July 25-27, 2018 / Vancouver, BC

A Culture of Design & Content - Geoffrey Daniel and Steve Fisher

Written by Steve Fisher

August 10, 2016

Speakers - Geoffrey Daniel and Steve Fisher

Raise your hand if the content of your website isn't a top priority on meeting agendas or project budgets. We've all been there. Our websites are black holes without their content, but often organizations don't prioritize content strategy in project plans or budgets. Sometimes it is close to the bottom of the list. It doesn't have to be that way.

Learn how everyone can spark change to help organizational culture become content and design driven. And how to find and focus on what matters. Steve and Geoffrey will share some of their experiences in both large government and smaller teams.

Transcription coming soon

Steve: So I’m going to invite up to the stage with me here, I’m going to give a little talk with Geoffrey Daniel. Geoffrey, why don’t you come up? Geoffrey and I have worked together on different things, for the last six or seven years, I would say. We’ve done a lot of different projects. Geoffrey has worked in municipal government and you’ll hear a little bit more about that. But one of the things we’re going to talk about in our talk are heroes and superheroes in particular. So it’s funny that our hashtag is crossing over with a Comic-Con, because some of the pictures for this may be appropriate for that.

One of the things that happens for superheroes is they have these heroic poses, right? How many of you saw the movie Batman v Superman? You see, you’re groaning, you’re like, oh, I did. And I got to admit, it was one of my favorite Batmans. I’m a little bit of a comic nerd and even I walked away from the movie going ehhhh.

We’re going to talk about some superheroes and we’re going to be two dudes on stage, maybe talking about two dudes, but if you saw Batman v Superman, so put up your hand if you’ve seen it. We won’t make too many references, but this is a spoiler, which don’t worry.

Here’s the real hero. Yeah. So we are going to get you to stand up now, so everyone has got to stand up.

Geoffrey: I’m exempt from this? I don’t have to do this?

Steve. No. No one is exempt. No you, if you can’t stand, that’s OK, too. I don’t want you to force to do something here. How many of you have seen the TED Talk where you do a power pose? So as this audio plays, I want you for like 20, 30 seconds, pick a pose, so that could be — or it could be this, or it could be like Wonder Woman thing that’s happening here, and hold it during that time. You don’t have to look at anyone if you don’t want to, but hold your pose. 1, 2, 3, go. Pick your pose.

So the idea is these poses are meant to give you more confidence. There’s a sense of when you’re open like that, when you sit powerfully or open we’ll say, you gain this confidence. I think it’s important as we talk about heroes throughout this, to think about who heroes are, and what they do, because — villains fight for themselves, they think about themselves, they maybe think about their henchmen, but probably not. But heroes are fighting for someone else.

And I think that has a lot to do with the work that we do. We’re going to talk a little bit about that today.

Geoffrey: So before we begin, I just wanted to say, as I’ve gone through changes, this talk has gone through some changes, and Steve has been incredibly supportive and I just want to say, I love you, man.

Steve: Oh, thanks. You broke the computer, though.

Geoffrey: All of the feels, so here are some things that I believe. I believe I should have memorized my first slide, but let’s go on. Things that I believe are, regardless of what we build, it should be centered around users—the people that we build them for. Catered to them and their goals. The consumers should just be free to use the things that we build for them.

And our interactions with them online should be as meaningful as talking to another human being. It’s basically what we hope and that’s real noble, right? Except that it’s not. I think everyone in this room is absolutely trying to build the best experience for the people that they’re serving. Whether you’re in public, private, doesn’t matter and that kind of makes us heroes. We’re heroes because we care and we have the power to create change.

So we work in cultures that sort of glorify individuals rather than teams a lot of the times and that gets in our way. It leads us to solving problems a lot in isolation. And now the comic will make sense I’m sure, we grow but in very specialized specific ways and it creates cultures that are more antagonistic than actually team-based.

[5:00]

So I want to talk a bit about myself. I have been building sites for about 17 years. I know I don’t look it. It’s a moisturizing regime. It’s the same scenario every single time for the most part. It’s we solve problems in small groups, small but invested audiences who know why they’re involved, who know what the outcomes are and how to measure success. It’s great. It’s very, very comforting. It’s warm but it’s really like a slumber better party for zealots. I liked that joke.

