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Co·sent: shared perception; joint knowledge; collective intelligence.

3 signs your communications project is off-track, and how to fix it with personas

Feb 23, 2015 | permalink | design research

Well-researched audience personas communicate deep insights

3 signs your communications project is off-track, and how to fix it with personas

The meeting was a disaster. It was supposed to be a "rubber-stamp" type of event, just to discuss a few questions, after the proposal and the budget had been approved already. After the design had been approved half a year ago, already.

Unfortunately, some key questions could not be answered.

3 questions to check your communications vision

To validate any communications project, three basic questions are useful:

  • Who are we serving with this project?
  • What will be the difference for them, a year from now, if we succeed?
  • How will we interact with our audience and improve their lives?

Boom. The client has some ideas, just enough to invalidate the current design. But at the same time, those ideas are vague enough that it is not possible to articulate design directions, or make decisions.

The standard Dutch reflex to such situations is: we need to have some more meetings to discuss this (codespeak for: let's try and negotiate our differences away).

That reflex is wrong. You don't need to negotiate opinions. You need more data.

Personas synthesize research based insights

If you're building web sites, or any service that people interact with, you need a clear picture of who your intended audience is. You don't get that picture by sitting at your desk. You need to get out of the building and interview real, live humans to find out what makes them smile. To find out how exactly your service can add value to their lives.

Once you've done that research, you can then summarize and synthesize the findings into audience personas, profiles of fictional people that represent a typical customer. Persona's show describe key aspects of a person's life, goals and behaviors. Below are some example personas, based on Mailchimp user research:

example personas developed by Mailchimp

Those personas then drive your design. They enable you to empathize with your audience. They enable you to create a design that touches people in their hearts. And they enable you to overcome the sometimes weird ideas of people holding purses, who happen to like the color "red", by grounding design decisions in a solid, data-driven understanding of audience needs and preferences.

Buyer personas

Originating in the realm of web design and service design, the use of audience personas is now also gaining traction in the world of marketing, in the form of buyer personas.

Instead of making stuff up about your customers, you can ask them for the five key insights you need to focus your strategy:

  1. Priority initiatives

    What business need drives them to search for a solution in your market space?

  2. Success factors

    What do buyers expect to achieve by implementing your solution?

  3. Perceived barriers

    Which were the reasons to not buy your solution? Make sure to also interview non-customers!

  4. Buyer's journey

    Who is involved in the decision making process, what resources are trusted?

  5. Decision criteria

    Which factors are key in weighing alternative options and making a purchasing decision?

Gaining a deep understanding of these five points is key not only for buyer personas, but for design personas in general.

If you've articulated these five insights, you'll know the answers to the who, what and how questions. You'll know who you're serving, what value you're adding, and how this fits into the lives of your audience. The rest is execution.

The takeaway

  • Don't be fuzzy.

    If you don't know the who, what and how: acknowledge you don't know enough.

  • You don't need to guess.

    Persona creation is a proven methodology for crafting data-informed audience profiles.

  • Just do it.

    Doing the legwork to develop true insights is hard work. But it's actionable, not magic.

  • Use it or lose it.

    Services and businesses that invest in a solid evidence-based understanding of their audiences' needs, will out-shine those who design and market is based on hunches.

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Plone Intranet Consortium

Dec 04, 2014 | permalink | intranet · open source · plone

Creating a new open source digital workplace platform.

At the Plone Conference 2014 in Bristol, Guido Stevens presented the Plone Intranet Consortium to an audience of Plone core developers. The presentation focused on the need for a new business model for open source development, and the specific traction we're achieving within the Consortium already.

Plone Conference 2014 - The Plone Intranet Consortium

The "spare time" model of doing open source is broken. We need a better model. In the Plone Intranet Consortium, a dozen Plone companies are jointly investing in the creation of a high-quality out-of-the-box open source intranet platform based on Plone. What is different is not just the funding model, but also the design-first approach we're taking.

Slides of the presentation are available on SlideShare:

Project Mercury

social intranet screenshot

The Consortium is now working on creating the alpha release, codename: Mercury, which is scheduled early 2015. We'll inform a wider audience via a website and a series of workshops, in the run-up to the Mercury release. Stay tuned!

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Social intranet sprint Berlin

Sep 15, 2014 | permalink | intranet · plonesocial · plone

A week of intense collaboration in Berlin has significantly accelerated the development of a new Plone-based social intranet platform.

