Moving into the second day of HxR we’re seeing a clear trend toward not only mindful designing of the cognitive load of patients and associated audiences, but also how we need to design for the user. This reminded me of a project where we designing a content experience for an operating room and needed to provide mission critical content to nurses and surgeons. Everyday we see examples of how content is getting in the way of user experiences, but the issues is massively amplified in the life or death situation of an OR.

In one of the break sessions of HxD Dr. Wilma Chan spoke of her experience with the complex interfaces of some of the medical equipment she users as an emergency room doctor. We often design for the patient, but Dr. Chan challenged us to be mindful of doctors who often work long hours in a physically and mentally challenging environment. She also noted that some of the most effective medical designs are not overly technical such as measuring systems to quickly determine the heigh, weight, and medication dosage for children.

If HxR 2015 has taught us anything, it is the problems we are trying to solve for are complex, but with long term benefits.

A Designer’s Oath

A key approach that surfaced during day 1 of HxR2015 is the effort of Mad*Pow designers to integrate a designer’s oath into the work that they do. This effort is both welcome and a necessary challenge to demonstrate accountability in the work that we do especially in the heath care space where the interactions we create can literally be the difference between life and death.

As a community it is important we push forward with this type work to not only bring our industry together, but to further validate our work and provide more value for our customers.

HxD 2015 Day 1 Summary

After a half day of keynotes and break out sessions it’s clear that the role of design within the healthcare experiences our audiences experience everyday is more important than ever. Mad*Pow is making tremendous strides in making us as designers more accountable and is actively working on a healthcare designer’s oath – a welcome opportunity for more responsibility in our community. We heard firsthand Eric Meyer’s gut-wrenching experience of how hospital websites are typically not designed to handle audiences in Crisis and John Brownstein spoke of the importance of data and how we need to push it’s abilities to inform and predict diseases.

*Deep breath*

OK, tomorrow for day 2!

HxR Refactored Day 1: Kick off and Keynote

Hello and welcome. It’s a lovely sunny day in Boston as we get kicked off for the afternoon sessions. My name is Matthew Grocki and I will be floating around the Westin on the Boston Waterfront absorbing all things technology and healthcare. I’d love to hear from you and get your reactions to what you’ve heard or learned. Or you can just stop by and say high. April 1, 2015 1:30 – Kick – Off


We can do better than a patient survey, however the experiences we design in healthcare are not just for patients.

Tools are not the holy grail for behavioral change. Process change is what will lead to adoption.

Walgreens is coaching their staff on behavioral change using BJ Fogg’s methodologies.

Wearables for the elderly will be challenge, but you are starting to see the bridge to simplicity that will lead to adoption.

 John Brownstein – Keynote


“data is vertical in it’s flow”

How do you unwind the hierarchy of data? – The crux of John’s work.

I like how John is not fetishizing data, and he knows that we can do more with the varied health data sources.

(aside) We need a better term than “data mining” It needs to be retired along with cyberbullying. #wordnerd

It’s not just about collecting data about diseases, it’s about validating their impact on people’s lives.

Fascinating that data could predict ebola. (puts even more pressure on validating.)

Public inclusion needs to be more intelligent than data just crowd sourcing. We also need to know to give patients something back after they provide us with data.

Limited data on drug safety (shocking!).

Natural language processing, typos, and implied phrases all affects taxonomies and outcomes.

Aggregate data can start to predict health issues for individual patients.

The social sharing of scoring prescription drugs scares the shit out of me. Crowd here laughs, but as a parent I cringe.

You can’t get high from crushing Oxy now? I’m so out of touch.  *flushes 5 gallong tote of oxy*

They are looking into partnering with Uber to bring vaccines to people – amazing.

Social can bridge the gap with mobile delivery of healthcare.

Darshan Mehta – Keynote


“Healthcare is a long arduous journey”

The impact of stress on our lives forces us into a false mentality of living to survive vs. enjoying life.

The cutting edge of relaxation is finding that sweet spot of just the right amount of stress.

No all stress is bad

Patients who learn about mind/body practices are closer to the meaning and purpose of their health.

“Eliciting the relational response activates specific brain activities.”

We can literally grow our brain with this type of behavior.

How do you keep the humanity in healthcare without making it too mechanical?

The mind/connection is so important, but the experience and relationship between the two is often fractured.

The designer’ oath

What are our responsibility as designers for the work we do.

Confab Central May 20-22

I’m delighted to be speaking at Confab Central.

Come join me and a bevy amazingly smart passionate folks to discuss content, cake, and everything in between.

If you do anything related to content this is the premier event of the year. If you have not been, Minneapolis is an amazing city and the fine folks at Brain Traffic put on one hell of an event.

Check it out and register at http://confabevents.com/events/central

I'm speaking at Confab Central on May 20–22, 2015 in Minneapolis.