So when we’re doing that individually, in larger organizations, solving these different problems, we never sort of get together. We tackle tough challenges individually but we don’t really share what we’ve learned. We end up solving the same problems repeatedly, inconsistently, and continually, and we fail to grow because we don’t respect and understand each other’s approaches. So what’s true teamwork look like? For those of our American friends, that’s alpha flight. It’s like the Canadian version of the avengers.

Steve: Except more badass, I would say.

Geoffrey: There’s no movie around alpha flight. Fun fact. So what does actual teamwork look like? It’s goals that are meaningful to everybody, and whether I’m an individual level or on a grander level and it’s lessons that are sort of absorbed by the entire organization. I like, made a hug, and it’s actual true teamwork.

Steve: Why don’t I give a little intro about myself. So 1994 is when I started working on the web and it was a long time ago. And so I’m going to go through everything since then. No, I’m not. One of our sponsors put up their 1994 website again. So you groan as if you’ve just watched Batman v Superman, but picture this in 1994.

And so this is an image map, but one of the things that I love about this, is and one of the things that I love about working in the positions that I do, is there was also this version of it that was completely accessible, right? They created text only, which was a decision we had to make then. And so a lot of the things that I do is I end up fighting for the user. It’s my job to go out there and say hey, as teams what is it we’re doing and why are we doing it? Who are we fighting for so if I had to pick a super hero, I think I would be Starlord, if I could. I reached out to get permission to use his images, but my power would be having 20% of a plan if I’m honest and my gift would be helping teams discover the other 80%. Yeah, math, not my strength.

But no, it’s true, it’s my job to come and say, I don’t actually know, and I don’t think any of us do, but we’re going to discover it together, we’re going to figure it out, and there is a deliberate 80% that we’re never going to get all the way there. So this Starlord thing really fit for me. Now, I have journeyed across different types of projects, over the last almost decade I’ve worked more and more in government work. In particular municipal work. I actually love it. It’s hard sometimes but there’s so much that happens and during that time I worked for a company called Yellow Pencil who are one of our sponsors as Flock, that content product that I was mentioning earlier and one of the founders of the project used to say this quote on projects and cities would be a mile wide and an inch deep, so Paul if you’re in the room, that’s what he looks like.

But it’s not that cities don’t have a deep content or deep problems, they do. So much. But they provide all the services to the people, they have so much to provide and it was just so much to think through and so when I say things like I fight for the user, I want to be clear, because this image shows two rich white guys in tech, maybe that’s not the user I’m fighting for. In fact, it’s not. Especially working with large municipalities or anywhere, there’s such diversity that we go and we continue to ask and ask and ask to discover who it is that we’re fighting for. Because it’s not me. I’m not fighting for myself. I’m meant to be there to fight for others.

[10:00]

And often on these projects we’ll find that we want things to be kind of be perfect, we want to have this perfect project plan, maybe Superman, all his powers, but what happens is things blow up and we have to be OK with that. And how many of you are familiar with who Al Gore is? I’m assuming most of you, Vice President Al Gore, you know, and he fights for climate change, right? That’s probably how most of you since being in the White House, have gotten to know him and it’s kind-depressing, right? Like he’ll come up and say, hey, water is continuing to rise, we’re in this kind of doom, except he is an eternal optimist.

He was on the TED Radio Hour where he talks about optimism and they chat with him and’s got this great quote. It’s optimism blended with the courage to face reality. Because we are going to be faced with these hard realities all the time and it can be easy to go, oh, these guys are jerks, or that woman I’m so upset about that, or this group over here, or a client is upset with their vendor, or the vendor is upset with the client, but the truth is, we’re here to work together, through optimism. We don’t know the full extent of our powers until we come together. So we really do believe, I know it’s one of our hashtags here, but we’re better together. And so over the course of the projects that Geoffrey and I have worked on, we’ve discovered that and that’s a big part of changing cultures to recognize that we can’t do it alone. OK. Here we go.

Geoffrey: It worked. Hey.

Steve: I made these collide.

Geoffrey: I’m sorry I doubted you. Let’s talk about responsive design for a second. Everyone in the room when you say the words responsive design, I think reacts slightly differently. For you — I think we all know roughly what it is, but it’s individual to all of us in a lot of ways. So some of it might be a mobile site plan, for some of us it might be a content everywhere plan for a slum minority it might be a blackberry plan.

Steve: Yeah, Canada!

Geoffrey: It’s common ground defined very differently and how do you pull all those pieces together into one whole? Well, in that case you actually need other heroes, so you might recognize the bearded lumberjack in the middle there.

Steve: That’s me!

