click on me! The 10 tips will focus on SEO (rather than search engine marketing (SEM)) and cover the three areas of SEO: your website’s code, your website’s content, and your website’s link popularity.

The top 10 tips

OK, so strap yourself in, here we go.

  1. Ask the tough questions first. Why do you want people to come to your website? This seems pretty obvious at first, but really breaking this down will help you be strategic in your approach and efficient with where you spend your time. Church websites usually aren’t selling products and services like commercial websites, and they tend not to be in direct competition with other church websites, but they do tend to promote the church’s meetings, events and resources such as sermons and Bible studies, and of course presenting the gospel in various ways. You might find there are specific answers that come out, like:
    • Your church is the best one to go to for a certain area of suburbs
    • Your church is passionate about holding local community events
    • Your church has great worship music, or kids’ groups, or outreach nights… and so on.
  2. Pick an SEO-friendly CMS. Now here I’m assuming that you will manage – or are managing – your church website using a content management system (CMS). If not, that’s fine, the same principles apply (and you should still consider using a CMS). But if you are looking to use a CMS, here’s a bit of a checklist to bear in mind:
    • Does it publish your website using standards-compliant code? It’s very nerdy, but it does matter.
    • Does it allow you control over code that’s relevant for SEO, like meta tags, especially on a page-by-page basis, or is that part locked away?
    • Does it allow you full control over all of the text on each page?
    • Does it allow for website links (or URLs) that you can use specific keywords (e.g. http://www.yourchurch.org.au/drummoyne-events/) rather than something like http://www.yourchurch.org.au/?xid=9875&y=8&z=wonderwhatthisallmeans?

    I would recommend: WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, or Typo3.

  3. Do your keyword research. Find out the sort of words people already use to get to your website. Your website traffic reports might tell you this, or if you have Google Analytics plugged into your website it definitely tells you this. Ask around your church membership; odds are there are people at your church who found out about it online by using Google. And remember that the sorts of words you use may not be the ones others use. Use online keyword suggestion tools like the Google Adwords Keyword Tool: https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal.
  4. Write really good keyword-rich content. Use your keywords throughout the text of each page, especially in text headings and sub-headings, and link text (e.g. Download Mark Driscoll sermons rather than click here). Use most (all if you can) keywords on your home page, and one main keyword per content page.But be careful of keyword density, i.e. the percentage a particular keyword is used in a page compared to all text on that page. Anywhere from 2% to 8% is fine; any more and search engines may drop your website. It happens. Using a free tool like Link Vendor’s Link Density Check tool is the best way to check.Most of all, don’t try to contrive text to be full of keywords; if it’s relevant and engaging to your readers, it’ll be relevant and engaging to Google.
  5. Optimise your code for SEO. Remember to ensure your keywords are used well in <title> tags of each page (e.g. not just ‘Home page’; more like ‘Family-friendly church in the inner west – Drummoyne Presbyterian Church’), and meta tags, including meta description and meta keywords. Most people say these tags don’t count for much, but I like to think it makes good sense to categorise your pages like this – a bit like in a library – and I reckon meta tags will have their day again, just you wait and see. You can get help generating them with this tool: http://www.webmaster-toolkit.com/meta-tag-generator.shtml.When it comes to the Alt attribute in image tags (img alt=”...”) try to make it more meaningful, e.g. Not just ‘Church front door’, but ‘Front door of our church, replaced after a fire in 1948′. Don’t forget about all the searches people do on Google Images.Sitemap XML file – this is a text file stored as part of your website to help search engines index your website better. It’s really only for very large websites, though. You can generate these for free at http://www.xml-sitemaps.com/.
  6. Work keywords into the URLs. If you can, register domains that contain your primary keywords and point them to your main URL, e.g. drummoynechurch.com. See if you can make the URLs to specific pages keyword-rich, like http://www.drummoyne.org.au/drummoyne-church-events.html.
  7. Submit to directories. It goes without saying, but having said that, Google will find you by itself. It just does. But it’s still sort of worth registering your website with the gazillions of other search engines and directory websites out there. I’m not going to spend much time on this one, because I don’t think the effort pays off nearly as much as…
  8. Reciprocal linking. Work hard at getting other websites to link to yours, whether or not you link to them too, to increase your website’s link popularity. Search engines heavily consider how relevant your website is depending on your inbound links, so it’s like votes in an election. But linking is not a true democracy, that is: not all links are equal. Google’s PageRank is a measure of how important Google thinks a particular page is compared to all other pages; a number between 0 and 10. You can see this PageRank score either by installing the Google toolbar.How is PageRank derived? I’m no expert at this, but it’s roughly from the number of inbound links to the page, as well as the PageRank of those pages that have the inbound links, relevance of words searched for on those pages, and actual visits to that page. e.g. a PR9 web page that links to your website has more ‘value’ than a PR3 web page.So how do you get all these inbound links? Here’s some ideas:
    • Talk to owners of websites in your community – like schools, daycare centres, libraries and so on – and see if they’ll link to your website if you link to theirs
    • Encourage your church members, if they have online presences like Facebook and Twitter, or their own blogs, to link to their church website
    • Donate content to other websites, like opinion pieces, Bible studies and other resources, provided they link back to your website
    • Tweet like crazy!
    • Leave comments on other people’s blogs and respectfully include (where appropriate and relevant) a link back to your church website
  9. Get your SEO serviced. SEO is like a car: it needs regular tune-ups. One thing you might want to regularly check on is what websites are linking to yours. You can use link popularity online tools like this one, or Google Analytics, or if you feel you must part with case, use something like Raven SEO Tools. The rules of the game change slightly from time to time, and the nature of the content on your website will change over time too, so it’s worth the effort.
  10. Get someone else to do it! Yes, if it’s all too hard, you can get someone skilled in web development, standards-compliance and SEO to assess your website for you, and/or optimise it as a one-off, or agree on a regular schedule. This definitely includes SEM: if you’re interested in investing money in pay-per-click campaigns, unless you’re experienced I would definitely advise taking on an experienced professional for SEM. Trying to do PPC campaigns yourself is time-consuming, distracting, and you could be throwing good money away – it may not be good stewardship of funds.

