Designing yourself into obscurity

Just to show that I hate all technologies equally, I decided to touch briefly on an issue which in my opinion is becoming epedemic across design-land. That is the utter lack of creativity with websites.

From blogs which do nothing but point to existing content to templated platforms like community server, the lack of design is becoming more and more evident. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of community server – I sat through a BOF with Rob Howard and Sean in Boston, great bunch of guys, but I have to agree with Andrew on the lack of creativity.

This is most evident across the land of CSS, where every second site looks exactly the same. Guys, it’s “not” cool to put 1/2 the content in the footer and you don’t have to use the same color pallette.

It seems people have forgotten about design and content usability. I cannot help but wonder how big a factor RSS plays in all this? Why design when your content is 80% consumed through RSS aggregators? Where’s the business value?

One thing that I know for certain is that the more one design is based off the last the less it stands out. For those wise enough to get the message, it should be really easy for you to make your sites unique and stand out.

Tech Ed 2006 – Boston Will Never Be The Same…

Of course the title of this post is just for dramatic effect since I am sure the heart of Boston was relatively unaffected by the 13,000 – 15,000 geeks and techies that blew through town last month.  Though we did get some funny looks en route to Fenway Park in our police escorted school bus cavalary. 

While I am still recovering from the week that was known as Tech Ed, I have to say this year was truely a blast.  So many awesome people and so much to learn and see.  Here is my extremely quick breakdown of some of the highlights of my week…

Regional Leadership Summit

On Sunday Shane and I were in Waltham for the Boston area regional leadership summit that took place at the local Microsoft office.  This was a fantastic day of people coming together, sharing common problems and suggesting solutions to issues that face us all as user group and community leaders.  While this event technically was a major responsibility for me – I have to give all credit to Rob Zelt who did an amazing job at pulling everything together from the beginning to the end.  He did a fantastic job and it showed.

Birds of a Feather Sessions

I spent most of my non-networking and learning time hosting Birds of a Feather sessions as part of my duties to INETA.  There were some great sessions this year and a fantastic turnout for most.  I was amazed at some of the crowds that had shown up for a few of the sessions.  A couple of personal favorites included Heather’s SharePoint customization session which had a fantastic turnout, Rob Howard’s Community Server session and a unique and truely inspiring session focusing on geeks with serious diseases. 

Awesome People

Between sessions, booths and parties, I met so many awesome people that I really couldn’t possibly list them here because its been a couple of weeks and I would be sure to forget a bunch and then feel really bad about it. 

I will say a special shout out to the few most awesome SharePointers that I got to finally hang out with and realize what awesome people they were after years of causal chatting and cross linking in a virtual setting.  Lawrence, Todd, Andrew, Heather, Greg, Spencer, Jason, Shane, and Nicole – It was a blast and I look forward to seeing you at the next big show.  It was so cool to finally meet you all and it was even better to find out how down to earth and fun each of you were. 

The importance of planning in MOSS 2007/WSS v3

It’s absolutely critical that you understand the anatomy of sites in MOSS 2007 (WCM) and WSS v3 in order to properly plan your site content and architecture.

I have read countless articles on the ASP.NET 2.0 master pages feature and I have noticed the common explanation is that “master pages should contain common shared elements such as a header, navigation menu, or footer.”  While this may be correct for a lot of cases, it is equally important to understand where it is “not” the case.

You have a variations (multilingual) WCM capable publishing site which you need to customize.  In this situation you may not want to include a ‘static navigation’ bar in your master page.  In a variations scenario, you have multiple sites based on language and each would have to change. 

While it may be unintentional, MOSS 2007 (WCM) / WSS v3 promote site and content architecture planning.  Basically if you do not carefully plan your content types, columns, page layouts and master page customizations you are setting yourself up for failure.

Remember folks – the content should come “before” the design.  Plan your content (types/columns) and page layouts prior to beginning any customization work.

Julie Lerman and Hubby take on Newfoundland

This week Julie Lerman and hubby are staying with us which should be a lot of fun. Julie is set to deliver (I believe) an ADO.NET presentation to our St. John’s .NET usergroup.

It should be a fun week as we teach them to speak newfinese, take in the sights … and of course we have MOSS 2007 + WSS v3 at our place which we’ll force feed her while she’s here.  She LOVES SharePoint!