Geoffrey: And a lot of the projects I worked on we worked together with Yellow Pencil learning what we didn’t know and being comfortable with what we didn’t know. And Steve, and they sort of taught me, you know, not knowing stuff, that’s OK. That vulnerability to be like, I don’t know this.

Steve: Yeah, there are these moments in our project that we’re like, this is our plan, we know this is the budget and the timeline, but can we change things if we need to. And having those open conversations, with, I have 12% of a plan, are you OK with that? And that begins to build this trust and things change.

Geoffrey: And quite honestly it’s the vulnerability to saying I don’t know this, help me figure this out that actually helps us grow together. So if we’re growing together, what are we trying to accomplish? And with the example of our responsive plan, it’s bigger concepts that actually serve people who were here to be in power. If Steve, you could talk a little bit about the accessibility stuff.

Steve: Right, so we are working on these projects and oftentimes people get focused on the goals that kicked off the project which may be hey, this has to be working in mobile, but there are other things that come up throughout the way. Right? This is the explosive program.

[15:00]

Geoffrey: In most of those instances, what happens is the idea or concept of accessibility becomes less about a device. It becomes more about an attitude, a way that we treat people, just like we wouldn’t build barriers to people actually physically entering our buildings, we want to remove the barriers that allow us to interact with people online. We started having conversations about what design actually meant, and less about — “I don’t like the color green” and more about actual human interfaces.

Steve: Yeah, allowing us to do actual critiques, that’s not someone’s opinion, but this is what the people need. Not based on “I hate green.”

Geoffrey: Lastly it was a reminder that mostly we build things for people, we build things for human beings. I want to go on to an exercise, there’s only a few more of these. Close your eyes and think about the last thing you built and who you were trying to serve when you built it. Those of you in the adult industry, you can skip this exercise.

When you think about those people, when you picture them in your mind there’s a distance between us and them. We make assumptions, sometimes dangerous assumptions about who they are, what they think, what they want, how they talk and those assumptions get baked into the things that we build in very, very dangerous ways.

Steve: Yeah, definitely, it is important to continue to think about the people that we are building for. I know it’s easy to design by genius, like the things that we’ve already known and done in the past, but you got to keep pushing yourselves outside of that and we found that the more we did that, the more we saw people around us allowing it to happen, even though it was difficult.

Geoffrey: So one more example of how our — when we are — we should be working together, we’re sometimes working apart. I’ve been — I worked in the public sector for a number of years, and every three or four years, we have an election. And the election is like a Superbowl of government communications. It’s a big deal to us. And it’s like a really noble undertaking. It’s when we really work to try and get you out to vote and you should probably all vote.

But underneath sort of those laud I believe and noble goals, is something of a battleground or many battlegrounds.

So in the black trunks we have your poor beleaguered marketing department. They’re on the forefront of defending the public perception. And for them, the election site may be just another distraction for what the brand is trying to do.

Steve: Yeah, and I think we sometimes work with different teams and we assume that they’re kind of on the opposite side of us. And that’s not true, right? What the marketing team is doing about protecting the brand and those things is something to be valued and something to participate in, to find out why are you protecting this thing. Why, why, why, and to ladder on that, until we discover what is happening. But we do have another core.

Geoffrey: In the red trunks, you have us, I think many of the people in this room. We’re the builders, we’re on the forefronts of design and trying at least trying to. And branding may have to take a step back.

Steve: Again, there’s another opportunity for us to see both sides. It’s like a dungeons and dragons race basically.

Geoffrey: Really? So you have brand versus build, what they’re protecting and what we’re trying to establish. And now we’re in conflict, except really we’re not.

Steve: Mm-hm.

Geoffrey: This is sort of a needless fight. We all want the same things. Whether it be brand, whether it be us builders, we can’t common standards, and we want to be modern, with modern esthetics, both want the same thing, and the distraction, the fight, is basically us fighting for that in slightly different ways.

Steve: Yeah, where we get so distracted by the one goal that we had set out or the thing that we held onto so tightly that we could no longer let go, which if you’ve seen the movie, um, it’s Martha — no. No, it’s so distracting, and you realize, boy, you guys, we’re supposed to be on the same team here, and we really do have this common ground, this idea that we can even shift physically how we do things. How often did you been — has anyone here ever been at a meeting where you sit across the boardroom with someone? Put up your hands. So most of you.