Stepping Out of Your Project Vacuum: Finding Value in the Work That Precedes You

I spent a lot of my high school years as a day laborer. I worked on construction sites, picking up after the skilled trades such as plumbers, framers, and electricians. One morning, I was sweeping the floor of a half-finished office building outside of Boston. The newly hired tiling contractor took a look at a bathroom that had just been tiled by a previous contractor.

“This sucks. Tear it out. I’ll redo it my way. The right way.”

Without a word, I dutifully spent the next 10 hours chiseling out newly installed tile because the new contractor didn’t like the work of the old contractor.

New Kid on the Block

Several years later as a consultant I still witness the same behaviors when working with clients for the first time. Often I am brought in either as a fresh set of eyes, or to repair the work of a previous agency. One of the first things I ask for when taking on a project are the previous artifacts used to get to the current state – i.e. the reason they contacted me in the first place. I typically look at anything from creative briefs to content audits, user research, and even organizational structures.

When I first started consulting, I remember immediately dismissing any documents produced prior to my arrival. “Oh this is crap,” I’d blurt before finishing the first slide. I quickly learned that by easily dismissing previous designs, strategies, recommendations, and procedures I was artificially inflating the value of the work I had yet to produce. Clearly I would offer better solutions than this drivel. A common misstep in consulting is tearing down the work of your predecessors rather than producing your own quality work.

Don’t Ignore the Past

Experience helps dictate the importance of the work the precedes you. Businesses often do not operate in a linear pattern. Projects, initiatives, and objectives can often meander based on the market, organizational restructuring, and turnover. The reason a project or initiative did not take off in the past may not be the direct result of an outside consultant or agency. Project sponsorship, budgets, timing, and sometimes luck play a vital role in whether a project comes to fruition.

Just because the project, in name, has come and gone, and the agency has walked out the door does not mean the work should be tossed. I’ve made it a priority to resurface pre-existing work and demonstrate how some of it may inform and augment the value I am providing. In many instances you save your client time and money locating value in previous initiatives. Recently, I stumbled upon hours of user research from a previous agency. There was a neatly organized stakeholder questionnaire replete with carefully detailed notes. In addition to some handy quotes, I was able to reconstruct user journeys saving me even more time.

Become a Steward of Change

As outside consultants our ability to affect corporate change is one of the biggest assets we provide for our clients. Finding value in nuggets of information that clients didn’t know they had, or relegated to the waste bin is one of the many intangibles that often don’t show up on the deliverables list. It is our duty as consultants to surface these assets and establish it’s value for our clients.

The propensity to dismiss previous work not only shortchanges your client, but exposes your lack of self confidence. You will accomplish amazing work for your client because of the work that precedes you, not in spite of it. This mind shift ultimately benefits the client – invoking an iterative approach to their problem space as not all projects operate in a vacuum. We learn, grow, and evolve based on our past.

By taking the time to review past work, you surface details that can be the difference between a successful endeavor and just another project. Next time you hear “I’ll redo it the right way” ask yourself why and challenge yourself to rethink the work the precedes you and you’ll find how much past work can help shape the value you provide for your clients.

Intranet Odyssey

Recently, I participated in a guest blog writing exercise. I anonymously wrote an entry and in turn received the following post. All guest posts are listed here

Recently, while deep in the midst of a sprawling intranet inventory, I found that reading and listening to poetry was a respite from the audit’s intense meticulosity. Next thing you know, I got my chocolate in my peanut butter.

When I first heard the word of the audit in status

That night, I went dreaming of a keen apparatus,

Like the great Krell machine under Altair IV

That electrifies content to a musical score,

Tossing and turning in the geekiest glee

I awoke knowing full well

That motor was me.

But before all the A-HAs, the righteous high fives,

When the matrix was still just a gleam in my eye,

I sat down with the client to talk CMS,

‘Bout the scope and the hopes and the goals of my quest.

“At the end of this project, you’ll have X, Y & Z.”

Now, let’s fill in those letters,

And I’ll set them all free.

To the greenhouse I go to start planting seeds

For multi-dimensional site matrices

Not a full inventory, with no stone unturned,

But a partial, a subset, with content discerned

For a new architecture, a fertile new soil

Under site harvest moon,

Burning midnight oil.

I start with the dot what, then move to the source,

Get the keywords, title, owner, of course,

A content description (heuristic to some),

And notes when little epiphanies come.

I put on some Coltrane, worksheets of sound,

Though steps are not giant,

I’m soon gaining ground.

Halfway completed, I’m high on osmosis

But this tranquil collection elicits psychosis

From section to section, not a page left unread

The devil in the details pitchforks my head

At times, it feels I’ve been logging for years

But from columns of blankness,

Soon patterns appear.

Like Halloween loot that you sift through for Reese’s,

But the candy is data, byte-sized little pieces.

Oh look, it’s a Zagnut from 2006

And a ’92 drop of some Choc ‘N’ Orange Twix

It’s peppermint, toffee, and nougat! Oh my!

