My guest in this episode is Donna Spencer, an independent design consultant with 20-plus years of experience across the entire design spectrum – from strategy to delivery and everything in between. And, she says, she loves all of it.
Donna is recognised internationally as a leading UX practitioner, is a regular conference speaker and has written five books, including A Practical Guide To Information Architecture, Card Sorting and Presenting Design Work. Many listeners will know her for co-creating the UX Australia conference, which she ran for nine years.
Here Donna speaks about her experience, her books, the need to present design work well. And we talk about how Dungeons & Dragons is an excellent way to learn about facilitation.
- Donna’s website
- Donna on LinkedIn
- Donna on Twitte
- Presenting design work
- A practical guide to information architecture
- Card sorting: Designing usable categories
- How to write great copy for the web
- Facilitation for design thinking workshops
- Suggestions? Feedback? Get in touch!
Andy Polaine 00:09
Welcome to Power of 10, a podcast about design operating at many levels zooming out from thoughtful detail through to organisational transformation, head on to changes in society and the world. My name is Andy Polaine. I’m a service design and innovation consultant, coach, trainer and writer shows also about interesting people and their journeys into design. Today’s interesting person is Donna Spencer, an independent design consultant with 20 plus years of experience across the entire design spectrum, from strategy to delivery and everything in between. and she says she loves all of it. Ghana is recognised internationally as a leading UX practitioner is a regular conference speaker and has written five books including a practical guide to information architecture, card sorting, and presenting design work. Many listeners will know her for co creating the UX Australia conference, which he ran for nine years. Donna, welcome to Power of 10.
Donna Spencer 00:58
Thank you. And sorry for that long bio. It feels like I did a bit of keyword stuffing.
Andy Polaine 01:04
It’s also been 20 plus years means you’ve been around for a while. I’m sorry to say.
Donna Spencer 01:09
And I’ve done lot of things!
Andy Polaine 01:13
Yeah, exactly. So there’s quite large listenership, I think still in Australia. So most people will know you from from you UX Australia. But your very first book was the Practical Guide to Information Architecture. And I had a guest on recently said, “Oh, you know, I used to be an Information Architect when that was a title.” Is it still a thing? And you know, what was that all about back then?
Donna Spencer 01:32
I don’t think is a title anymore. And I think that practitioners are doing less information architecture than we used to do. But I don’t think it went away. I think people are just tangling themselves in knots, potentially, by not thinking about content and structure and relationships around content, before they start to draw screens. And certainly teams I’ve worked in the last couple of years, who, you know, practitioners who have come through boot camp, what kind of programmes where i is rarely taught, start putting pen to paper and start drawing things. And you know, I’ve had team members show me their creations, I’m like, okay, but that’s impossible, because they haven’t thought about what content do we actually have? How is that content, like internally structured? What are the relationships between pieces of it, and then they go slop things onto a page? And I’m like, Well, you can’t go from day to day because there’s no breach. Yeah. So I suspect that, I suspect, because I have seen it. I’ve been talking with people about this. So sometimes I’m like, I’m not making this up. I don’t think I’m making it up. I think people are probably getting really tangled in their own feet, by not understanding the structure of content and thinking about it ahead of time.
Andy Polaine 03:01
Yeah. It’s hard not to have these conversations without sort of sounding like “kids today know nothing.”
Donna Spencer 03:07
Yeah, I don’t do that. I’ve been thinking about it. In a way, in not doing the kids today, we’ve got all the things that we know, training today. It’s not it’s not practitioners. It’s training.
Andy Polaine 03:20
It is a bit. I think I’d like to take a little bit of a pop at the sort of obsession with velocity, though, too
Donna Spencer 03:27
And feature driven development. Yes, exactly. And so while you talk about the feature that might might sort of pop at the velocity thing is, you know, sometimes you actually need to stop and think. And the faster you go, two things happen. Your attention sort of narrows, but also your sort of short term memory, while is much much shorter. And so there’s a lot of kids today bit of that is partly because the nature of digital medium, which is very ephemeral, but people don’t know the history in the same way that say, industrial designers would know a lot about materials and history, the history of design. Tell me about the feature driven part.