Social intranet sprint Berlin

The Plone social intranet sprint in Berlin at the Humboldt University was attended to by about 16 participants across two tracks, plus a social program in the evenings. Apart from all the hard work we also had a lot of fun. Berlin is a vibrant city and the Ploners who are also Berliners took us to some great restaurants.

strategy track

The strategy track saw enthousiastic responses to a plan for joint investment by ~10 Plone companies into a new Plone intranet software suite. We'll use the coming weeks to solidify the momentum for this initiative and try and convert positive intentions into hard investment commitments.

A key part of the proposed plan is a design-first process to create a compelling user experience, leveraging Plone5-compatible frontend technologies. Netsight, Cosent and Syslab have already made an exploratory first iteration with this design process, focussed on re-designing the microblogging and social activity stream interactions in Plonesocial.

coding track

In the coding track, we've taken these new frontend designs and implemented them on top of the existing Plonesocial code base. The result is, that we now have a Patternslib based Plonesocial implementation that can be installed and run in a Plone 4 installation. Because Plone5 Mockup is also Patternslib-based, the work we're doing is forward compatible and will be easily portable to Plone 5.

In addition to implementing the existing Plonesocial features, the sprint also resulted in the integration of plonesocial.messaging (private one-on-one messages) and new "reply" functionality (conversation threading).

The new frontend introduces a host of new features that are not yet provided by the backend and need to be architected and coded: file uploads, URL and file previews, "@mentions", "liking", "favoriting" etc. Also, we're already working on extending the design with a number of subtle but powerful micro-interactions in the form of shortcodes to provide a pluggable linking system.

The current development version of Plonesocial is more advanced than the last released version, but it needs more work before we can make a production-quality release - so come and join us in the next sprint at Plone Conference 2014 in Bristol.

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Plone Intranet front end

Aug 04, 2014 | permalink | intranet · plone

Front-end development for ploneintranet has started.

While many people are still enjoying the beach, we're already gearing up to accelerate design and development for Plone Intranet this fall.

Following the Mosaic sprint and a ploneintranet summit in Gatwick we're now collaborating with with Syslab and Cornelis Kolbach. to turn wireframes and high-fidelity designs of social interactions into HTML/CSS/Javascript prototypes, using Patternslib (similar to Mockup).

This is a screenshot of some of the frontend work in progress:

social interaction prototype

We'll extend this work in the run-up to the Berlin sprint in September, which will be focussed on extending plonesocial and integrating it with ploneintranet.

Our goal is to provide a workable code base, that documents much of the design decisions we're making in a way that enables community collaboration.

The backend code we're working on is already open and published: see e.g. experimental.securityindexing, ploneintranet.workspace and collective.dynamicmosaic. We expect to fully open up the frontend code before the Plone conference this fall.

Please contact us if you're not a member of the Plone Intranet Consortium and would like to get involved and gain commit access to our development repositories.

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Plone Open Garden 2014

Apr 29, 2014 | permalink | plone

The Plone Open Garden event in Sorrento, Italy, is reliably a highlight of the year to look forward to.

This year's edition was no exception. More than 50 Plonistas, wives and kids (and even one mother-in-law) included, gathered to renew friendships, lounge in the sun, discuss arcane technologies after midnight, and generally have a great time together. Oh we also had technical presentations every morning.

PLOG 2014 group picture

We talked about intranets and ways in which we can jointly strengthen Plone as an intranet platform. Netsight and Cosent outlined their research and development timeline for the coming year and worked with other Plone companies to maximize community involvement.

A recurring topic this year was the question, how we can modernize the page layout engine for Plone. We already have a lot of machinery to manage layouts in the form of portlets, portlet managers, viewlets and METAL macros. In addition we have the newer blocks and tiles to further complicate the picture. The discussion oscillated between:

  • Let's stick with portlets. They are a proven, powerful and widely used technology.
  • The portlets machinery is wickedly complex and too burdensome.
  • The content + slots + portlets page model is overconstrained, a responsive grid renderer would be better.

Being technologists, we did not spend much energy on the first two points which are mostly about opinion. Rather, we focused on the last point which presents technical challenges. The gist of what we discussed can maybe best be expressed by a story:

A editor opens a page. On the "display" menu she chooses "create new layout". A layout editor opens and lets her place and arrange tiles on the page. For each tile, she defines a policy of when (context, view, ...) and where (priority, position hint) to show this tile. For the layout as a whole, she defines a policy where this layout should be used (context, type, subtree, ...). She checks previews of the layout for various display media (desktop, tablet, mobile), tunes some tile placements and then applies the layout.

This is just one possible scenario and it will likely change. To explore the possibilities we will get together in Barcelona in the second week of June and sprint to create a proof of concept.

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