Well that’s my top 10 tips. SEO is a complex art and science, and I don’t pretend to be an expert, but hopefully this is a good introduction for you. Very happy to hear if you think anything here is erroneous or could be improved.

References:

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Create Conference is on again

Create Conference – the conference run by FEVA for churches and other ministries to tackle gospel communication issues – is on again soon, and I’ve just completed the latest version of the website.

Create Conference 2009 website

Create Conference 2009 website

The Create Conference is on Saturday 14 November, and by the looks of the program, it’s about twice as big as last year. The conference aims to equip Christians to understand the times, generate compelling ideas and messages, and package them relevantly.

Last year, the website design I did focused on the vintage neo-Victorian aspect of the airship, the main part of the Create identity, so it came out looking all steampunky and weathered. This year I expanded on the steampunk-inspired pop-art feel to the illustrations, but went for a lighter, airier feel.

My illustrations went to Andrew Nobbs over at Barton Design, who put together an amazing brochure for the event. His exploration of sky and clouds and bold typography was then translated to the website design. What a neat little example of collaborative design.  ;)

Visit the site, and if you’re keen, register online.

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OZ IA 2009 – Day 2

After Day 1 of Oz IA, I thought I’d put up a few extra thoughts about Day 2. It was cut short for me due to other responsibilities, but all up it was a hugely humbling, rewarding, energising and inspiring experience.

The coffee, gourmet juices and tweets continued to flow freely, and the sessions got even more animated and engaging:

  • Gary Barber took us into the courtroom with a scathing critique of tag clouds and who is to blame for their faults (hint: it could be the IAs). I was talking to him afterwards, and it’s not so much all tag clouds that are wrong, but their implementation as-is, rather than being critically assessed by IAs and reinterpreted for each individual use. Great stuff.
  • Matt Moore‘s Playing games with culture was the one workshop-oriented session, where everyone had a ‘serious’ play with the Organisational Culture & Knowledge Management Methods Cards from Straits Knowledge. A fun way of revealing the sorts of team-culture lessons that may otherwise be lost if only resorting to dry presentation and workshop formats.
  • Melissa Cooper from the ABC showed us how ruthless you have to be in designing search experiences for mobile interfaces. I can only aspire!
  • Matt Fisher took us way out of our cushy little high-bandwidth graphics-rich always-on bubble and showed us the sort of ingenuity you need for designing systems for Defence, where water and dust wreck laptops and there’s no constant connection. What humbled me was the sorts of challenges that diggers are surrounded with when trying to carry out the same sorts of communication- and tech-related tasks we take for granted, and their contribution to refining such systems that can go on to be used for remote communities in developing countries. Very very worthwhile. Sort of puts my dinky little interfaces into perspective.

Oh, and one more thing I encountered: there’s this huge connection between being an IA and loving good food! You know who you are, and more power to you.

Can’t wait for next year!