“ Wouldn’t you like to know that the people who design and manage products and systems do so with a core set of values in mind?”

Toward Codified Values for IA and UX

I’m a user experience (UX) consultant with a specialty in information architecture (IA), the organization of information to make meaning. I joke that my job is to make the world a better place, one interface at a time. I also joke that I am a web therapist. Neither of these statements is really a joke.

I’ve been working on a couple of things I want to share with the overlapping fields of UX and IA—and with you: A statement of core values, and a maturity model to gauge adoption of those values. They’re meant to help make the digital world better, fairer, less harmful, more user-centered for all users by giving IA/UX practitioners and organizations guidelines for making ethical decisions in their work. We’ve never had widely adopted core values before, and perhaps you’ve noticed that in their absence, a lot has gone awry. Technology has become mercenary.

Values Statement and Maturity Model for UX & IA practitioners and organizations (click to reach image page, then click link for full-size image)

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Membership Organizations in the Time of COVID-19

The world has become a different place from what we knew a few weeks ago, and that place changes daily. We are all coping as best we can personally—and I hope that involves staying home as much as possible, for safety’s sake.

On the professional front, every type of organization is experiencing new challenges and threats. Membership organizations are in a special situation, facing business challenges coupled with a responsibility to serve members with changing needs. I’m seeing organizations in the healthcare field step up and advocate passionately for their members and constituents, demanding the supplies and working conditions they need to be safe and fulfill their mission.

What else can membership organizations do to help their constituents when so much is in flux? Here are some ideas.

Take nonessential things off their plates—and yours. At a time when we may be stretched to the limit and facing information overload, adaptation is easier when we can offload nonessential tasks and eliminate distractions. Let’s talk about email. If you and your members are anything like me, you’re getting emails from all directions—more …

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Why You Shouldn’t Worry about Preparing Your Content for AI

Since the arrival on the scene of “AI”–artificial intelligence software, chatbots, and voice-activated systems and devices–content publishers have been anxious about how best to meet the demands of these new modes of communication and get their content out into the brave new world.

But there’s nothing to fear. Preparing your content for AI involves the same steps you already should be taking to prepare your content for publication anywhere. If you are paying attention to content quality and relevance, freshness, structure, naming conventions, metadata, and relationships, you are preparing your content for AI. AI is just another communications channel. Yes, it can be daunting, but it can also be a helpful exercise to think about what happens to your content in AI contexts. (There’s no better way to learn how stilted your content is than to hear it read by Siri or Alexa!)

Here are some tips for preparing content for cross-media delivery that also will help prepare it for AI:

Write succinctly and clearly on subjects that interest your target audiences (which, by the way, means you need to really …

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“ Your organization will need to personalize to compete. It’s just a matter of when, and how to make the efforts successful and sustainable. ”

Associations: Personalization Requires Reflection & Governance

By Jacqui Olkin

As digital communications mature and competition on web and mobile increases, we see more personalized digital experiences—sites and apps that seem to know us and be able to deliver just what we want and need.

So what does that mean for you?

Personalized experiences can mean different things to different organizations, but the idea is to provide content, services, and promotions tailored to what we already know about the user or customer. We’ve all had that experience by now of making a purchase with one click, enabled by our previous shopping history on the same site.  Or being able to quickly get a ride home because the ride hailing app knows where home is.

Modern content management systems provide robust personalization features as well as seamless integration with marketing engines and ecommerce platforms. The end result for your users is a seamless experience coupled with personalized content delivered to them with contextual relevance.

For member-based organizations, personalized views of content and services can be extremely valuable to the members/customers, and to the organization. Personalization helps meet customers’ …

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“ Like rock stars and other celebrities with brands to keep in the public eye, organizations need to keep their biggest fans involved year round.”

Think Like a Rockstar: Using Your Annual Conference to Deepen Relationships and Build Brand

By Dave Bushnell and Jacqui Olkin

A quick Google search shows pundits making dire predictions about the end of trade shows and annual conferences every year. But even in the face of challenges such as down economies, professionals have continually found value in attending face-to-face industry meetings. In fact, attendees have taken the utility of annual conferences into their own hands and left the sponsoring organizations with a unique branding challenge: to ensure that the organization stays at the center of the attendee’s conference experience and that the value they create at the conference accrues to the organization for the rest of the year.

Like rock stars and other celebrities with brands to keep in the public eye, organizations need to keep their biggest fans–conference attendees–involved year round. In order to ensure that the energy and positive experience of the conference isn’t gone as soon as attendees board their planes home, it’s critical to take explicit steps before, during, and after the event to convert attendees’ good feelings about the conference into brand equity for the organization.

