Together London Podcast show

Together London Podcast

Summary: In the Together London Podcast, Jonathan Kahn talks to digital professionals about how they deal with change in their work.

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 Laura Kalbag podcast interview: the value of being honest | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 30:27

In Episode 16 of the Together London Podcast, I talk to Laura Kalbag about being honest online, how being yourself improves client relationships, and why we should mentor people. Check out Laura's website, her upcoming Dare Conference talk, and follow her on twitter @laurakalbag. Listen to the podcast   Download MP3 file, subscribe in iTunes, or subscribe for email updates. Read the transcript Jonathan Kahn: I'm speaking to Laura Kalbag, who's joining me from Brighton today. She's a designer, and she's excited by web design and development. She's actually been a freelancer for her whole professional life, which we're going to talk about today. I'm really excited that Laura's going to be joining us at the Dare Conference to talk about honesty. Laura, thanks so much for taking the time to join me today. Laura Kalbag: Thank you having me. Jonathan: Tell me about that. You've been a freelancer for your whole professional life, and on your website, you've written, "I work mostly with small businesses, startups and individuals, because I value close working relationships and informal processes." Why are those things important to you? Laura: Well, I find that when you work with very large companies, often you can get bogged down in their process and their way of doing things. You don't really get a look in. I think, as a professional and an expert in your field, you need to be able to tell them the right processes to do in terms of web design and other design. You need to tell them what's most appropriate and what will help them get the best out of their design work. I think it's very difficult to lead if you are being an employee essentially to a massive corporation. I really like working with smaller businesses, startups, and just individuals that are doing the right thing because it means that I know that what I'm doing will actually have a huge value to them. I know that I can tell them the right way of doing things and they're likely to go, "Right, OK. I'm happy to do that." It means that I can really focus on their business, and the best way to get good results for them so that they're not just paying me to do something that they'll half ignore and get rid of in the next few months. They're actually paying me to do something which could have a really big effect on their business. Jonathan: That's really interesting, because I think a lot of the time we feel like a company's trying to buy our services, and they don't really understand what we can do and how that fits in. We have this challenge about how do we slot into the company's way of working? What you're saying sounds more like you're trying to teach people what you know or teach people how to work versus necessarily solving all their problems for them. Laura: Yeah, I think it is part of our job. It's part of our job to be able to communicate these things as well, to be able to communicate why we want to do the things the way that we do them. I think that we can't expect clients to know everything from the beginning. We can't expect them to know the best way of doing everything. That's why they hire us. Otherwise, why would they bother? [laughs] Jonathan: How do you talk about that? You're quite clear about you feel like you need to be providing value to people, which is fantastic. How do you actually talk about what that value is to the people you work with? Laura: I like to tell them very honestly what I think I can do for them. I can tell them, "What will a good design actually change for you?" It's not necessarily about making a site beautiful. It's about making a site usable. It's about providing value to their users, which will then increase things like brand loyalty and stuff like that. It's linking all of those things together, always explaining the why behind the what. I think not enough people really do that. They don't actually justify what they're doing. If someone comes back to you and goes, "Why do you want to do it that why?

 Ben Sauer podcast interview: communicating with compassion | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: Unknown