[20:00]

Would it be different if you were out for a walk with someone or if you were on the same side of the table? Sometimes just a physical change how we interact with each other can be a trigger in how we change culture over time. So we don’t prepare that we walk into a room and think about we’re ready to fight. Instead, let’s think about how we can interact with each other and over time, you start to get things to change.

Geoffrey: So to Steve’s point, the stuff to basically break down that conflict isn’t challenging, and the goals aren’t ground-breaking. They just need to be shared with each other without any conceit or ego and certainly without the expectation of confrontation and there’s four ways really to get at that. Number one, the understanding that most people aren’t jerks, they may be angry or difficult, but they’re usually angry or difficult because they want to push forward their point. They have something they feel strongly about and they’re bringing it you. No. 2: It’s something that Steve spoke about.

This idea of shedding our battlegrounds. Oftentimes when you’re sitting across the table from somebody, it doesn’t allow you to — it feels like you’re in confrontation. If you walk with them, talk with them, have a coffee with them, sit beside them, changing that environment just changes your perspective entirely. No. 3, we often see ourselves as heroes. So we also are the people coming in with the preconceived notions and the things we’re looking to protect, and once we recognize that in ourselves, we can certainly recognize it in other people. And lastly, everyone just wants to be in the justice league. We really want to combine our powers for the betterment of society because ultimately, you can’t high five yourself.

Steve: Well, no, you can’t. So I’m going to continue on with another story here. I worked with Geoffrey on this project but there was a big municipal — well, refresher we call it, going responsive. They’d gone from a nonresponsive site to responsive and we’re talking about 10,000 pages and many more documents and over 200 content authors and there’s lots happening there in that project to make it happen and it happened in a very short amount of time while I was working with Yellow Pencil and so they worked on this project and made that happen, but we left the apps behind during that time. There were I think 27ish web apps that just didn’t fit the budget and the timelines and that was OK, we were doing a phased launch approach. But we went back to say, OK, now there’s time to tackle some of this so I worked on a project called bear. Yeah.

But it was spelled this way. BAIR. Building and inspection request app, so cities have these requests, right where you get permission to build things, at least you’re supposed to, so they would request an inspector to come, and we thought, OK, well, this app is a bit out of date at this point, so what we thought was that this was the problem. I don’t know if you recognize these devices. But this is an older iPhone, and a Black berry, so this app did not work on Android, so that’s a problem, because that was the majority of devices out there. It also did didn’t work on the latest version of Blackberry. When it was first built, great. But it never saw any uptake. In fact it was less than 5% of the requests came through the web or the app.

Everything else was people calling or showing up which you can imagine the headache that could be and so what we thought is hey, we’ve just got to fix this technology problem, right? But we planned with the project to go to talk to people. To say, what are these builders doing, why they’re not using the devices. So we went onsite and I remember this one time that I was out in a dirt field, there was an orange trailer that was going to be his office. That was going to be his workplace for the next like year as things built around him and as we talked to him about this, and the other builders, we heard a different story. Because you can be presented with one thing and there’s great moment in the movie, well, maybe it’s not a great moment, where Superman looks at Batman, Wonder Woman has showed up and saved Batman’s ass and he said, “Is she with you?” And he goes, “No, I thought she was with you.”

She was with herself, by the way. And so we get a different picture, oh, yeah, and she saved the world. And as we talked to this guy he stopped and he leaned back and I remember this moment, he kind of gets off camera because we were recording and he kind of talked to me and he says it’s not that I don’t want to use this.

[25:00]

He had the latest Blackberry. But when I talk to a person, they it work out the electrical and plumbing at the same time. Even if that’s not their specific area, they will work it out for me, so why would I use this app when it doesn’t do those things and I have to log in in multiple places and he just started to share his heart about how difficult it was as at times and how he was literally working out of a box for a year. And so by talking to him, it completely shifted the project. It was no longer about a technology update, and that was important, but it was saying, oh, we have these other departments that aren’t talking to each other through this app, and making changes like that were really powerful for him.

Because often, you know, we could have these moments and this may look all too familiar. This is from Batman versus Superman again, where they’re protesting Superman, saying aliens get out, God doesn’t love aliens, but you know, this scene is something we see a lot throughout the world, especially North America. And the problem sometimes is that we are only thinking with our minds. And that’s good. We want to change minds, but we also want to change hearts, too, and by hearing this guy pour out his heart and letting stakeholders at the City of Surrey which was who the project was for, hear that they just sat back and said oh, hey, that makes sense what this guy wants because they heard from a real person, and so part of the key is actually listening. It’s going out and listening. So the idea that we hear what people are saying, but also how we process it. We’re in Canada so it’s PROE-cess and not pross-ess.

