Questions, Secret Santa, and the Ocean

I’ve written a few things over the past few months since publishing that chapter in Smashing Magazine’s New Perspectives on Web Design, but none of them have managed to land here. So let’s fix that.

The Web of Questions

First, I published an article on Blend’s company blog: Iterate. This time, I dropped some thoughts on questions – the questions we ask in the beginning to help guide a project, and the questions we continue to ask on through to launch and beyond.

From Iterate: “The Web of Questions”

Our web is a complicated web, because people are complicated beings. The web is made for people, and the web is made of people, so if we don’t understand people we cannot understand the web. These are the basic truths of the Internet. It was made by people, and it serves people, and it requires people to keep it working.

There are a lot of questions wrapped up in those thoughts. That’s fitting. Without questions, there is no web. There is no understanding – no “user experience” and no “responsive design”; no “content strategy” and no “agile development.” There’s no reason. It’s just words and websites and images. It’s form without function.

So we probe. We learn. We confirm and reiterate. We ask questions not just to learn, but to shape the conversation. Some questions help us teach complex concepts, providing breaks in the conversation for reflection. Some questions help us listen, the answers not as important as the process. Questions are fuel for discovery and method – from those that produce single-word answers (and the underlying currents that those answers produce) to those that make us rethink our entire process.

A Too Serious Post on ROI

A few weeks later, I participated in the first ever content strategy Blog Secret Santa, which saw a whole bunch of people write a whole bunch of articles (anonymously and with little context) for posting on each other’s sites on Christmas Day. I posted one from a stranger on this site, and then I wrote one for Jess Lawless’ blog which turned out to be a bit of a ramble on how measurements like ROI, while important, shift the conversation from “should we do this” to “is there a concrete value in what we’re doing,” dragging us away from the idea of doing things for the good of the whole.

From Jess Lawless’ blog: “A Too Serious Post on ROI”

We’re at a point in our industry when some clients can’t be convinced, or require a level of convincing that goes beyond what the project requires. Some small businesses require an extra level of attention, but others are continually suspicious and are more work than they’re worth.

Our job? It’s to be understanding, and empathetic, and to do right by our clients. To be honest when we’re asked “how do we know this will work?” by answering truthfully: “We can’t promise anything, because we cannot predict the future.”

We do not have an exact metric that proves the question of content strategy, just as we don’t have metrics that prove the value of certain design trends or certain content management systems. But we do have a community that’s willing to share successes and failures, and we have insight through past projects and analytics that can inform our decisions.

The Ocean

Finally, last month I wrote a post that’s only partially related to content strategy, but still affects the work of those of us who have to travel often. It’s kind of about touching the ocean for the first time, and it’s kind of about being away from my children, but mostly it’s about how travel changes us and what we can do to make it work.

From Black Marks on Wood Pulp: “The Ocean”

I used to dream of airports. Each was something new – a way to experience the thrills I had only encountered in a Choose Your Own Adventure. There was freedom in knowing that, given the right situation and the right funds, I could go anywhere. ANYWHERE. Any damned where I pleased, with just a few hundred dollars and the proper identification.

I still do dream of airports, but in a different way. Now, they’re weird nightmares, where I miss my flight or I show up too late to conduct a meeting.

At some point last year, travel became an occupational hazard; each ticket was a debt to my life, and though I enjoyed myself when I was supposed to enjoy myself, I had unwillingly traded my dreams for anxieties. I measured each new city by the number of days I had remaining – the number of days until I could return home. And I began to fear the consequences of enjoying travel too much, of getting too comfortable being on the road.

There’s no way to be peaceful with a new city if you’re rushing to do business and counting the days. There’s no more discovery: there’s only debt.