She’s back to school…again. This time, it’s about UX Design.

Starfleet Academy isn’t going to prepare me for this.

Yup. You read that right. The crazy lady here is back to school. But not as an instructor this time. I’m back to being a student again. When I say that learning is a lifelong venture, I guess I really mean it!

In this case, I decided that in order to make myself a more viable technical communication professional, it wouldn’t hurt to step up my skills in UX Design. Since I work on a daily basis with UX designers these days, it seemed to me that with a little more knowledge, I could do what they do as well as they could, and there’s a lot of overlap in what content strategists do and what UX designers do.

Since I have a busy schedule and limited funds, I searched around for the best online program that I could find that would suit my needs, and found the website Get Smarter that offers short courses from prestigious global universities like MIT, Harvard, Yale, Oxford, and others.  This particular UX Design course is given by the University of Cape Town in South Africa, which I’ve been assured by a good college friend who just finished a year doing research as a Fulbright Scholar in South Africa that it’s the Harvard or Yale of South Africa, and I’m taking her word on it.

Nonetheless, considering that I’ve had some exposure to UX and UX design through graduate school courses and through my work experiences, I was thinking this course should be a “piece of cake”, as they say. Relatively easy.

Guess again. While I understand all the concepts, and granted I’m finishing up week 2 of ten weeks, there’s a lot of work and information to mentally ingest so far. When I read that it could take 8 to 10 hours a week, I was thinking, “Nah, it can’t be that bad. I’m sure it’ll be easy since I understand and work with most of the concepts to begin with.”  Nope. While I do understand the concepts, the last two weeks have been very busy, and I’ve been spending my Sundays and Mondays binge-learning my course (since classwork and projects are due on Tuesday afternoon, which is Tuesday night in South African time). So, I have to get everything done earlier than the rest of the class, as I’m the only American or non-African in the class (meaning, everyone in the class is from South Africa or other nearby countries in the same time zone).  I’m the only one from the outside. And that’s okay–except for the time issue.

The course focuses on UX Design concepts, and we have discussion groups, etc. (you know I’m contributing much like I do here on this blog, just talking away,) but the course directs our projects towards creating an fictional email app. Yikes. In other words, how do I reinvent the wheel? Well, all I could do right now is use their templates for creating the business requirements, and go from there. I’m applying what I’m reading (which is a lot more than I anticipated) plus my personal experience working on Discovery and Design teams (especially of late) to my homework, as that’s the best I can do.  I’m hoping my time eases up soon. I thought it would ease up immediately after CONDUIT 2019 was done, but there are still things I’m following up on post-conference, and catching up with work and life.  Crazy me, thinking I should be taking a course RIGHT NOW. (Well, the cohort was starting now, and it’s a really great price…) But am I disappointed? NO. The information is clear, and well-thought out.  The only disappointment is me and my performance right now. I’m usually a much more dedicated student, so I need to focus and get the job done. Having a new credential on my resume that I can put to practice relatively quickly is something that I think will benefit me as a content strategist and as a technical communicator. We’ll see how this works out at the end.

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How to Sound Smart in your TEDx Talk

Alan Houser posted this on Twitter, and this is absolutely brilliant. Anyone who has every had to give any kind of presentation or keynote can totally appreciate this. I know since I’ve done both, I do! I’m going to have to start positioning my talks more like this, and do more inflection along these lines.



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Please stop listing tech products as ‘men’s accessories’

We’re looking at you, Nordstrom.

Source: Please stop listing tech products as ‘men’s accessories’

I came across this article this morning, and I was glad I saw it. The article didn’t really yield any new information about how women use tech as much as men, yet everything is geared towards men, but it was refreshing to see someone publically call it out, especially towards a major department store chain that specializes more in fashion than technology.

Why is it that tech is usually thought of as masculine if the usage of tech is truly just about 50/50? Ironically, in my house, I’m the one who invests in a good portion of the tech accessories that the other two in my house usually end up borrowing.  The other thing that annoys me is that almost all industries–including tech–seem to think that the way to make something “feminine” is to make it PINK. I HATE THE COLOR PINK. And I’m as much a girl as any female out there, but there are other colors of the rainbow, people! I usually end up getting the “masculine” version of something simply to avoid that damned color of pink. Why do you think Apple started making “rose gold” devices? Because it’s PINK. (Although I know plenty of men who like it. I would’ve gotten that if it was more copper-colored instead of pink.)

Coloring accessories pink and marketing to men is not going to help more women buy tech products and stay in tech fields. It alienates us. Or is that the idea?

