This year I attended my first WordCamp. Throughout the conference I saw some great speakers talking about everything from design and content strategy to all things WordPress. This post is a review of my experience and highlights a few of the key insights I gained from the presentations I was able to attend.
One of the early speakers at the conference was Travis Totz, a designer and strategist. His design-centered talk entitled: Defining a Clear Path, stressed the importance of setting project goals and recommended a four step process to achieve the best results.
- Discover – First, a designer must learn all that he can about the project and client. To accomplish this, Totz recommends meeting with your client over and over again, taking notes, researching the competition and stakeholders, understanding the requirements, determining the audience, and gathering content early. Totz emphasized how important it is that content drive the design and not the other way around. A designer must know the reasoning behind everything they create, without which, it becomes nearly impossible to arrive at any well-designed solution.
- Define – In this phase of the design process, one defines the scope of the project and preferably writes everything out. Totz advocates for making things measurable, always asking why, and being sure to review your previously gathered content thoroughly. Then creating an action plan including a schedule, project focus, and figuring out who’s designing and building every part of the project.
- Design – Finally, the fun phase, where one utilizes all they’ve learned to design away!
- Deliver – This often includes a presentation to the client or some form of an explanation about the final design.
In addition to this relatively standard design process, Totz pointed out how important it is for a designer to study business. This is where I personally have a much greater degree of learning to do. If anyone has some good resources or recommendations to help a designer master “the art of business,” please let me know. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Finally, a great quote from Travis’s presentation was a reminder that
“Context is more important than consistency.”
i.e. It’s ok to be inconsistent if your design makes sense that way. Always remember to put people first, and give them what matters.
Next, James Archer, gave a fantastic presentation entitled: Design for Intention: Getting Users to Do What You Want and was the highlight of the conference for me. In his talk, Archer explained how to encourage users to take action through design.
He began with a discussion on ethics through a brief explanation of Milton Glaser’s Road to Hell, a series of questions Glaser designed to make advertising and design students question the moral and ethical nature of their chosen profession. A fascinating read, the questions are meant to progressively challenge the student’s ethical responsibility beginning with the subtle 1. Would you design a package to look larger on the shelf? to the extreme 10. Would you design an ad for a product whose continued use might cause the user’s death? As an interesting note, Glaser reportedly always had one or two students who would make it all the way through question ten.
With the ethical discussion out of the way, Archer explained the persuasive design model which, upon further research, is based on BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model illustrated here.
Fogg’s model shows that for any behavior to occur, motivation, ability, and a trigger must converge. For example, if a task is very difficult to accomplish, a highly motivated user will still complete it and conversely, if a task is very easy to do, someone needs only the slightest amount of motivation to accomplish it. Finally, a trigger, or invitation to perform the action must be present to spur the action.
Archer’s recommended model for persuasive design is to then 1. Motivate the user. 2. Simplify the experience. 3. Invite the user to do what you’d like them to do.
- Remind the users of their motivations. Roughly translated from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and similar studies, Archer highlights five things people desire: Security, Pleasure, Affiliation, Aspiration, and Identity and demonstrated each through real world website examples.
- Simplify the requirements. After going over the hierarchy of UX, (functionality, intuitiveness, efficiency, comfort, and delight) Archer described the Flow Model explaining that we learn best when the challenge and our skill level are comparable; otherwise boredom or anxiety occur.
- Invite. Finally, invite the user to take your desired action. The trigger in the Behavior Model, is like selling anything really. It’s a courtship process, making sure there is a next step, or call to action, and not being afraid to ask for the sale.
Overall Archer was an excellent speaker with great sources, tons of real world examples, and imparted enriching thought. If you’d like to see his presentation yourself he has made it available on his site.
Lastly, Jennifer Bourn gave a wonderful talk entitled, Path to Conversion: Storytelling Through Theme Design. In it, she discussed web design as the primary tool for communicating a company’s story, emphasizing the role it plays in shaping brand perception, audience emotion, and telling a story that produces results and resonates with clients and their customers. With a personal fondness for the premise of this lecture, as my educational background involves visual storytelling, I was amazed at how articulate Bourn was in explaining the relationship between web design and storytelling. A brief review of my notes follows.
- Content is hard for clients. You need to act as a discoverer and get to know your clients and their passions intimately. They have deep passion and knowledge of a subject, but have a visibility problem. It becomes the designer’s job to identify and explain the obstacles a client must overcome.
- A website is the foundation of a powerful brand platform and a critical piece in sharing their story. Gone are the days of brochure websites, instead sites are acting as hubs and central points of the company.
- Why do websites struggle for success? The answer is often simple: clutter. Deciding what is important is incredibly challenging. Oftentimes businesses don’t have enough clarity to focus, thus the importance of really understanding your client. You must help them pinpoint and prioritize the desired action. Figure out exactly what you want a user to do rather than being desperate for any type of action. You may have more than one desired action but be sure to prioritize! I am reminded here of Kurt Vonnegut’s storytelling rule, “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.” I feel a lot of the marketing in this world suffers from this form of generalized pneumonia.
- Like a storyteller, a designer’s goal should be to naturally guide a visitor through the company’s story. A typical website story looks like this: Here’s what we do. Here’s our opinion. Here’s some testimonials. Here’s your next action. It’s about giving users what they need, when they need it.
- Bourn ended with a discussion about long term design thinking, and some thoughts on future-proofing projects. She explained how it can be helpful to ask what direction your client sees the business taking in the next few years, as it could provide some valuable insight when building the site now.
As I conclude this post it is important to remember that this was only a handful of the sessions I attended over the two day event. Reflecting on this experience and writing/researching further into the discussed topics has been incredibly beneficial to me. I’d invite all designers, developers, marketers, or anyone whose work involves creating with WordPress to attend future events. Thank you WordCamp organizers, volunteers, speakers, and sponsors. I look forward to next year’s event!