Book: Just Enough Research by Erika Hall, published by A Book Apart.

Chapter 1

(Begins with lots of explanation of basic vs. applied vs. design research)

In design research, context is everything. Better you know the current state of things, the better you will be positioned to innovate.

User centered design:

  • Expose patterns in human behavior
  • Explore reactions
  • Shed light on the unknown.

Design research requires us to approach familiar things as if they were unknown to see clearly.

Research is not asking people what they like. Like is not part of a critical thinker’s vocab. It’s a superficial and self reported mental state.

Chapter 2

Involve people (espec. higher ups) in the research so they’ll be more likely to adopt changes.

It’s more fun to be the smart person with the insights than be told what to do by the smart person.

Doing research together makes the team more collaborative:

  • Someone needs to be the lead – keeping things on track, responsibility for the work.
  • Everybody needs to know:
    1. Purpose of research
    2. Goal “”
    3. Their role
    4. Process

Include research activities that support specific decisions we anticipate.

Begin with Generative Research – finding out what the problem is
“What’s up with the…?”

  • look at questions on social media
  • interviews
  • following people around

Next, tackle Descriptive Research – the best way to solve the problem we’ve identified
“What and how…?”

Then, Evaluative Research
“Are we getting close?”

  • Define potential solutions
  • Testing solutions – A/B testing, usability

Also, Casual Research – identify possible cause and effect relationships
“Why is this happening?”

For each project, clear identification of roles – assign them at the outset!

  • Author – plans and writes study
  • Interviewer/moderator – interacts w participants
  • Coordinator/scheduler – schedules w participants
  • Notetaker/recorder – not interviewer!
  • Recruiter –  screens participants
  • Analyst – analyzes data, looks for patterns
  • Documenter – reports findings
  • Observer – a good role for higher-ups! Can watch raw footage.

Being a responsible researcher means noting your bias

  • Design – are you biased on how the test is structured?
  • Sampling – is your sample biased?
  • Interviewer
  • Sponsor – softening results to client.
  • Social desirability – looking good to client

Research rigor- best practices

  • Phrase questions well
  • Set realistic expectations upfront
  • Be prepared
  • allow enough time to analyze
  • Take notes about EvEryThing!

Your email dings and you look up, heart sinking as you see the words “Add to website?” in the subject line. You open the email and scan the attachment, seeing 15 photos of people with their backs to the camera, standing in a field somewhere, looking at an unidentified small plant. Or people in a classroom doing…stuff?

Fascinating image
Tell me more!












The event details and photos are not exciting, they don’t align with your content strategy, and they don’t further your unit’s goals or users’ goals at all. But the person emailing you is faculty, or an adviser, or someone you want to keep a good working relationship with. But you do not, I MEAN DO NOT, want this content on your website.

What to do?

I’ve found it helpful to keep a list of tactics, deflections, and strategies designed to help you push back, and find a more appropriate place for this content.

For your allies (people who understand that you are more than just a webmaster):

  1. Ask them how this content serves site’s criteria for audience, goals, or message. I’ve found that it’s helpful to have a one or two sentence description of these topics so that you can refer to them quickly/copy & paste into an email.

For all others:

  1. Social Media – because I am not a social media manager, this is a really easy tactic for me to apply. YMMV. Content shared in social media will dilute the message and may reduce engagement. However, it will most likely “disappear” and not be a problem in a short amount of time.
  2. Email – If this is content that would be appropriate for a limited audience, send it through email.
  3. Archive – If the photos are good, high quality photos that could (in theory) be used in different ways, add it to an (off line) photo archive for future promotion.

What do you do when you are told to “put it on the website”?

Hey there!

The CAS Web Team will be holding open office hours this Thursday, February 11 from 2-4 pm.

Please stop by Strand 200 or call us at 7-5641. We’re here to answer (or direct) your Drupal or WordPress questions or talk about any content questions/plans you may have!

We hope to see you.

(I am talking about the visual brand – the voice & tone is another issue entirely) 

I spend a lot of time convincing people as to the importance of following Oregon State’s brand identity guidelines. I’m a true follower-if for no reason other than I am lazy and want the way-more-talented designers and site builders do the work for me.

But also I believe every good site we publish that adheres to our guidelines is a chance for us to deliver on our brand promise, and amplify the awesome work that Oregon State does. That doesn’t mean, however, that I am not thrown for a loop when faculty, staff, or students argue with me that they can’t possibly follow the branding guidelines for very important reasons.