All the flavors of content,

In confectious supply.

But as Lou Rosenfeld once wisely composed,

Some audits, they flow like sites they disclose.

They act as a snapshot on which we can start,

And as the site changes and phases embark,

Revisit, reevaluate, reform, revive.

A rolling suscitation,

Keeps content alive.

So, on with the synthesis, pie charts and all,

The honing, the zoning from quan into qual,

The mashup the data from user intent

With these columns and columns of unearthed content.

From the ashes of time burned filling those fields,

Comes the phoenix of insight,


and yield.



Don’t Apologize for Your Deliverables

Nick Offerman is an actor. Among other endeavors, he is currently cast as Ron Swanson in NBC’s Parks and Recreation (which just got bumped for three episodes). Mr. Offerman gets paid to pretend to be someone else. You could argue there is no tangible thing he creates. Comedy, like so many of the online experiences has no tangible being. Yes, a website is visible on a machine, much like Mr. Offerman’s work is housed on a television set. However, these tangible items serve as vessels for content rather than a solution-based tool.

What the hell does Nick Offerman have to do with Content Strategy?

Content strategists solve content problems (at least that’s how I market myself). The work we carry out is mostly non-tactile. We don’t build modems, deliver bound books, or construct sexy online designs. We create strategies, which in addition to being somewhat hard to describe is also inherently non-tactile. And no, printing out your 60 page strategy document doesn’t count.

The  difficulty we have in selling what we do is that there is rarely a final deliverable. At least not in the traditional sense. Additionally, there is increasing rhetoric that content strategy is not a deliverable. We facilitate conversation, we position organizational change, and we get everyone in the same room among numerous other services. Yippee.

What’s Wrong with a Content Strategy Deliverable?

The push to distance ourselves from deliverables denies content professionals the good that can be achieved by producing something with our hands. By creating tactile deliverables, we reap the benefits of using our hands and our minds.

“When the maker’s (or fixer’s) activity is immediately situated within a community of use, it can be enlivened by this kind of direct perception. Then the social character of his work isn’t separate from its internal or “engineering” standards; the work is improved through relationships with others. It may even be the case that what those standards are, what perfection consists of, is something that comes to light only through these iterated exchanges with others who use the product, as well as other craftsmen in the same trade. Through work that had this social character, some shared conception of the good is lit up, and becomes concrete.”
– Matthew B CrawfordShop Class as Soulcraft

As Matthew B Crawford points out, we make ourselves vulnerable by sharing the work of our hands, but we also subject the project to an iterative function that strengthens the solutions we provide.

Tactile Content Strategy Deliverables

When was the last time you left behind a sketch you drew as part of your final deliverable set? What about a glossy of that editorial calendar?

The further content strategy matures in the marketplace and gains clout in the board room, the more we need to push for tactile deliverables as part of our solutions. In my own work, I now produce items that step away from traditional strategic deliverables. I include sketches and diagrams – like hand drawn depictions of my thought process. My workshops involve heavy participant interaction, with more standing and sitting than a Catholic mass. Physical interaction, even if it’s relocating a Post-it on a wall can open our minds to methodologies and solutions we would have missed sitting behind a monitor and keyboard.

Ron Swanson and You

Mr. Offerman is not producing physical deliverables of his comedy. There are not cassettes available at his stand-up shows or signed Parks and Recreation scripts for sale. Instead, Mr. Offerman builds canoes. And when he’s not building canoes he’s building desks, end tables or other items from wood he has salvaged. It’s this type of work that reinforces what he calls his “pesky dream job” of acting. He believes we have lost sight of the benefits of working with our hands. Mr. Offerman is keenly aware of the non tactile nature of his profession and uses woodworking to augment his craft. For him, this physical work opens up the creativity in his mind to bring the characters he portrays to life.

Unlike Mr. Offerman, content strategists have the unique ability to provide concrete deliverables that extend to the strategies we produce. It can selfishly be therapeutic, but it can also better serve the value we provide our clients.

Don’t apologize for your sketches, calendars, editorial guidelines, and their ilk. For in those tactile pieces of work we provide a legacy of information that far exceeds our client engagement.

An Update

It’s been ages. Therein lies the issue of carrying out the content strategies, rather than writing about them.

However, here’s a quick update. on some upcoming events that may interest you:

I will be speaking at the Digital Content Strategies Conference March 13th in sunny San Diego. I am joined by Margot Bloomstein, Christopher Avore, Ahava Leibtag, Jonathon Colman, Sarah Krznarich, Rebekah Cancino, Corey Vilhauer, and many others. Can’t attend the conference? I’m sure we’ll be out and about afterwards. Slides will also be available.

Confab London. March 25 – 27. Limited spaces available. This will be an amazing conference.

Content Strategy New England – April 2 – 

Confab USA – June 3 – 5 (but you already knew that) LAWN BOWLING!

Dare Conference  – September 23 – 25.

And so so many more. Hang tight, more updates later.