This is where I tend to buck social expectations. Like I said, in my house, I’m the one with multiple Bluetooth keyboards, endless mobile device accessories, and USB hubs. I’m the one who has a KVM device so she can manage three laptops on one monitor (space limitations in my office prevent me from getting another monitor or two). I’m the one with the high-tech recording microphone and noise-cancelling headset. Not my husband the developer. ME.  (My parents used to joke that it wasn’t Christmas for me unless I had some sort of battery-operated electronic device. Still somewhat true.)

Marketing tech and tech accessories shouldn’t be geared only towards men. Tech is for all, and by marginalizing women with pink items or not marketing simple products to them as well…well, it’s just bad marketing. Women should be encouraged to take on tech, like setting up a router or voice-activated devices just like anyone else. One of the speakers at the upcoming CONDUIT conference is going to be presenting and showing work she does developing virtual reality programs. I know several women who are experts on this–why aren’t we a bigger part of the conversation?

What do you think of this article? Include your comments below.

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Generation X — not millennials — is changing the nature of work

Generation X is quickly occupying the majority of business leadership roles.

Source: Generation X — not millennials — is changing the nature of work

Thanks to Alyssa Fox for posting this one on Facebook. While the article is about a year old, everything about it still holds. As a member of Gen-X who has looked into how my generation fits into the world, this is spot on. We covet security of a full-time job and are willing to take on the leadership role and provide loyalty if it is earned. We know how to bridge the gap between generations because of the fact we really are in the middle. We are the first generation to be digitally savvy and embrace digital fully.  We can do it!

But, as this article points out, we still need support for our professional development. We need the flexibility to learn in the best way possible. We need to feel supported instead of always feeling the need to do the supporting. We need the opportunity to grow. As the article said, the oldest among us still have at least 10 years minimally to go, and as much as 30 years left in our careers.

As the Simple Minds song (which is practically an anthem for Gen-X due to the Breakfast Club, who represented our generation), don’t you forget about me.

What do you think of this article? Include your comments below.


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Content Strategists are the Marie Kondos of Tech Comm

Marie Kondo, folding a shirt.

Even Marie Kondo knows that content strategists know their stuff when it comes to content.

Here in the U.S. (and perhaps in other places that have Netflix), there’s a big phenomenon about Marie Kondo. For those who don’t know who Marie Kondo is, she wrote a self-help book about home organization several years ago called, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. This book is now a Netflix series that has taken the U.S. by storm. While I have had the book in my Amazon Wish List for four years, and I haven’t watched the series (yet), through other articles, interviews I’ve read with Ms. Kondo, and other videos, I’ve gotten the basic ideas of what the Konmari method is. In the process, I’ve come to the conclusion that content strategists are the Marie Kondos of technical communication.

Now, I’ve thought about this for a while, so there is some logic to this. Ever since I’ve learned this content strategy analogy from Val Swisher of Content Rules, I’ve always used a person’s clothes closet as an example of how content strategy works. It might be oversimplified, but it works, and this is how you can further the analogy because of the Konmari method.

In that analogy, it’s explained that just about everyone needs to organize their closet, because most people don’t want to be looking for their clean clothes in a pile on the floor (although my teenage son is an expert on that method). While you can certainly hang all or most of your clothes, it helps to organize them a little bit. You can simply hang everything up, but it’s helpful to organize what you have. For example, you can put all the shirts in one area, the pants in another, skirts in another, etc.  But that’s not the only way you can organize them. You could also organize everything by color–all the red items together, all the blue items together, all the black items together, and so on. You get the idea. Neither way is wrong, as long as it makes sense. The idea is to optimize what content you have so that it’s easily found when you need it.

In Marie Kondo’s Konmari method, organizing does not only mean getting organized with your items, but also determining what you don’t need and what you really need. You haven’t worn that sweater for ten years and really aren’t thrilled with it anymore? Thank it for its service and need at the time, but get rid of it–don’t hold onto it. She also gives tips on how to take what’s remaining and optimize how you access it. For example, she recommends folding t-shirts using a particular method so that they can be stored vertically, making them more easily accessible in one’s drawers. Her main mantra is about only keeping any items that “spark joy”.  She even uses checklists to keep you on track in determining what to keep and how to stay organized. Does this sound a little familiar?

In this respect, this is why content strategists are the Konmari experts of content. What is our primary job? Sort through content. Make sense of what you need and don’t need, and organize it. We use taxonomy and content models to help our clients organize their content so that they–and their users–feel that the content sparks joy (serves its purpose most effectively) and they understand where they are going on their journey.