My apologies for the big blaring ad

A few weeks back I was contacted by feedburner about participating in an “experimental” ad-program.  I replied with “I am not a fan of ads but I am willing to take a look as long as it’s non intrusive.” 

Well about 10 minutes into seeing an ad come up on my page I was turned off, these big blaring ads plopped smack dab in the MIDDLE of my posts that have absolutely nothing to do with what I’m writing about – forget it.

I email the guys and tell them – sorry but I simply cannot stuff these totally content-agnostic ads down my readers throats and that I wanted them removed immediately.

They replied – said no problem and I assume all is well.  I even went into the admin area and deactivated the feature.  Today I notice there is again a big blaring ad smack dab in the middle of a post. 

Just so everyone is clear – I’m working to have these removed ASAP, they will not continue and they drive me just as crazy.

The power of presentation

Before arriving in Boston I was asked, and debated the possiblility of delivering a presentation on – Delivering effective presentations.

First – the reason I declined was simple, I figured there were two possible outcomes; a) I get lynched by an angry mob that have carefully selected slide after slide after slide after… you get the idea. or b) 80% of the expected (presenters) audience would leave 1/2 way through in a panic to re-think their presentation methods.

This is certainly not to say that people did not deliver great presentations because they did, however I will point out a few things that I feel are very important, and unfortunately more often than not simply overlooked.

I am certainly no presentation expert – I work as the user-experience guy on an IW team, but I am a graphic designer and visual communication is something that I follow almost religiously. I follow Guy Kawasaki and The Presentation Zen the way most people follow CNN.

Below are the top 10 things I would have talked about in order to encourage a new way of thinking when delivering presentations:

1) The “presenter” should be the focus NOT the slide-deck, not the bullet points and not even the content. A good storyteller will keep your attention even when the content is dry. It’s funny because you almost always hear “We’ll get you the slide-deck” in the end – the truth of the matter is a really good presentation would usually be worthless without the presenter.

2) Visuals, Visuals, Visuals! You have all heard the expression – A picture is worth a 1000 words right? Why is it that 80% of the time when I look up during a technical presentation I see the 1000 words … which brings me to my next point

3) Minimize that content – I cannot count the number of times I look up to see a full page of text with 2-3 paragraphs. 30 bullet points, and they talk about it for 8 seconds.

4) While on the topic of bullet points, noone says you “have” to use them – in fact a good visual will draw a single picture when a bullet point allows your audience to draw 100 different variations. Take a look at this visual for example.

5) Dare to be different – People will remember the simple things that really stand out – Think Seth Godin and the Purple Cow. If you drive down the street and see 100 cows you probably won’t remember them, however if one of those are purple you certainly will.

6) Keep it simple – Especially with visuals. I often look up to see a chart that for all I know could potentially be describing the molecular structure of a snowflake. To quote Einstein – “Everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler”.

7) Know your audience (before hand) – if you know who you are delivering too you are ahead of the game

8) Focus on “A super cool feature” rather than a full gamut, people love cool stuff. This really rings true with Demo’s.
9) Keeping them wanting more is never a bad thing howevergiving them too much, that’s a whole other story.

10) Pay attention to the pro’s, it’s the same as everything else. I highly recommend subscribing too | | for presentation and communications tips.

Catering to the IT Pro’s and Information Workers of the world

I’ve made mention many times in the past that I felt there was an obvious lack of material catering to “the users” – The Information Workers, the IT Pro’s and the like.

While at TechED I was fortunate enough to sit down with Lawerence Liu who works with Microsoft on the SharePoint Product Team and also happens to be in charge of “community”.  He shares this feeling, and I am happy to report that he is very focused on promoting the Information Worker and ITPro information channels, as well he’s playing a very active role in helping to moderate the direction of the community from the top level so that members are able to understand what’s missing, where they can help, and how to get started.

A note to all you guys/gals just getting started in the SharePoint Products and Technologies space, in particular blogging – If you are looking to promote your blogs and help drive traffic, focusing on ITpro and Information Worker related materials is definately a good jump-point.  I get a massive amount of emails, and traffic spikes when I make these type posts.

I hope to see more and more (real world) questions like the one below which I snagged from the Newsgroups both popping up, and being answered in the blogosphere.
My boss recently set up Windows Sharepoint Services and has now turned it over to me.  He wants  … or

So I just installed service pack -x- and now my coffee tastes off, or … well you get the idea.