Before the Conference

It’s easy to get so caught …

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Achieving a Shareable Information Ecosystem for Your Association

By Jacqui Olkin and Duane Degler

Today’s association may be a producer of information, a curator of information, and an authority on subjects within its profession. It may be a publisher, education provider, event sponsor, public advocate, and think tank, and it may own different technical platforms to house the information associated with each of these roles: a website, journal site, magazine site, chapter sites, learning management system, and so on.

No wonder this information, in all these different systems, is increasingly difficult to keep up-to-date, maintain without redundancies, and present in an easily discoverable, unified way within the association’s information ecosystem.

Meanwhile, the association’s information exists in a larger context: Its profession’s information space. To contribute content and other information to allied organizations and others with an interest in the profession, the association must concern itself with existing industry data standards and nomenclature. Standardizing information makes it more easily understood in context, retrievable and shareable across systems, and maintainable without duplication.

Where to Start?

How can your association provide information that is easily discovered by members and other customers, …

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“ Silos are the enemies of associations and the people who use their websites . . . There should be a clear, simple way to see everything your organization offers on a particular search term.”

8 Tips For Achieving User-Friendly Search

By Duane Degler and Jacqui Olkin

Search is an increasingly important component in desktop and mobile online experiences, yet too often search is not designed to meet the needs of users.

Associations have unique challenges that come with serving multiple audiences and delivering a variety of information types through search—for example, balancing the relevance of publications, issue summaries, research papers, membership information, and event information. They must design their search experiences thoughtfully to meet both the needs of users and the aim of the association.

Here, we offer a practical to-do list to achieve user-friendly search for your association’s websites and apps.

Get to Know Your Users as Searchers

To create user-friendly search, it’s not enough to understand users in a general sense. You must also understand why they search, what they search for, and how they think about searching for different types of information.

Search analytics, surveys, and moderated usability sessions involving open-ended tasks and real data help develop an understanding of users as searchers and the various usage scenarios for your particular search environment. When getting …

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“ On the web, your messaging should be a key part of your overall content strategy; it should inform your decisions about what to publish, the way your content is written, your design, and the imagery you use.”

Content May Rule the Web, but Message Comes First

What would you say if someone walked up to you and asked, “Who are you?” and then, “What is important about your work?” These are questions your website must answer in a matter of seconds, or risk losing its visitors. Yet many organizations’ websites fall short of answering these questions. As many of my new clients say, “Our website doesn’t tell our story.”

The key to answering fundamental questions on your website is to define the unique value of your organization and your work in a way that people can readily understand. You have to know what you want to say (the message), before determining how you’ll communicate it (strategy and tactics).

Many organizations skip the messaging step and jump straight into strategy, figuring out how they will reach their target audiences before they define what they want to communicate. Without coherent messaging, their websites may emphasize the wrong things—for example, a low-impact aspect of their work. Or, their websites may try to emphasize too much, becoming a virtual brain-dump packed with information yet hard to understand. (Think of overly …

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“ Make it a habit to ask the tough questions about your content and let go of it if it doesn’t clearly serve your organization or your users.”

Who Needs Your Content?

Part of my job as a user experience consultant is to impress upon my clients the importance of content in creating an experience. Relevant, useful, and usable content is core to the user experience on any website—and a content strategy is the necessary plan for ensuring that content is produced, assessed, and maintained.

The Problem

Many organizations give lip service to the importance of content and content strategy but have no governing processes or standards for content. They haven’t trained content providers to write for the web. They haven’t assigned responsibility for producing and updating content. They haven’t established rules for who gets to make decisions about various areas and aspects of the website. They don’t have editorial standards or an editorial calendar. These organizations typically have problems with their content—it’s outdated, or inconsistent, or poorly written, or disorganized, or all of these things.

But even the organizations that have taken some steps to ensuring good content may fail at one very difficult but vital step: Asking, “Who needs this?” That’s the question that can keep you from producing content that …

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Guarding Your Web Project Against Disruptive Newcomers

I recently spoke to a group of staff at an association about to start a website redesign. They were concerned about how to insulate their project against eleventh-hour changes and “rethinks” by new leaders who may be elected or hired during the project.

This is not an uncommon problem–a new hire or new president coming on board in the midst of a large project, asking disruptive questions. The questions can be whimsical (“Why is there so much blue in the new design? I hate blue.”) or strategic in nature (“The new website should focus only on this subset of our members.”). What to do?

Do Your Homework, and Don’t Let the Dog Eat It. The first step in mitigating the “newcomer” risk is basing your website strategy on a firm understanding of your organization’s business goals and the things your target audiences need, want, think, and will act on. This requires research–interviews, surveys, analytics, usability testing–and the involvement of all major stakeholders, including the groups of stakeholders who could pose a risk later if they are not included and on …

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