Andy Polaine 04:01
Well, the one of the things that I’ve been seen in teams I’ve worked with and kind of people I’ve talked to is a work structure that involves this sprint, we’re doing these things, this sprint, were working on this feature, do the screens for it. Now, if you haven’t, ahead of time, thought about how those features hang together. And again, what content you might be using, what data you’re using, how it like, internally hangs together. You can’t… I mean somebody could say to me do a feature for a thing. I can do a feature for it. But then the next feature, I’m gonna have to go hang on how does this tie together? So all the time we’re doing things in you know, time boxed sprints where we’re really focused on delivering to the end of that sprint. We can we do it but it doesn’t produce sustainable, you know, a sustainable product, where if we can if we can plan ahead, which is what we used to do with information architecture. Not that we need to do anything kind of waterfall, but sometimes we need to. I mean, you just said materials with industrial designers, we need to understand our materials before we start trying to build them. And that material is what are we working with? And how is it structured? And how does it relates. And if we stop and understand that a model it out and make sure that we know what we’re doing, then when you do go to do a feature, you can be thinking about the other features that you’ve got coming in the future and how they’re going to tie together and the things you’ve already done, and how they’re going to tie together. Rather than just going. Here’s ten high fidelity screens, my work is done this sprint. Yeah. So I mean, that’s the thing. You know, I was banging on about the services side of ecosystems, right, that you don’t just, you know, I still think that everything that, you know, the digital product design has the makings, actually a really actually services, they have multiple touch mindset, front stage backstage, they have customer support, and all sorts of things. And they’re all of that is much more my favourite metaphor that probably everyone on this podcast is bored of hearing is gardening, right, where you’re planting a garden. In fact, it’s sort of landscape gardening, if you think of long term services, like health care and stuff, and you don’t just stick a tree in, you know, a conifer that’s going to grow and then cast shade everything else, you don’t just kind of randomly add stuff you really think about where’s the best place with this? And how’s everything else?
Donna Spencer 06:24
This week is apples. Go plant some apples.
Andy Polaine 06:27
And there’s some patience that is involved, right, things go through different stages. So you’re not seeing information architecture being down as much as it used to be and probably as much as it should be. Is that fair to say? Or am I putting words in your mouth?
Donna Spencer 06:39
I think so. And certainly, it happens within content strategy for content projects. So definitely happens there for like heavy, large content, projects. So people definitely doing doing the information architecture kind of work there. But in other kinds of projects that aren’t really kind of, you know, big government websites and heavy style content, I just think I think it’s being thought of as much as if it were being thought of more projects would go easier. And I definitely don’t want to be that we used to do this thing. We used to care about it a lot. And then nobody else is thinking about it like that. I can’t understand how do you dive in and start working on and I work, I did complex work. So like simple work, it doesn’t matter so much. But I was doing complex work? How can I start to design something coherent and substantial, that’s going to work in the long run? And, you know, we’re all about, we talk a lot about presenting things, you know, as simply as possible and clarifying. So, if you don’t know what you’re working with, you can do that. I don’t know what I don’t know. So I just thought,
Andy Polaine 07:55
Well, it’s I think there is it, you know, there’s a valid thing in you know, it’s never been easier to build, right? So there’s a valid thing and kind of building something rather than sort of pontificating about it for a long time. You know, sometimes you’d be able to think right, so you can have now I see that thing that I realised that’s not right. But I think what the danger is, is, perhaps what’s not really happening is the switch of mode, which is okay, now we’ve built that thing. We know what it is, you know, it’s that getting to the right design and getting the design right thing now we know roughly what we should be doing. Now we need to take some time to really think about the next bit before we just steam ahead instead of just scaling the kind of hodgepodge that we’ve got. And designing ourselves into a corner. I mean, that’s what seems to happen quite often is that you suddenly find a situation like, that doesn’t work now. And now we have to either have a kludge, or we have to kind of rebuild it. Or we’re just stuck or we just ignore it.
