I truly enjoyed and learned from all the sessions at the Enterprise UX conference today.  But as Maya Angelou says:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

For me, these storytelling sessions had the most emotional impact and resonance of the day.  I truly enjoyed them all, but some will truly require watching the video to get the full effect.
Rachel Hallock & Ramya Mahalingham described the challenges of coming out of school and into their first jobs.  Driven by idealism or ego, they made mistakes which caused them to reflect on their approach, and even their career choices.  It was funny, and it resonated with me because we see many of the same challenges and opportunities for our inexperienced hires.  Someone noted on Slack that Ramya was the first speaker of color on stage … something that we hope to see change over time.Following that, Emileigh Barnes talked about her work at the FEC.  She described the ‘jungle tactics’ necessary to survive on a project where there have been twenty (!) years of content without a unified content strategy.  Her recommendations included:

  1. Take stock of where you are – perhaps wth a content inventory.  In the case of the FEC, there were 40K URLs and (no surprise) lots of duplication.
  2. A single step forward – find something small with low risk and high reward, and launch it as search as possible.  That helps to build project support and momentum, especially because the first set of content approvals are always the hardest.
  3. Arm yourself with data – record your usability tests, for example.  She also described running the FEC content through a readability index.  The first version (baseline) was 16K words, and read like the Harvard Law Review.  😃  In the end, they launched a page that was 1600 words, and read at the high school level.  A strong step in the right direction.
  4. Notice the difference between a hard and a soft constraint.  What you have to work around and what you can hack?  For example, the FEC website is cited in Supreme Court language, so some language has to be technically precise.  In those cases, they used an open source glossary tool. But, in contrast, if your content gets totally redlined during the content review, you have to treat it as you would usability testing – don’t just do what you’re asked, probe for the underlying need.

Matt Desio had a wonderful presentation about his work on contractor status, a complex context involving OSHA, insurance, and critical certifications.  That status was distilled into three flags – green for go, yellow because there is some note on the record, and red for stop – don’t let the contractor onsite.  As far as he could tell, the only instantly firable offense was to screw with the flags.  Which he did.  In spite of engagement with stakeholders and the VP of technology, the COO was unhappy.  He thought he would be asked to leave.  But then they got some customer feedback (which hadn’t happened in the past), and more feedback, and even more after that.  Their audience loved the solution.

Their users were mostly male, and as most of us know, 1:12 men have some form of color blindness.  There was one emotional call to the call center, where one customer confessed that the solution had helped him deal with his secret shame of being colorblind.

Matt reminded us that our design solutions should not make people ashamed of something they have no control.  Those things ended up saving his job.  You might not need them to save yours, but if you take a lesson from Matt, you might be able to help somebody else do theirs.

Elisa Miller talked about the challenges of introducing new titles, levels, and salary bands for the UX team where she works.  It was a very challenging two year process, and she is hopeful now that it will be rolled out in July this year.

I think Jess Zolna’s presentation is one that you just have to watch.  I thought it was terrific – it was almost a spoken word performance, and not a story.  He talks about ‘those damn know-it-alls’.  In spite of his background in psychology, and the expertise in the UX team, he finds again and again that our research is lauded and cited when it suits the interests of his stakeholders.  And then every aspect of what we do – methodology, protocol, findings, synthesis – are challenged when they threaten the agenda of those we were hired to help.  Watch it if you can.

Teena Singh describes herself as the unsung hero of Enterprise UX.  Yes, the user is the star.  Yes, the researcher gets the limelight when findings are synthesized and shared.  She described herself as the Brooklyn Bridge, spanning from Manhattan to Brooklyn.  Through in her work, she brings design to life through research, by supporting research recruiting and execution for her teams.

For me the highlight of the storytelling sessions was the one by Lada Gorlenko.  It was truly a performance, and a must watch when the videos are made available.  She describes how everyone in her family goes into medicine, and that she had the Hippocratic Oath memorized before she started school.  But – in spite of those family traditions – she opted for a black turtleneck instead of a lab coat.  Lada describes her work at Microsoft on Skype, more than ten years ago now. She said that loved our product and hated it at the same time, but that there was so much excitement around the new technology that we did not do enough to talk about the unintended consequences.  Her plea to us was do ‘do no harm’ – stay true to that Hippocratic Oath.

3 Comments on “Storytelling”

  1. Pingback: Reflecting on the Enterprise UX conference - Putting people first

  2. Great stuff Natalie.
    I am writing an internal blog here at ADP that will be summarizing the conference for our teams. I am going to be sharing your amazing posts and sketch notes.

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