In Episode 15 of the Together London Podcast, I talk to Ben Sauer about speaking honestly, communicating with compassion, and being yourself at work. Check out Ben’s website, his upcoming Dare Conference talk, and follow him on twitter @bensauer. Listen to the podcast Download MP3 file or subscribe in iTunes. Read the transcript Jonathan Kahn: I'm speaking to Ben Sauer, who's joining me from Brighton today. Ben is a UX Designer. He loves thinking about the bigger picture and how to change the systems we inhabit. We're really excited that Ben's going to be joining us at the Dare Conference in London in September to talk about how speaking honestly wins and loses friends. Ben, thank you so much for taking the time to join me today. Ben Sauer: Hi. Thanks. It's nice to talk to you. Jonathan: You're a UX Designer, and you're currently working at Clearleft in Brighton. I looked on the website, and it says that you plan and design the impact of a particular business culture on users and customers. What does that mean? Ben: You've got me there. I start to think about rewriting, actually. Jonathan: [laughs] Ben: The truth behind it is that often we get asked to design a product or a service, and that product or service is an expression of the values of that organization. Sometimes, we need to explore what those values mean and how they get expressed. That's one part of it, understanding those values. That's often not so explicit at the beginning. That might mean changing those values for their future road map. The other thing is that we talk a lot about working kaizen. I don't know if anybody's heard of that. It's the idea that you're continually improving. Often the products we work on, we work on for six months, and then we're out of the picture. Of course, they're like our babies. We want them to fly, and we're not involved with them any more. We're trying to encourage this practice of continual improvements. That's often very hard for the organizations that we deal with because they have day jobs and tasks that are already taking up their time. The idea of continually improving their products can be a resource squeeze, or they haven't worked that way before. Does that make sense? Jonathan: That does make sense. Kaizen, I think that came from the Japanese, Toyota and Lean and all that stuff. It's about trying to continually improve stuff and reduce waste and not thinking about things in a linear way but in an iterative way. Ben: Yes, absolutely. That's very, very important to us. In our iterative designing, in making products a success later on, what are you measuring or improving? It's very common that the organizations I work with treat digital products as a one-off thing that they do every few years. Then it doesn't get that kaizen approach later on. Jonathan: It's interesting you say that because I speak to quite a few people who say that they work in agencies, and the challenge with agencies is this short-term, project-based approach. Sometimes, we'll say, "That's because of the company who's buying it." Maybe, sometimes, we'll blame the agency for selling it. It seems like it's actually a broader problem than just agencies. Almost every business you can think of thinks of the web as something that you're just going to do and leave. Karen McGrane calls it "redecorating the lobby." You do it every five years, and you leave it. That's not how these things work. I'm interested to hear how you guys at Clearleft are trying to...What's helped you guys to try and get people to think in that kaizen way? I suppose that's my question. Ben: It's hard to say whether I've been successfully... [laughter] Ben: ...involved in that culture at this point. I talk about it a lot. I'm not really sure how much change I've really made. You mentioned Toyota. It's talking about existing products or services that are successful and often how they started out with something completely different. If you want to talk about Lean,

 Nishant Kothary podcast interview: using soft skills to make things happen | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 43:51

In Episode 14 of the Together London Podcast, I talk to Nishant Kothary about using soft skills to make things happen, how our brains deceive us, and why understanding other people is crucial for our success. Check out Nishant’s website, his upcoming Dare Conference talk, and follow him on twitter @rainypixels. Listen to the podcast Download MP3 file or subscribe in iTunes. Read the transcript Jonathan Kahn: I'm speaking to Nishant Kothary. He's joining me today from Seattle. He's worked for Microsoft and Amazon. He now works on his own startup, and he has multidisciplinary web skills. He's going to be joining us at the Dare Conference in September, which we're really excited about. Nishant, thank you so much for taking the time to join me today. Nishant Kothary: Thanks for having me. Jonathan: As I was just saying, you've worked at big tech companies like Amazon and Microsoft, and now you're working with your wife, Pita, on a startup. My first question is how did working at Amazon and Microsoft shape your approach and your outlook? Nishant: That's a good place to start. I like to say my approach and outlook were shaped under duress, but I think of that in a very positive way. Working at a corporation is never easy, particularly for someone who's a heavy introvert like myself. I test as an extreme extrovert on Myers-Briggs, so go figure. [laughter] Nishant: You have to understand people, their conscious, but more importantly, their unconscious motives and behaviors to work in a corporation. That doesn't come naturally to someone who's more at ease with Lego, a guitar, a book, a computer, or a dog. [laughs] I really had to stretch myself at both companies to operate mostly out of my comfort zone. At Amazon, for instance, I was a program manager on Instant Video. It was called something else back then. Then I did a short stint on Kindle. The program manager is the guy who's in charge, but he has no part of the software design or development team reporting to him. You have all of the influence and none of the authority. But if the product doesn't ship on time, and the right thing doesn't ship, it's my butt on the line. At Microsoft, I wore several hats, from being a web strategist or an evangelist to driving keynote addresses. What all of those things had in common was that they relied on my ability to influence people without having any authority over them. Oddly enough, Microsoft and Amazon, which are both large corporations, and you generally don't credit large corporations with giving you these kinds of skills, gave me my "people skills." What I didn't realize, oddly enough, in the process of learning...How do I put it? What I didn't realize back then was, in the process of learning about how people and about how I think and act, I would become a better designer. That's always a work in progress. But if Pita and I succeed at building something meaningful and hopefully profitable, I'll owe a large part of it to Microsoft and Amazon because they inadvertently put a gun to my head and then pushed me out of my comfort zone. That's what really helped. Jonathan: That's so interesting because you're saying that someone like Microsoft, which people might assume is like a command and control-type culture -- someone who has never worked in a big company, for example, me -- I might assume that everyone there is kind of military, and, if you've got a job title, then people just do what you say. Yet you're telling me that you have to convince people to do things without having any actual, official power to do stuff. How is that the case? Nishant: More so than Microsoft, let me use Amazon as an example. Amazon, when I worked there, probably had 12,000 people. Microsoft, when I worked there, was about 75 to 80,000 people worldwide. That's huge. It just blows away Dunbar's number. Jonathan: It's a number you can't imagine…