Donna Spencer 08:43
Or, yeah, teams I’ve worked with the last couple of years will do all that. And then they’ll go, Oh, yeah, well, we’ll just do. So. Team I was working with recently. Oh, yeah. We’ll, we’ll just come up with that hierarchy. Yeah, we’ll just do it, we’ll get that content, we’ll write the content. And like, every time you say you’ll write the content, you realise you’ve got to scale that by 1000 times. Like, it’s not a page of content, it’s 1000 things because this thing is large and complex. You don’t just come up with that hierarchy. Right? If I make a hierarchy that fits 1000 to 2000 things, it’s not just a snap of the fingers. And yeah, yeah, don’t worry, we’ll make it Don’t worry, we’ll make it is still substantial piece of work.
Andy Polaine 09:25
And 1000 decisions that can degrade it over time. Yeah.
Donna Spencer 09:29
Yep. And somebody needs to write those 1000 pieces of content. That isn’t trivial.
Andy Polaine 09:33
So, you know, part of the challenge often teams, I mean, you know, I do a lot of coaching and, you know, a lot of the conversation is, you know, how do I convince stakeholder x or my product manager, owner, CEO, whoever it is the value of this, this work that appears to be kind of thinking rather than doing you know, and I think there’s culturally Yep, doing and hence the velocity thing is seen as more valuable than then thinking, you know, I have this thing right. I feel like my belief is that CEOs should be the least busy people in their business because they have to make some of the most complex decisions. And so any thinking time, and the opposite tends to be true. Have you got five minutes to CEO to present this million dollar thing, you know, enter, you know, with that comes presentation, comes talking about design work, and you’ve just written this book about presenting design work? And what, you know, maybe I’ll answer the question for you. But what kind of brought you to the idea of there’s a book in this, and I think I should write this.
Donna Spencer 10:31
What brought me to this. So you know, as I said, kind of, at the beginning, I’ve done lots of things. And I often have, you know, periods of time where I’m like, oh, I’ve got a gap. And this period of time happened. Because just before Christmas, I quit a job, which, you know, sometimes you have to do like, oh, I’ve got a gap.
Andy Polaine 10:51
I love that you’re grinning about quitting the job too?
Donna Spencer 10:55
Oh, yes. I’m being mindful of not saying, you know, we didn’t like such things, etc. But anyway, I quit job. And you know, around Christmas, I’m not going to pick up something. So I’ve got at least a six to eight week gap around that. Because in Australia that summer holidays, and work doesn’t really start till February. And I’m not very good at spending eight weeks. So I’m like, oh, I’ve got some ideas. I’ve got some ideas. And I just done this talk at interaction southamerica, about presenting design, and it went really well. And like, Oh, well, I could turn that into a skinny little book. And at the same time, I decided to write two books at once. At the same time, I decided I’d write a book about facilitation, because these are things that facilitation is something I’ve been doing for most of that year. And presenting is something that I have always done well, so I’m like, I was just like, what can I get out of my head that the things that I do without a lot of conscious effort that I feel would also be valuable, valuable for other people to learn from? So I decided to put those down. So I actually worked on them concurrently. And they’re both like, they’re both 10,000 words. And I say, the only 10,000 words and people like it’s still a book about Yes, but it’s only ten thousand words..
Andy Polaine 12:18
That’s the information architect in you, you know, the there’s nothing like getting the writing a book to get the soup of kind of stuff in your head out in some kind of organised way on the page.
Donna Spencer 12:29
That’s right. Yeah. And as you know, if we believe that there are there are binary introverts and extroverts. And if we believe that there’s a theory around this as a somewhat extrovert, I don’t know what I think. So, right, I need to write it down, or talk to myself, but write it down a bit more productive. So yeah, these are both things that I knew that I did well, and that I thought there were potentially, you know, gaps in the teaching materials, and unnecessarily skill gaps. But you know, we always have a big pool of new designers coming through presenting particularly is something that designers need to do, often every single week is show off their work to people who need to make decisions with it. So there would you know, that’s something that, you know, a lot of people need a skill in and probably don’t have a natural skill.
