July 25-27, 2018 / Vancouver, BC

Interview with Sara Wachter-Boettcher

April 7, 2016

Steve Fisher talks with Sara Wachter-Boettcher about her new book, co-authored with Eric Meyer, Design For Real Life. They also chat about her upcoming talk and workshop at The 2016 Design & Content Conference.

Register for Sara's workshop!

Video Transcript

Steve:

Hi! We are here with Sara, who is returning this year to our design and content conference and will actually be out very first speaker this year. We are very excited to have her back. Sara, why don’t you introduce yourself to the Design and Content audience that haven’t met you yet and tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sara:

Sure. So, my name is Sara Wachter-Boettcher and I run a content strategy consultancy in Philadelphia where I live. I just had this book come out with Eric Meyer called Design For Real Life which I am very excited about and I will be talking more about at Design and Content. And then I am also the author of Content Everywhere, which is a book that came about a couple of years ago. It is all about structuring and modularizing content. I have a lot of interests across content, user experience and design and I am so excited to be coming back to Design and Content.

Steve:

Yes, we are thrilled to have you back and you seem to have this tendency of writing some of my favorite books. So, thank you for that. So, you are giving a talk and a workshop at the event and why don’t you tell us a little bit about your talk titled, Design For Real Life.

Sara:

Yes, so, as I just mentioned Design For Real Life is the name of the book that I just co-wrote with Eric Meyer and so the talk is going to be speaking to themes that we developed in working on the book. The book is actually sort of a product of things that I was talking about when I came to Design and Content last year, things that I was just starting to think about and wrap my head around. Design and Content is the first place that I talked about them publicly. Issues around being more inclusive in the sites and the products that we build, around making sure that we are not excluding people in the language that we use and the way that we write our copy.

Making sure that we are also aware of people’s emotional states and triggers, and really designing systems that are going to work for people regardless of what state they are in and regardless of who they are. I am going to be furthering that this year with a whole lot of new work that I have done since last year’s Design and Content. Some of which made it into the book and some of which is sort of come out since then.

For example, you might see something like the Gmail mic drop feature which came out here just at the beginning of April. Gmail introduced this feature to its system that instead of the send and archive button, it changed it to this send and mic drop button that would automatically send a gif of minions doing a mic drop to your recipients and then mute all of their replies so you wouldn’t get any of their reply emails. They just put it in place of the regular experience that people were used to and if you ever sent email, which, probably you have sent dozens of them just today. You know how much of that you do by habit, right? So, you just keep clicking the same button in the same place over and over. Well. It turns out a lot of people accidentally mic-dropped bosses or their prayer groups or all of these people who didn’t really like that or maybe sometimes they even had a negative reaction. They could have lost a job or lost out on an interview that they were trying to get. It was one of these things where Google had tried really hard to be funny for April Fool’s day. But instead what they did was something that screwed with the user experience in a way that made it frustrating for people, made them feel left out of the joke, and could have even created a crisis or a difficult situation for them. When I come to Vancouver this summer, I’m going to be talking about themes that come up all the time in the products that we are building and using every day, that maybe at first glance seemed like that could be a fun idea, but if you dig a little bit beneath the surface, it can actually be really problematic for large groups of people.

Steve:

Such important topics and we are excited to have you back. It’s great, the new book is fantastic. Everyone listening to this should go and buy a copy right now. Design for Real Life through A Book Apart. You are also putting on a workshop. Now, it’s the same workshop that you did last year and I guess a bit of an update to it. It is already half sold out, so we just have a few tickets left, but I’d still love for you to tell people a little but about it so they can understand why it is that they should be excited about it.

Sara:

So it’s called Coaching Content Strategy and it’s all about how do you take the skills you might have learned as a content strategist, or a related discipline—you may have learned to do the work yourself, and start using those to get other people involved in the process. It was really popular last year and we are bringing it back because it sold out last year.

I think the reason for that, the reason a lot of people are interested in it now, is that in so many organizations, people are like yes, we care about content, we’ve hired a content strategist and we get it we want to do this. But then when people are in those roles what they are realizing is that, they can’t just fix all of their problems for other people. Because when it actually comes down to it, content end up being this team effort and, where maybe you have lots of different departments who are producing content for different reasons, maybe you have lots of different groups who have their fingers in it at different moments.

If you come in as the content person and you are aiming to just fix it for people, stuff tends to go back to the way it was, right? So after a few months, after the launch of the new site or after this new feature gets added, things kind of devolve because everybody else in the organization wasn’t brought along with those changes or didn’t understand the strategy, or just wasn’t part of it. So, the workshop is all about how can you take some of your skills that you have learned and facilitate and collaborate and bring people with you so that it’s not just that you do the content strategy, but everybody gets better at doing content strategy.

Steve:

That’s fantastic, and obviously really important to people because there has been a lot of interest the second year too. You’re the only speaker that we have coming back this year. We are excited about that and I think a lot of our audience is too. You basically got tens across the board in your reviews last year for the conference. People loved your talk, they loved your workshop. But what I am interested in also is, what are you excited about coming back to Vancouver? This is 2 summers in a row you’ll be here.

Sara:

I can’t lie. Coming to Vancouver in July is pretty good, right? It’s going to be light until 11 pm and beautiful out. Maybe I will get a chance to go to the mountains. So that part aside—I am going to spend a lot of time inside of a conference room. So, when it comes to the conference, what I realized last year is that the talk that I gave was one where I had to be very vulnerable. I talked about a lot of difficult stuff. I talked about things that came out of personal experiences and I was very scared to give that talk.

I opened up that talk by talking about extremely sensitive stuff, and the response that I got from it was not just positive—I appreciate that I got really good feedback—but it wasn’t just that people liked the talk. I had the sense that people were committed to doing design and content work that’s more empathetic and more inclusive for people. I got a sense that people were extremely open and that people wanted to come along with me. It made me feel so excited to be a part of this group. It made me feel like this isn’t just any kind of conference where everybody is just concerned with the latest trends and how do I push my message out there more effectively. It was a lot more introspective and a lot more community-driven, and that was extremely powerful for me.

Steve:

Thanks Sara for sharing with us here and chatting with the DCC audience. We are really excited to have you back here in Vancouver and at the conference this summer and we will see you soon.

Sara:

Yes, see you there! Thank you.