 Kevin Hoffman podcast interview: facilitating design & growing through crisis | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 43:19

In Episode 13 of the Together London Podcast, I talk to Kevin Hoffman about how to fix meetings, facilitating great design, and growing through crisis. Check out Kevin’s website, his upcoming Dare Conference talk, and follow him on twitter @kevinmhoffman. Listen to the podcast Download MP3 file or subscribe in iTunes. Read the transcript Jonathan Kahn: I'm speaking to Kevin Hoffman who's joining me from Philadelphia. He's a design strategist and he's been building stuff with pixels since '95. He now leads digital strategy projects for a variety of well-known brands. He's joining us in September in London for the Dare Conference. Kevin, thank you so much for joining me. Kevin Hoffman: My pleasure. Jonathan: One of your specialist subjects--I think the thing that I've heard about most from you-- is this idea of improving meetings. Why did you get into that topic? Kevin: I started thinking about it when I worked in higher education before I worked in agencies. I was a webmaster in the '90s and early 2000s at colleges and universities. Universities are really interesting culturally, because universities always, regardless of the university I've worked with, and I've worked with about 4 or 5-actually about 10 if you count ones I've worked with while I've been at an agency. But I've been on internal teams at about four or five different universities. I feel like it's risky to say anything is universal to a certain kind of culture, but I do feel like university cultures usually have this tendency to be very democratic to a fault. Like almost egalitarian in that they'll have standing meetings for vice presidents, or open meetings where students can come and make their voices heard, or whatever. No matter what the meeting, if you're in that meeting --whether you've been invited or it's open-- there's always this kind of unwritten cultural agreement that anything anyone has to say has value. That's really nice. I feel like that's a good value, but the flip side of that is there's not really a clear path for what role those meetings are playing in the larger process. The assumption is that the leadership is going to take what they learn from that meeting away and go apply it to something and bring it back, but in actuality those meetings, to me, they felt almost like a lack of confidence. Like, "We're not sure what we're doing. We just want to make sure that every single person we can ask is OK with it." Jonathan: Right, so it sounds like the consensus… people talk about consensus like we must reach consensus on this before we can act. Kevin: Yeah. The way you're phrasing it right there is the problem in that the time to have the meeting is before you act. A lot of the meetings that I have attended, and a lot of the meetings in the design process if you kind of create genres of meetings out of the design process like critiques, design reviews, or sign off meetings, or whatever. A lot of them are too late to really be involved, and as a result they feel kind of deceptive. Or they feel like, "I've come to this discussion, but my insights or ideas don't really matter because a lot of stuff has already been decided." Jonathan: It's like people are going to read something out from a sheet about what has already been decided in this kind of passive voice. And it's like, "Well, then why am I here?" Kevin: Yeah. That's why I became interested in the process, because I felt like there's this false division in our heads of, "Well, when I'm in meetings I don't do work, and when I'm by myself I do do work." I feel like that happens for a lot of people, myself included. I have days where I have meetings that are very low calorie, or high calorie low value. I don't know. Whatever the candy analogy would be. Jonathan: [laughs] Kevin: But there are also meetings where I get a lot of energy and value and actionable information from. I started to look at it as a design problem.

 Sophie Dennis podcast interview: redefining success by writing your own rules | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 47:49

In Episode 12 of the Together London Podcast, I talk to Sophie Dennis about redefining success by writing your own rules, the problem with waterfall, and setting up a local web community. Check out Sophie’s website, her upcoming Dare Conference talk...

 Daniel Eizans podcast interview: mental models and structured content at Ford | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 32:15

In Episode 11 of the Together London Podcast, I talk to Daniel Eizans about context in content strategy, mental models, and structured content at Ford Motor Company. Check out Dan’s website and follow him on twitter @danieleizans. Listen to ...