Andy Polaine 13:26
Yeah, I mean, I run a workshop in presenting and pitching for designers and storytelling, and I’ve done it Europe, Australia, actually. And it came out of me watching my students present over and over again, and just, you know, thank God, if I need you to actually practice that a bit. There’s a good idea in there somewhere, but it no one got it and so he didn’t do very well. And I saw a thing going on, you know, lecturers are only human, which is a not bad idea, but a kind of not amazing idea that was well presented got graded higher, and at some times, there was quite a good idea buried in there, just a mess. And in all fairness, that was when I think this is what the idea is, but I’m projecting so much in my own kind of thought into this, I can’t actually read a great this higher, because I’m basically doing the kind of work for the student. And so I started rehearsing it with them and taking them through it. And that’s where my stuff came from. I think one of the things you know, there are presentation classes and stuff. And sometimes it’s about you know, how to design slides. And sometimes it’s a bit about structure, and sometimes a lot of presentations here to be Hello, my name is Andy Polaine. I’m very glad that you thank you for inviting me here today to speak to you and it’s all very stilted. What I thought was really good in your book was who is the presentation for and I know people talk about audiences, but it’s actually more about what’s the presentation one so there there are different types of presentation that you talk about maybe you could us what they are.
Donna Spencer 14:48
Yeah, um, so I was just thinking about what you just said with I said who’s the presentation for but really what it is what it’s not about the fact that there’s you know, a tech person and a marketing person In the room, it’s what do they need to do with this information? Now or later. So it is what is what is it about, but I’m still going with who because understanding this room helps you do that. So sometimes you’re presenting work in progress to a bunch of people who you’re talking to every week. And sometimes, you’re working maybe more like a consultant, and you’ve done a whole lot of work and you’re presenting something substantial to someone to make fairly big decisions on it, like you just said about CEOs. And that kind of, you’ve got five minutes with the CEO. Well, the people on the other end are often often making a decision. So okay, you’ve showed us this thing? Yes, we will, yes, we understand, we will continue to go along that path, or here’s some information. So thinking about what are those people going to do with the information? Are you asking them now to make decisions? Are you asking them to reflect on this? And understand how it’s going to work? For the thing that they know best? Do you need them to tell you something now? Do you need them tell you something later, you need to know all of that, particularly around the people before you even think about preparing some slides? Otherwise, you’re literally walking in and saying, Hey, this is what I did in the last two weeks, and that is not going to get you good feedback. Yeah.
Andy Polaine 16:30
So you know, you’ve talked about presenting progress. And then there’s presenting a project status, and presenting the final version. And, you know, it’s kind of three different things. I think was there a fourth one or three different ones?
Donna Spencer 16:44
There might have been one in the book…
Andy Polaine 16:48
There was a bit in there, which really resonated with me, I think, what two things I think that thing of what do you want people to do with the information you’re giving them is really crucial one and yet so often forgotten. And I think designer are probably a little bit easier sometimes to say, let me show you all the stuff I did. You know, and as a thing you said in here, project status isn’t, you know, show me you’ve made progress or show me all the work you’ve done. And I think that often when it’s for an end thing, the expectations you may need to hint at or kind of say, yes, we’ve we’ve done this research, but that’s like kind of one slide or kind of, you know, you’re you’re just indicating there is more here, should you try to kind of prod it away at it. But those kinds of presentations were three quarters of the presentation about here’s all the people research, and here’s all the stuff we did. And then the final bit is Oh, by the way, here’s the idea.
