Posted in Uncategorized

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.

Posted in Uncategorized

TaxoDiary – Taxonomies in Information Science

TaxoDiary – Taxonomies in Information Science
— Read on taxodiary.com/2018/08/taxonomies-in-information-science/

Thanks to CJ Walker for posting this on LinkedIn.

This is a big part of my job right now, and this is an excellent way to clarify the difference between what a thesaurus is and taxonomy is. Taxonomy really is about the organization of the content so that the hierarchy makes sense.

Another analogy that I’ve used–which I got long ago from Val Swisher of Content Rules is how one can organize a closet. You can put the pants together, the shirts together, and the jackets together, but you could put all the red clothing together, all the blue clothing together, etc. Neither way is wrong, as long as it makes sense and others can follow the flow.

Except with me these days, it’s more about pharmaceutical departments and procedures. Still, even with those topics, we need to scale it back all the way to what are the objectives of the website we’re building, and how do we structure the website so that users can find what they need quickly and easily. Start with the foundational basics, and build from there.

I highly recommended this article if taxonomy isn’t your strength. It shows that it’s not as hard as it seems.

–TechCommGeekMom

Posted in Uncategorized

Adobe Day@STC Summit 2014 – We Went Back to The Future

We definitely didn't hear this panel say to any of us, "I'm afraid you're just too darn loud!"
We definitely didn’t hear this panel say to any of us, “I’m afraid you’re just too darn loud!”

I apologize for my blog coverage of the 2014 STC Summit edition of Adobe Day being delayed–it’s been a busy month! But hopefully, you’ll feel it’s been worth the wait, and you had a chance to see my live Twitter feed as it happened.

The STC’14 Adobe Day felt a little bit different this year. One of the things I noticed was that as much as Adobe says that these Adobe Day events are Adobe-product free, lately, they haven’t been. HOWEVER, they are still not one big, in-person infomercial either. Adobe products are not brought up much, but if they are, it’s to show that they can be tools to use to create solutions to common tech comm issues. So, it might be an inadvertant infomercial in that respect, but it’s not done in a blatant way that screams, “YOU NEED TO BUY ME!!!!!! PLEASE BUY OUR PRODUCTS!!!” Adobe continues to do a good job in showing what tech comm issues are out there, and as leaders in the software field, they are tuned into these issues and are creating products that benefit the technical communicator. I think that’s fair enough. The talks, overall, were broader topics that in some instances used Adobe Tech Comm Suite tools to provide solutions. And you have to remember, while these talks are aimed to be product-free for the most part, it’d probably look pretty bad if you had someone declaring all the glories of a competitive product when Adobe is hosting the event. Y’know?

With that out of the way, I observed some other things that made this a little bit different. First, there were fewer speakers this year. I felt that was a good thing, because in the past with more speakers, each speaker would be racing to get his/her presentation completed in a very short amount of time, and there would be little time for questions or discussion. Since there were fewer speakers this year, each one could elaborate more on their topic, which allowed for more time for questions and discussion. More networking time during the breaks was also a benefit from having less speakers.

The other difference I saw dealt with the speakers themselves. While they were all familiar, established voices in the tech comm world, it wasn’t the same crowd that one usually sees at Adobe Day events. All of them have participated in Adobe events or other tech comm events before, but in the past, it usually is most of the same speakers up on the podium. While I like all the “usual suspects” very much, and consider them my mentors and have become friends with several of them, seeing these new “players” was actually refreshing to me. I hope that Adobe continues to change up the speaker lineups with future Adobe Days, as all the speakers I’ve heard have a clear voice that’s worth listening to, and hearing as many of those voices as possible provides both variety and fresh perspectives going forward. As I go through each presentation in forthcoming blog posts, hopefully you’ll see what I mean.

But as tradition in this blog dictates, I always start with the panel that capped off the Adobe Day event. I find that these panel talks bring an umbrella perspective to where we are as a profession through several points of view, and seeing where there are agreements and disagreements in the issues at hand.

This year, the panel was moderated by Matt Sullivan, who has been an Adobe Day speaker in the past. He did a great job, as this was the first time I’d seen him as the moderator of an Adobe Day panel. The panel consisted of Adobe Day speakers Marcia Riefer Johnston, Bernard Aschwanden, Kevin Siegel, and past Adobe Day speaker, Joe Welinske. The theme for the panel was looking ahead to the future of where tech comm seems to be going.

The Adobe Day Panel L to R: Matt Sullivan, Bernard Aschwanden, Joe Welinske, Marcia Riefer Johnston, and Kevin Siegel
The Adobe Day Panel
L to R: Matt Sullivan, Bernard Aschwanden, Joe Welinske, Marcia Riefer Johnston, and Kevin Siegel

Matt started with the point that tech comm is more than tech writing now, so what do we need to improve short-term and long-term? Kevin responded first, saying that we need to do more with less on smaller displays and adapting the content appropriately for mobile. Marcia added to that, saying that using less can mean writing tighter as well. (She has a technique she taught during the STC Summit, in fact!) Joe agreed with Marcia, adding that technical communicators need to put in the time to make concise content meaningful, and to look at simplified English as part of that objective. Bernard felt that attending workshops and demonstrations were important, because technical communicators need to continually learn and adapt in this industry! He added that SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) should contribute to content, but technical communicators should control it. Kevin also agreed with Bernard, saying that SMEs are writing content more often now, so teaching them to write tighter will help. Marcia chimed in that many people are now being required to write, but don’t have the skills. We need to help with that.

Moving onto topics about how technology affects technical communication, Kevin said that new technology, like Google Glass and other wearables, is emerging, and we need to understand how these work. Joe pointed out that the Pebble watch now is starting to have user docs now, and more will be emerging. Bernard added that gesture based technology similar to the Xbox Kinect will need documentation.

Matt then asked, “What should we look forward to in the next five years?” Bernard felt that less specialization will be needed so that the right people write the right content, such as an engineer who can write. Specialized writing will be very important. Joe added that we need to agree on taxonomy and terminology, and use style sheets more often for consistency. Marcia believed that topic-based writing will be emerging more as a growth area. Kevin explained that in e-learning, there is a need to develop learning for new devices that responds to user displays, thus accomodating multiple screens.

The next question asked about how to help educate and help with adapting certain generations adjust between print and digital writing/designing. The consenus was that we just need to adapt. The panel encouraged the audience to get to know your UX/UI people, as they will help you learn to adapt, especially if you aren’t as tech-adaptive.

The last question centered on customers customizing their content–is this a trend? Bernard leapt into a response with, “GOOD! DO IT!” He encouraged us to help customers to start doing personalized help, or personalizing any information, for that matter! Moderator Matt closed by saying that rich media that engages users is going to be about content strategy, but it will also be about content marketing. The group agreed that personalized, concise information going forward will be best!

"I guess you guys aren't ready for that yet--but your kids are going to love it!"
“I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet–but your kids are going to love it!”

And that was it! The session went by quickly, but as you can see, there was a lot of great information that many technical communicators can take and use going forward in their own work.  While it might take some time to adapt, sure enough, it will bring the field forward as technology and the way we access it moves ahead.

Coming soon: The individual presentations at Adobe Day #STC14 Edition!