 Rob Hinchcliffe podcast interview: community management & transmedia storytelling | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: Unknown

In Episode 10 of the Together London Podcast, I talk to Rob Hinchcliffe about community management, transmedia storytelling, and content strategy. Check out Rob’s website, his upcoming talk at Confab London, and follow him on twitter @hinchcliffe. ...

 Wiep Hamstra podcast interview: becoming an agent of change | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: Unknown

In Episode 9 of the Together London Podcast, I talk to Wiep Hamstra from the Netherlands about accessibility, how to structure web teams, and becoming an agent of change. Check out Wiep's website, her upcoming talk at Confab London, and follow her on twitter @wiepstra. Listen to the podcast Download MP3 file or subscribe in iTunes. Read the transcript Jonathan Kahn: I'm talking to Wiep Hamstra, who is a content strategist based in The Netherlands. Wiep, thanks so much for taking the time to join me. Wiep Hamstra: Thank you. Jonathan: What is your background? How did you get involved in content strategy? Wiep: I studied science of communications. I worked in a variety of jobs mostly in advice, writing, and editing. One day, I discovered that there was nobody responsible for the Web. I started to work like a content strategist without knowing I was one [laughs] until I read the book of Kristina Halvorson. Jonathan: You've actually a book with some other people, which is in Dutch. Wiep: Yes. Jonathan: Because of Google Translate, I've been able to look at the website and understand what it says. It's called "The Secret of the Government Website." Is that a good translation? Wiep: Yes, it is. Jonathan: Can you tell us about why you wrote that book and what it's about? Wiep: This book really is about how to include accessibility in Web writing. I was asked to write the book as a Web editor, because, at the time, most people thought accessibility was something for the tech people, the tech stuff about CMSs and videos. But it really is something which is in writing. Jonathan: Yeah, in the content. Wiep: In the content, yeah. Maybe it's a nice story to tell about. It was in 2004. I worked in a very small municipality. One day...How do we call it...of legal, the legal department. Jonathan: A lawyer, so a lawyer...Yeah, legal department. Wiep: He said, "When you are making your website, you really should go to [the Dutch web accessibility guidelines] because it's a legal part of it. I thought... Jonathan: So like the web guidelines, or the guidelines for... Wiep: Yes. Jonathan: The guidelines in the Netherlands for accessibility of websites? Wiep: Yes. Jonathan: OK. Wiep: At that point, I dove in and I found out it really was easy. At first, I didn't want to find out, but later on I thought well, it's just easy. It's making right markup and good links and testing stuff. And so, I dove in, and I think I was the first web writer who was busy with [Dutch accessibility guidelines] at the time. Jonathan: So you're saying that the principles that were already in the law about how we should develop accessible websites, you actually felt that they were kind of similar to the principles of how to create good content, full stop? Wiep: Yes. Jonathan: And so, when you wrote the book, you're saying this book is mainly about how to make government websites accessible? Wiep: Yes. In fact, I wrote two books. First of all, it was about a discovery of those rules and writing them down and how to put them in a web project. And afterwards, I was asked to write a new book, and that was by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. I decided well, it's not the web project, it's a process. I rewrote it all over and tried to include web standards and accessibility in the process of writing. Then I found out that it was not the writing, but it was the organizing stuff. And then I found out it was the organizing stuff with the right people. Then I found out it was the organizing stuff with the right people in the right places with the right words. That's what my book is about and how the Web professional can be the agent of change. Jonathan: Fantastic. You've actually moved from starting off with how do we make the website accessible all the way to how do we organize our companies.

 Kate Kiefer Lee podcast interview: voice & tone at MailChimp | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: Unknown

In Episode 8 of the Together London Podcast, I talk to Kate Kiefer Lee from MailChimp about voice and tone, writing for people's emotions, and how to make blogging part of your job. Check out Kate’s blog at, the amazing Voice and Tone web...