Donna Spencer 17:35
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah. And this is what again, what I was seeing designers do, get up and say, Hello, we did these things. I did this, we did that. We try these things out. And then we try those things out. And we tried that out. And that didn’t work. And we showed it to users and stuff and nonsense. And by that time, I’ve been like on the client side of this as well. And I’m like, what the hell am I meant to be looking at? Where what I want to know is the problem we were trying to solve was this. This is what we came up with. Let me show you it. And then if you’ve got questions, like if I, if I say, here’s the solution, and people want to know how we thought about that, how did we get there? Do we try another thing? They’ll ask? Yeah. And if they say, oh, did you try to do it in such in such a way you can then say, Yeah, we did try that one. It didn’t work, because, which is way better than saying, we tried that. We tried that this one didn’t work. That one deep blah blah blah and getting all tangled up?
Andy Polaine 18:39
Yes. Very hard for everyone to carry that in their head. Yeah. Yeah.
Donna Spencer 18:42
The clients, your stakeholders, your folks don’t need to know all the things that happened in your head. But to a designer that was very personal. There’s a bit of word for that. But you know,
Andy Polaine 18:51
Well it’s a lot of work, right? It’s a it’s an accomplishment, or it’s a large part of kind of what they’ve been doing.
Donna Spencer 18:56
So they’ve been thinking about all the things I did. And some of it was painful, and some was hard. But other people don’t need to know. So yeah, and so you if you’ve gone through that meandering, I did all these things, as you said, you get to the end, and you’re like, what do you think people like? What was I meant to be looking at? Right? Yeah, wherever you say, we have this problem. This is what we came up with? Will it work for your customers? Will it work for your customers? Is it technically possible? How does this fit in with a marketing plan, then people can start thinking about what matters to them, and their own contexts, and can give you good answers rather than just going, urgh, I just got hit by a truck. The thing that happens when you give people a lot of stuff when they feel like they got hit by a truck, is they’ll come back to you later on. And you’d be like, but I thought we resolved that. And they went away and thought about it. I mean, like nah, this won’t work. And that won’t work.
Andy Polaine 19:51
Too much stuff in one go.
Donna Spencer 19:52
Yeah. So you have to really think about what do you want out of these people.
Andy Polaine 19:55
Presenting is I think a bit like facilitating an active telepathy. You know, this is Now I’ve got all this stuff in my head, and I want to get it across to you. But if I just do like a sort of Vulcan mind meld, you’re just gonna, you know, your brains gonna fry, and you’ll you’ll pass out, you know, which is brings me on to the facilitation thing, because I think a lot of us said this a few times a lot of design methods, or a lot of the kind of working out loud stuff of I, I’m slightly pausing to say design thinking, but I know that’s what the book is, yeah, is actually largely because telepathy doesn’t exist, you know, a lot of it is, you know, there’s my thoughts inside our customers heads, and I want to try and extract them and understand them. And then I want to try and get those, my understanding of that back into the stakeholders heads, and so on and so forth. So all of that sort of many of the methods we use feel, to me, ways of doing that. So what did you you know, there’s quite a lot around design thinking is quite a lot about facilitation. So what’s your angle on on this?
