Blog: Content writing and content strategy insights

The careers of five best friends begin to merge in a digital workforce

When I grew up I had four besties. Together we were just like Blyton’s Famous Five. Sure, we didn’t roam the countryside solving mysteries and capturing villains. Golly gosh no! But we did freely roam our cul-de-sac for hours enjoying jolly adventures — at least until dinner time.

After university, we all dispersed into very different jobs — one into journalism, one into strategic planning, one into advertising, one into corporate comms, and I moved from solicitor to information designer.

But in the last five years or so, something funny has happened: all our job descriptions are starting to look the same. Disciplines are merging. My friends and I are doing similar tasks and use the same skillsets.

Continue Reading >

User testing your web content leads to happiness

One of the UXNZ 2015 Conference highlights for me was the opening speech by legend US information architect and publisher, Lou Rosenfeld. He talked about how he came up with the design and layout for the books his company publishes. Quite simply, he took his books out and tested them with real people. He wanted to learn whether he could make an age-old product like a hardcopy book easier to use. Turns out you can.

Continue Reading >

Designing intranets: book review

James Robertson is a bit of a national (or international) Australian treasure. Long ago he decided to focus on the design and usability of intranets, those hidden web sites so crucial to any large organization's daily work—but invisible to the outside world and often unloved.

His latest book shares hard-won wisdom on what makes intranets work. This is precious information, because the typical in-house intranet development team has probably seen only a handful of intranets up close. James Robertson has seen thousands.

Anyone about to redevelop their own organization's intranet must, repeat must, read this book. Why? Because James has seen the same cycle of intranet development repeat over and over and over again. He knows human nature, he knows office politics, he knows intranets, and he can predict exactly what will happen if you just do what comes naturally.

Reading this book will very likely save you and your in-house intranet development team much pain and frustration.

James is not a bully. He knows the difference between opinion and facts, and he knows every intranet project is unique. He doesn't get sucked into fashionable arguments, nor does he lay down the law. Instead he provides a logical, step-by-step system for designing an intranet that stands a chance of satisfying staff.

Designing Intranets: Creating sites that work

Eyes top left but why?

Eyes top left is an article I wrote in 2007, and a mini tutorial as well. (Some people just can't help themselves.) Sean Laffey responded with some fascinating insights into this hypnotic target for human eyes. Thanks, Sean!

Dear Rachel.

After reading your article on Eyes = Top left , here's my take on what
was found, I offer this as both a photographer and biologist.

In picture making and picture taking there is a rule of thirds, the
most pleasing easily remembered images have a focal point 1/3 of the
way in from the edge of the frame.

The most striking example is when this focal point is at the top left
third. Photographers say that this gives the subject of the photograph
"space to move into" . This relates to the way most people in the
west read from left to right, the eye naturally tracks away from the
left once it has locked on.

Why might this have arisen? Here's an evolutionary explanation.

Most people are right handed and we feel safer if our strongest arm
is free to protect and defend us. So it is best if we keep any new
person we meet slightly to the left of us, this accounts for the right
handshake where we have to turn our bodies fractionally to the left
to greet someone.

In this situation, our visual field places the new person to our
left and we make eye contact by looking ahead or upwards, (unless of
course we are relatively taller than the person we are greeting). If
we leave space to the right of the person and space above them in our
visual frame we have time to judge how friendly they are ( space above
means we are a few steps away) and having space to the right gives
us an exit route should we care not to meet them.

This is probably hot wired into the brain and would help explain the
natural reaction to look top left first.

It would be interesting to compare the "Eyes Top Left" method with
people who are left handed, exceptionally tall people (who have no
choice but to look down to greet people) and cultures such as many in
Asia where writing is read right-left and bottom to top.

All the best

Sean Laffey


Do the quick and powerful ALA survey

Take the A-List-Apart survey of web workers: it takes just a few minutes, and as you'd expect (considering who designed it) the survey is easy and intuitive. Doing this survey can also shed a little light on our own lives -- how we spend them and whether it's worth it.

Calling all designers, developers, information architects, project
managers, writers, editors, marketers, and everyone else who makes
websites. It is time once again to pool our information so as to begin
sketching a true picture of the way our profession is practiced

Last year's survey involved 33,000 people. On page 12 you'll see that 78.6 per cent of respondents said they feel excited by the field of web deveopment or web design, frequently or very frequently. Don't you think this is extraordinary? I wonder how many work areas provide such a buzz...


Usability: put things where expected

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. It being the conventional position for something, the place we automatically expect to see something. Like a door handle at hand level. Or a web page's most important message at the top. Or a navigation menu across the top or down the left hand side. Not much to ask, is it?

Yesterday Elsie arrived wearing her pants back to front. It didn't stop any of her activities, including her Cinderella task of washing my kitchen floor. However, she couldn't put her hands in her pockets and the pants looked funny.

Why this unaccustomed booboo by an experienced self-dresser?

The inside label, that scratchy bit of cloth with the manufacturer's name (O'Neill), was at the front instead of the back. Like most people, Elsie knows the label goes in the back. It's the main clue for figuring front from back.

Our usability makeover involved cutting off all traces of that label. And sometimes, features of design and content that foil online readers can be fixed just as easily.

Notes from ALGIM 08

(Mon)day 1 of ALGIM 08 was terrific, and I intended to report in some detail. Tuesday, I was smitten with my new vertical mouse at first touch. Then came a naff ailment, and I slowed to snail pace. Better late than never, here are some crumbs from the conference.

  • The Association of Local Government Information Management is 20 years old.
  • Their benchmarking survey showed that just 25% of councils provide interactive forms, and fewer than 10% of councils automate such processes as online consents tracking.
  • National treasure Jason Dawson said 98% of people do not use RSS.

To the presentations...

Trent Mankelow of Optimal Usability gave a great overview of self service usability. He said SS technology should be so intuitive that we don't even notice it, like automatic doors. SS technology should:

  • save the owner heaps
  • give customer a sense of power and control
  • give customer extra benefits and incentives
  • match the technology to the need, e.g. either a kiosk, IVR (For share prices, press 1) or voice activation (For trading, say Trading) or egov online.

Anna Crooks of reminded us that participation in e-government is not a given. It's an undreamt of privilege in countries ruled by dictators and the mob, which she saw in recent travels to Libya and Nairobi. Let's not be blase about Web 2.0 in government. Web 2.0 has huge customer service benefits but carries obligations and responsibilities."

Mark Orange of Intergen spoke about the evolution of enterprise content management. It was great to see how web content management fits into the big picture. ECM is an outrageously bold concept that is now a red-hot reality and a multi-billion market. In other words, it's a giant system of databases that replaces archives, trolleys, telegrams.

ECM is the technologies used to capture, manage, store, preserve and deliver content and documents related to organisational processes. That applies to an organisation's unstructured information wherever it exists.

Jason Dawson reported on the challenges and triumphs of local government web sites in the UK and Ireland, with plenty of screenshots. He capped that off by showing us how Northland Regional Council used its web site to cope with the floods of 2007: practical advice from one who knows.

Tauranga City Council's Vicky Wheelton and Elizabeth Hughes showed us their radical new website, dominated by search. Results speak volumes: users of the new site have doubled since November, many hate the look but everyone finds what they want.

And I galloped through my own presentation in the allocated half hour: how appropriate, when I aim to teach the minimum number of skills to the maximum number of people.

Tip of the day from Trent Mankelow: Always bite off less than you can chew.

Image: the wondrous Evoluent Vertical Mouse 3 (