I thought I’d list the most common arguments that I hear and how I respond to them. I’d like this to be a useful post for all web workers on campus, so let me know if you have faced arguments and how you encourage and convince people to follow our brand identity.

Most common argument: “But it’s boring!” usually followed by showing me something terrible for accessibility with Javascript rollovers and the like.

Counter with:

  • The content is what’s important on a site and what needs to set the site apart. Not boring content equals a not boring site.
  • That “cool” feature is actually not accessible to anyone using a screen reader, with visual difficulties, etc. Our OSU-branded websites have been evaluated for accessibility! Direct them to the Web Accessibility guidelines.
  • Following the branding guidelines means fewer decisions about design, color, and placement.

Argument: “But I don’t want it to look like an OSU site for reasons!” 

Counter with:

  • Are you using OSU resources, money, or people? Then it stands to reason that the website should be an OSU-branded property. (This occasionally backfires if it’s a joint research project. See Co-branding guidelines for more details.)
  • Using a OSU branded website instantly communicates to your stakeholders that this is an authoritative, official website. Provides credibility and authority that your name may not deliver.

Argument: “Why is this important? Why do you keep talking about it, come on!”

Counter with:

  • This website needs to uphold OSU reputation and promise to its stakeholders. One way of doing this is branding it correctly.
  • Our unified look allows us to speak with one powerful voice – across Oregon, the US and beyond.
  • Every website we create is another opportunity for us to emphasize what OSU stands for and what makes OSU special. Let’s do it!

Final Argument: “Ok well….I’m still going to do this awesome onmouseover event that breaks everything.”

Counter with: “As an employee of Oregon State, I follow branding guidelines. I will be unable to help you create this site.”

It is so, so hard to draw the hard line, but 9 times out of ten they’ll back down and realize that if they want help, brand guidelines it is!

What arguments have you used?

IMG_1302There is something comforting and exciting about attending a conference in a city that you are familiar with. While I love checking out new cities and going new places, when you are attending a conference that has intensive in the name, it helps to know your way around and to a few good restaurants. Because your brain power is nil at the end of the day.

I was lucky enough to attend Confab Intensive in September in Portland, along with Danielle Gabriel from the Oregon Wine Research Institute. Three days of a deep dive into the nitty gritty of content strategy, including analytics, governance, task identification, and coaching. We attended a few good sessions (and one dud, it’s a conference rule, I think). My favorite three sessions and their slides are:

The Core Model: Getting to Business While Making Friends by Ida Aalen and Audun Rundberg

Workflow and governance: Aligning your people and processes by Melissa Breker and Kathy Wagner

Coaching content strategy by Sara Wachter-Boettcher

Here are my main three takeaways from the conference:

  1. Facilitation is key – not telling people what to do, but by providing guidance and a smoother process with good governance, visible goals, and clear content strategy.
  2. Visibility and clarity is needed when it comes to content strategy and governance – Put effort into visual artifacts, explanations, goals, and deliverables. It helps me and it helps my internal users.
  3. It’s all about the CORE of a sitewhere users solve tasks and you reach your business objectives. From there you develop your inward paths and forward paths.


Please attend the Drupal Web Communications and Content Strategy meetup on September 22 (2-3:30pm, ALS 3005)  where Danielle and I will go in depth into each of our favorite sessions and describe what we learned and why we felt they were so useful.

See you there.


Talks I attended

Day 1

New Major – American Cool (Watch It)

Kenn Elmore, Dean of Students, Boston University 

How to keep it smart-and simple

Michael Freedman, Director of Editorial and Content, Stanford Graduate School of Business

Get with the program: Content strategy for program, major, and degree pages (slides)

Doug Gapinski, Strategist at mStoner

Rethinking mobile learning & the promise of flying cars

Andrew Smyk, Program Coordinator, Sheridan College

No content strategy? Try some content tactics (Watch It)

Lori Packer, Web Editor, University of Rochester

Lightning Talks (Watch Them

Note: they are all pretty good but start the video at 38:00 for the most entertaining talk. I have watched this more than once and laughed super hard.

Day 2

Show Your Work (Watch It

Austin Kleon, Author of Steal Like An Artist

The voyage of the beagle: Biology, evolution, and content strategy

Jeff Stevens, Assistant Web Manager, University of Florida Health Web Services

Ready, fire, aim: Putting first things first when you want results

Tom Taylor and Tony Proudfoot, Ball State 

Cardsorting for humanities: Context in usability testing (Watch It

Robin Smail, Penn State 

Non-invasive governance: Meeting people where they are

Shelley Keith, Director of Digital Communications, University of Mary Washington