Donna Spencer 20:51
Yeah, there is quite a lot around design thinking. And there are a lot of facilitation books. But I only found the facilitation books when I started writing a book on facilitation, and I thought, Oh, I should look up and see what’s already been done. Before I just extract my experience out of my head, and the facilitation books are… not necessarily within our field, yes. And we do tend to read within our field more than we read without it, sorry, outside of it. So there’s always there’s always a place for writing something within your field and within for your audience. And what I wanted to do was write something practical, and again, really skinny, and really focused, and really around. We as designers often do these things called design, thinking workshops, whatever we call them. And I know design thinking, it seems to be getting a bad rap these days. But anyway, we put people in a room, we ask them to, together, solve a problem, hopefully in some kind of creative, expansive way, etc. and doing the coordination of that, figuring out how you get from one end of a workshop to another, whether it’s like a half day workshop or a multi day workshop, like figuring out how you do one activity, and then that leads into another one. And that leads into another one. And you do it in a way that really, really, really works. So that you get to the end of the workshop and have achieved your goals is actually super hard. And there’s like lots of stuff around methods and you can do your crazy eights. And you can do some brainstorming, and you can do some prioritisation techniques, but weaving them together. So the out puts from one activity lead beautifully into the next activity. And so that every single person in the room feels like they’re being able to contribute, and like their skills are being used. That’s hard. And I’ve spent I spent a couple of years you know, sitting in work. This is awful. What are we doing? What happened to this after the end of it, we just spent a whole day doing post it notes and it went nowhere, seeing people like you know, you’re working in a table with really lovely people. And you only say you see them like stop and block. Because they’re like, I can’t do that. They just asked me to sketch they asked me to draw, I can’t do these things and they locked down and what I can’t contribute anymore. And I think I have something to contribute to that both to the, you know, here’s my again, my information architect leaking in the structuring of a workshop so that things string together really well. So that you know, outputs, the inputs and everything ties together is like natural for me. But I am good at observing people and watching them work and watching them contribute and knowing when I’ve done something that’s locked them often that they’ve like, stopped contributing. And knowing when they’re jazzed because they do the thing that they’ve never done and they really feel valued. The book kind of leans a lot in that direction of really supporting people to bring all their skills to a workshop and to preseason, we usually have the people who bring in a users and subject matter experts there and tech folks, textbooks, they’re not designers, so they always have a lot to add. And they need tender care and coaching to bring it out of them gently.
Andy Polaine 24:24
And there’s often not a mental model for that kind of workshop, right? That most people’s modus operandi is a meeting or a big meeting, you know. And I mean I’ve had a workshop where the very senior stakeholder asked for, you know, talking points and we would say, well, that’s that’s not what this is. This isn’t a thing where you can do a pre read and you can come in with an opinion on stuff. But I think that input output sequencing is the thing I probably spend most of my time on when I’m thinking about a workshop and I learned from teaching actually, but I think there’s… it’s interesting, you know, I mean, I’m hearing the relationship to the Information Architecture, but obviously also the presenting thing, which is, what do you want people to do with it at the end, right? So we’re gonna, let’s go to the end and what what would be the outcome and then you kind of work your way there. But also that that kind of aspect of seeing whether have I, you know, that moment in workshops where you see everyone kind of looking at each other, so, about acts of mousing, what are we doing here? What are we supposed to be doing? Okay, hang on, I’ve, I’ve somehow flubbed the instructions of that, or I’ve made one leap that was really made sense to me. But I’ve made a cognitive leap too far. And I need to break that down into smaller steps or the opposite. Sometimes, you know, everyone’s bored out of their mind, I can just condense that I’ve had other things with activities that used to, you know, say, Okay, got 45 minutes for this. I then said you got 20 minutes, you know, sometimes because there was a time pressure and all of a sudden, the output is way better as Oh, okay, giving people less time can sometimes be better than giving them more time. Lots of stuff.
Donna Spencer 25:58
Yeah, as long as you’ve given them less time on the things that are less important. Like it don’t get don’t compress the very most important part of the workshop.
Andy Polaine 26:08
So now we’re gonna get to the bit which I’m so excited about because, you know, the facilitation and all of the stuff we’ve been talking about storytelling, facilitation, seeing how people are in a group - you play Dungeons and Dragons,
Donna Spencer 26:19
I do I both play and Game Master Dungeons and Dragons.