Now, recently, I’ve gotten into debates with a colleague about using content models before using a site map. His argument is that by creating a content model or taxonomy outline of a website when revamping after a content audit or inventory is a pointless exercise, as it leads the client to believe that this outline will dictate the sitemap and how the pages work, and it should be more fluid. While I understand his point, I strongly disagree. Let’s go back to that closet analogy. You’ve been hired to organize someone’s closet. They have a pile of clean clothes on the floor, and no bars or shelves or drawers in the closet. What do you need to do? Sure, you could organize all the clothes on your bed, but it doesn’t help because you are organizing for your closet, not storing on your bed! You need someplace to store it rationally. You need to provide the structure–the closet–first. For content, that could be a taxonomy outline or content model. Once you have that in place, then you can start organizing.

Taking that a step further, let’s say that you’ve set up some hanging bars and shelves in the closet the way the works best for the space, and organized your clothes for your client by type of clothing–shirts, pants, t-shirts, skirts and dresses (if you are so inclined). The client is almost happy, but feels something is still not right to them. “I’d really like to have my short-sleeved shirts together, separated from my long-sleeved shirts, because I have to wear long-sleeved shirts for work and I want to find them quickly.” All content in an inventory is not weighed the same, and should be treated at different levels as well. Okay, in this structure, it’s something that can be done easily. The structure of the closet has stayed the same (the taxonomy), but there’s a little bit of moving around and prioritization of main categorizations and sub-categorizations, but it makes it most optimal for the client.

The client then might say, “Wait, I think I also would prefer that the shelf for the t-shirts be moved to this different spot.” It might be possible, and that makes sense, or moving the shelf there would not allow for as much storage space, and that’s your job to tell them that it’s a bad idea. Ultimately, they can take your advice, or they can disregard it, but you’ve done your due diligence in pointing out what you know will work best, and what won’t.

In the same way that having that initial closet structure is important, the content model or taxonomy outline is important as well. You cannot determine the flow (like a website sitemap) until you know what the initial structure is. There is some fluidity or flexibility with the model, but as with any physical structures, there are limitations.  The model outline and the sitemap might seem redundant, but in the end, they really work together to help the client. The outline sets up the structure as it should be set up (at least initially, if not entirely going forward) and imply how pages might be laid out, but the sitemap visually supports the outline by documenting how the flow of the outlined content works.

So everything we do as content strategists really is done using the Konmari method, if you think about it. We help others to provide structure, organization, and help determine if content is needed, and thanking it for its service while it lasted. Our jobs are meant to not only spark joy in our clients in helping them to create a better, more fluid, searchable way to access content, but ensure that the best content is available, so that their users can have the content spark joy in them as well. We, as content strategists, have studied this, and we know what’s needed to make things happen in the architecture and building of this “closet” or website. We need to be trusted that we know what we are talking about, even if sometimes it seems like we are talking nonsense (we usually aren’t). We provide the initial solutions that make things happen, and no amount of UX or design is going to happen if you don’t have your content (or your closet) in order first.

What do you think? Does my Konmari analogy makes sense? Include your comments below.

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Take That, AP Style! Court of Law Rules The Oxford Comma Necessary

Who cares about the Oxford comma? That’s a $10 million question.

Source: Take That, AP Style! Court of Law Rules The Oxford Comma Necessary 

Evidently, those of us who are grammar snobs, or the grammar police, as some might say, are right after all! This is good news for editors and writers everywhere who insisted that the Oxford comma was needed.

Now, if we can just get Microsoft on board with this for Word and other Office 365 products, that would be great. Office 365 continually tries to point out that my Oxford commas are grammatical mistakes when I know they are not.

What do you think about this decision? Include your comments below.

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2019: A Great Year For Tech Pros Over 50 Years Old?

Over 50 and working in tech? 2019 might be a pivotal year for you. First, some not-so-great news: The average tech salary has continued its plateau,

Source: 2019: A Great Year For Tech Pros Over 50 Years Old?

As a person who just passed the half-century mark this past year (I would rather still be forty-something, thank you), this is encouraging news.  One of the things I already struggle with–and I know other people who are near my age or have a few extra years than I do–is getting what’s fair. The market is already fickle due to ageism, but it’s also fickle as employers do what they can to keep older applicants at bay through attempts to underpay and limit us to contract work. (Maybe that’s just our industry, I’m not sure. Just basing this on my own experiences.)  So, let’s hope that what’s being said in this article is true, and we have a means of getting ahead this year!

What do you think? Is this the year for Gen-X and Baby Boomers? Include your comments below.


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