 Angela Colter podcast interview: testing content, low literacy & continuous improvement | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: Unknown

In Episode 7 of the Together London Podcast, I talk to Angela Colter about testing content, considering users with low literacy skills, and continuous improvement. Check out Angela's blog and publications and follow her on twitter @angelacolter. Listen to the podcast Download MP3 file or subscribe in iTunes. Read the transcript Jonathan Kahn: I'm talking to Angela Colter, who's joining me from Philadelphia today. She's a user researcher and usability consultant, and she's been designing information for people, both online and in print, since 1997. Angela's Principal of Design Research at Electronic Ink in Philadelphia, and she's presented worldwide at conferences like UPA, Confab, STC, IA Summit, and the Plain Language Association. So, Angela, thanks so much for taking the time to join me today. Angela Colter: My pleasure. Jonathan: According to your website, you've been working in information design since '97, originally as a print designer. So what I want to know is, how did you end up in the usability field, and how did that lead you to content? Angela: So I started working as a graphic designer after I finished my master's degree at a college outside of Baltimore, Maryland. And what I found was that, while I was doing print design work, I found that, in many cases, I felt like the clients, the internal folks at the college that I was doing work for, were very interested in getting their message out. So, "This is the message that we want to get to our students, prospective students, and so forth." But I found it a little frustrating that the conversation was all about the information that the department wanted to communicate out, but there was very little acknowledgement of what kind of information their audience was looking for or needed from them. So, it was a frustration that grew over the course of my career, until I sort of stumbled onto the field of, initially, information architecture. So, this idea of cataloging information, of organizing it in such a way that made it easy for people to find. So I thought, "Ah, that's pretty interesting. I'll go back and take a course on information architecture." But it just so happened that the course was only offered once a year, and it wasn't offered [laughs] the semester that I had intended to take it. And instead, there was available a research-methods class, where you learned the basics of usability testing and user research. So I had intended to do one thing, after becoming sort of disillusioned with the career that I had chosen, and by accident, I suppose, hit on this other sort of career interest. That was about 10 years ago, and I've been doing that ever since. Jonathan: OK. I think you're best known as a usability person. So how did that lead you to presenting and writing and talking so much about content? Angela: Yeah, so that's a very interesting question. I suppose that, with doing usability testing, mostly for websites, early in my career, I worked on a project with my graduate adviser on creating guidelines--print guidelines, in this case--for people with low literacy skills. And that project sort of expanded into, "Well, now that we've got these guidelines established for how to communicate health-care information to people who don't read easily, how would you translate that to a website?" So if you've got print guidelines, what are the corresponding web guidelines? It was just very early in my experience with usability that I was exposed to this idea of different audiences that had different needs from content and how do you satisfy those needs. I don't know. It just sort of happened that way, that content came, and how we communicate with our audiences just sort of happened, I suppose, organically, as part of the beginnings of doing this type of work. Jonathan: OK. And so, I think I first came across your work when you wrote an article for "A List Apart Magazine" in December 2010,

 Nicole Jones podcast interview: content strategy at Facebook | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: Unknown

In Episode 6 of the Together London Podcast, I talk to Nicole Jones about designing content, content strategy at Facebook, and being a maker. Check out Swell Content and Born Hungry, and follow Nicole on twitter @nicoleslaw. Listen to the podcast Download MP3 file or subscribe in iTunes. Read the transcript Jonathan: I’m talking to [...]

 Gabriel Smy podcast interview: small businesses, blogging and being honest | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: Unknown

In Episode 5 of the Together London Podcast, I talk to Gabriel Smy about content strategy for small businesses, blogging, and being honest. Check out his blogs: SmyWord, Verbatim Poetry, and The Tongues of Men, and follow him on twitter @gabrielsmy. Listen to the podcast Download MP3 file or subscribe in iTunes. Read the transcript [...]

 Erin Kissane podcast interview: editorial strategy, web magazines and trolls | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: Unknown

In Episode 4 of the Together London Podcast, I talk to Erin Kissane about what she learned editing A List Apart magazine, her book The Elements of Content Strategy, why she started Contents Magazine, and what we can do about the problem of harassment online. Follow Erin on twitter @kissane. Listen to the podcast Download [...]

 Kate Kenyon podcast interview: get your content strategy adopted | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: Unknown

In Episode 3 of the Together London Podcast, I talk to Kate Kenyon, content strategist for the BBC, eBay, the UK Government, Orange, and Expedia, about her career so far, getting content strategy adopted, and how to build a business case for change. Don’t miss Kate’s London workshop on 21 September. Listen to the podcast [...]

 Sara Wachter-Boettcher podcast interview: future-ready content | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: Unknown

In Episode 2 of the Together London Podcast, I speak to Sara Wachter-Boettcher, author of the upcoming Rosenfeld Media book “Content Everywhere”, about content strategy, future ready content, and how to change organisations. Don’t miss Sara’s London workshop on 21 September. Listen to the podcast Download MP3 file or subscribe in iTunes. Read the transcript Jonathan [...]


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