Andy Polaine 26:23
So I’ve been learning about it a bit online. So I don’t know if I think I don’t know if I’ve done it on the podcast yet. I you know, I played as a kid, most people can think of it as this kind of terribly nerdy game, I think it’s it’s had a rebirth for a couple of reasons. It, you know, featured strongly in Stranger Things. And so it sort of became a bit kind of cool. But I think there’s been the rise of streaming and groups like Critical Role, who are brilliant voice actors and improvisers who have been playing it and it’s kind of created this massive following any and, you know, Corona has helped. And suddenly, it’s what we can do? I’ve watched everything that there is on Netflix. And so as I started diving into it, though, and looking, of course, the sort of Internet has happened since I played it. And then I said, this, all this stuff and amazing stuff. But what started to fascinate me most was there’s a whole load of stuff around facilitation about how you run a group of people. So you know, there’s all these things about from lines and veils. And and, you know, consent in gaming. All of this stuff about upfront, there’s a thing called a session zero, which I don’t know if that’s come from, like the idea of a sprint zero, maybe you could sort of talk about what a session zero is?
Donna Spencer 27:30
Yeah, I don’t know whether those things emerged in a similar spot, or whether they’re just coincidental. But a session zero sets, the, of course, role playing games are all built on large sets of. So there’s like all the technical rules of that, of how characters work and the actions they can do. But then there’s social rules, and session zero, aims to set the social rules for a group. So how much violence are we comfortable with? How much sex are we comfortable with? How do we deal with these kinds of situations? How do you like to play? What kind of styles do you like? Because if you’re with a group, for some, you know, long-ish amount of time, and you’re not the same kind of player, like some players really love combat, they love figuring out how to best use their characters and their actions and their skills to do super clever things. And, you know, bring down in creatures, some players love to go and ask questions and romp around and check to NPCs.
Andy Polaine 28:40
Those are non player characters, just for those people here.
Donna Spencer 28:43
Sorry, non player characters. So people love to open up every lid of every barrel and every chest and dive under the water and look at all things. And if you’ve got people who have quite different styles, all in one group, either it works really well because you’ve got a beautiful cross section of styles, players, skills, and you can achieve all those things, or it grates, you know, a third of the players. Because so and so is talking to all the non player characters, and we just weren’t we know the big bad boss is up there, and we just want to go get it. Yeah, so session zero aims to set those social rules and make sure that the group understands itself before it dives into something. So in a session zero, you might find that the people you thought you were about to go do something with actually, it’s not going to be a good experience for you all,
Andy Polaine 29:35
Which I just found such a fantastic one to one analogy of setting up multidisciplinary teams right, because in in those games you have so you know, you have a fighter, you have a wizard you have a cleric you have you know, healers, druids and stuff. And so, you know, and you have all these different types of characters, the different skills which just really reminded me of the kind of team thing and you know, if you just immediately OK project starts and the kind of kickoff without doing the, you know, if you just do the focus on this is what the project is and what needs to be done. Let’s just get on and do it without doing the stuff of, “this is how I like to work.” Actually not just like to work, this is how I like to kind of live my life at work. You know, for me, some time on my own, I need to go away and think about things. That’s not me being non collaborative, that’s me being “I need time to go and think of things.” People like you and I, like, I need to talk this stuff out to make sense of what’s going on in my head. And so you know, we need some time where we can kind of do that together, you know, and the four introverts in the room and like no, just shut up. And so you know, all of that stuff, it just seemed to me to be really key, but also this idea of here are some boundaries, as well, you know, that’s the lines and veils. Lines are things never crossed. So you might speak or say, oh, we’re not going to have anything that involves torture. And veils might be well, you know, I don’t mind a bit of kind of fighting and stuff, but you don’t have to go into massive detail about the gore as a thing, we just keep away. And also, you know, some ways of just saying, stop, I can, you know, I’m not comfortable with this. Sounds like that wouldn’t kind of happen necessarily in a design environment. But actually, you know, there’s plenty of things around doing research with people who have opinions you find politically objectionable, you know, how do you deal with that? And there’s a whole load of other stuff in there, I think that comes to play. But going back to the facilitation and the storytelling thing, also, have I lost people? Or have we gone off on a tangent, you know, and have I set the clues?
Donna Spencer 31:22
Yeah, have I set the clues!