And there’s no “No, but.” But we’re hearing “Yes, and” and what I would encourage you is to really listen and say, “What if?” what if? You know? Because I don’t know, I had 12% of a plan. I don’t know anything at all. There’s three keys from my portion of the talk here, so you’re going to have 7 total. We’re born makers. We move from listening, from learning with our heads, to our hearts to our hands. You know, the idea that once we hear something and we have empathy, we feel t it’s become part of us, and then we do something with it. I don’t know about you, but when I learn something when our teams would work together and we didn’t do anything at the end, it just fell away, and it was like, oh, well, that was a useless report.

And so making something can really be transformative and that can create a shift to something new, where we’d see — so I’m going to take the City of Surrey as an example, where they’ve come a long way, I’ve worked with so many different companies, I have a long history of working with Yellow Pencil with them. And I’ve continued to work with them, since, but it takes time to change. This isn’t overnight. Where people can say, oh, now it’s important for us to remember that we need to go out and talk to users all the time or talk to the audiences, talk to the people of our city. So it takes time to change and that’s OK. It’s another Brene Brown quote. It’s important to choose courage over comfort. This is a real family these Syrian refugees fleeing.

This is a real family and I’m a proud Canadian, so I love living here, I love being in Vancouver, and I can’t imagine what it would take to take me out of this country. And I’ve been so proud of Canada’s general response. We can’t get enough refugees in at this point, there are so many people, individual groups, working on their own, outside of the government, saying we want permission to bring people in. But they are choosing courage over comfort right now. In this image. And we can, too. Right? It’s easy to just say, oh, it’s great that Canada is this nice place or something, but it’s not all that easy to take a family in, and to sponsor them, but I think it’s important in our projects that we think that way, too. We have to choose courage over comfort.

[30:00]

Because courage is contagious. So I don’t mean this to be a political statement or anything like that, I’m not like saying, go vote liberal or anything, but this is our Prime Minister if you don’t know that, right above me this is Justin Trudeau, at Toronto Pride just a little while ago and he was our first Prime Minister to march in the Pride parade, and beside him is a Syrian refugee and he has AIDS. He would have been consumed to death eventually and here he is marching side by side with the leader of the country that he’s not a part of, and when I saw this image, I just, you know, wow, like that’s so great. Whether I I’m going to you know, vote liberal or not, I just thought I’m so proud of this moment. Now, there are other politics and stuff behind it, but I — I found myself in the moment and I’m thinking this courage is contagious.

So got to stand up one more time. And this time it’s going to be a little uncomfortable. But I’m not going to get you to do anything too terribly weird, so don’t worry about that. You can stay seated if you need to. but there’s this moment — so there’s this moment where you get the sense that — and crying over superheroes now. Superman kind of realizes oh, you know what I’ve been fighting for myself and he recognizes that he can’t do it anymore. And he’s going to kill himself, essentially, to save everyone else. Spoiler. You know, and I couldn’t help but think, sorry, I didn’t expect this.

(Steve is tearful.)

I couldn’t help when I saw this moment yeah, that’s kind of what we’re supposed to do, not kill ourselves, by the way. But we’re fighting for someone else on these projects, on these things that we do, you know, if we really want to have courage, we could be courageous that way, we have to stop thinking about ourselves, first. You can’t ignore yourself, but it is about the people we’re building these things for. So one more time, we’re going to strike a pose. You can close your eyes, you can look around at people. That’s OK. But we are going to all hold it for about two minutes this time. Because it takes two minutes to do this, but while you’re holding it this time, I want you to think about the people that you build things for. So if you’ve got to close your eyes to do that, that’s OK. You can think about this as meditation. Close your eyes, I’m going to keep mine open, and just hold it. You can look other people in the eyes if you want and just hold it. It’s going to be a while. Oh, wait.

Geoffrey: Kind of a black power fist going?

Steve: Yeah, I have shoulder issues, so I can’t raise my shoulder, so my poses are limited.

Geoffrey: Don’t let me critique you, go on.

Steve: Think about the people that you’re building this for …

(Superman v Batman theme music).

Now take a moment to think about each other, because you’re about to go into your first break, to socialize and get to know each other, think about how you can bring yourself to influence someone else’s life. Thanks, you can have a seat. You can get ahold of us on Twitter. It’s @Geoffrey_Daniel, and @hellofisher. Thank you.