Andy Polaine 31:24
There’s a classic thing that happens if you’re a dungeon master, the games master. So that is for those of you know, there’s someone who’s sort of has written or a is running the story and knows everything. And then there’s the players. And the players only know the description they’ve given. There’s that two things that happen. One is, you know, there’s the guy in the bar, who says, “Well, I need someone to come with me to go to, you know, Hupperdook” or whatever. And the players just completely ignore it. And you’re like, no, hang on, that’s the clue that you go speak to that person. Or the other thing is, you know, “you walk into the room, there’s a rug, there’s a lamp…” Well I inspect the rug.” “Yeah, yeah, it’s just, it’s just a rug.” “I look under the rug. It’s a check the rug for magic” and it’s just, it’s just a rug, and you need to drop it, you drop an incidental and it’s like this, suddenly, people become obsessed about it. I’ve also had that with stakeholders where you’ve… and that’s the problem with saying we tried this out, and then we tried this and tried and then we decided for that sometimes. Or one little thing you mentioned in the pitch. I’ve had this before, where then when it came to the final presentation, the main stakeholder hadn’t been - or the most sort of senior decision maker - who hadn’t been involved in in the process, just went “where’s that thing from the pitch?” They’re were just completely obsessed about that incidental non-important, sort of half-assed idea. But then, you know, it’s that none of that has to be in there.
Donna Spencer 32:38
Well, that beautiful gold lamp candlestick that I mentioned two hours ago.
Andy Polaine 32:44
Exactly. And that you’ve forgotten. And that’s the other thing. So you know, it seemed to me, I don’t know if you found this, but it seems to me that I keep discovering loads of stuff around that it really comes into how you run groups, how you can present how you facilitate those groups. Is there anything else that you have found from from doing this that has bled one way or the other, you know, your work has bled into the gains mastering or the gains mastering it’s bled into the work?
Donna Spencer 33:12
I can do better voices in meetings. No, I don’t do voices. I’m being silly. I can be more silly at a drop of a hat since I’ve been doing, you know, games or literally improv. But so I mean, thinking about storytelling. So thinking, in all these things, I talked about presenting a piece of work, I talked about facilitating a workshop. And now we’re talking about playing a role playing game, all of them are about starting somewhere and knowing where you’re heading. Actually, this goes back to the even the very beginning of when we’re talking about like IA and the structural component. You’re all about where are you heading? So as the person running these things, so giving a presentation or facilitating a group or working group of role players through a story, I’ve got my eye on the end goal. And I’m really carefully watching how I’m moving, either, you know, my, my, the people I’m talking to presenting wise, or the people in a workshop, or my players, how are we going as we’re getting there? So yeah, I’m dropping clues. I’m telling him about rugs and red herrings and things like that. And I’m making jokes, but I’m storytelling, the whole way, there’s going to be in all of these things, you know, highs and lows and rhythm and cadence. There’s going to be moments where you, you tell the background, nothing happens and another thing happens, and then this thing, whether that’s not the way all the things we did we did in our work, but like here is a user story and they achieved their goal in a presentation or doing small activities in a workshop until they come up with like lots of cool ideas. Or, you know, figure out all the clues. So yeah, there’s cadence in these things as well. That’s not just one note that energy varies the whole time. So the like there’s structuring and facilitating and storytelling, all together, are all really similar things. And it might just be that like, you and I both have similar interests and styles and ways of thinking that we’re like, we’re totally seeing all these, these patterns. But certainly by the time you get to my age, I think I’m a bit older than you, you should have figured out what you’re good at. So and you should be like leaning on the things that you’re good at. And I’m good at all these things. I’m good at teaching sewing, as well as what I also do. And you know, what’s, you know, similar? You start off with a pile of pieces, and you put them together, and gradually, they’re making a bigger thing. And you have to go back and do small bits. And then you do some more big bits. And you gradually see this happen until at the end, you’ve got a theme. And you know, I teach I teach refugee migrant women sewing and they’ve never seen before. And after, like three hours, they’ve made a pouch, but I’ve done it by breaking down the skills and teaching them small things, so they get to a end goal. And I’m showing them the end goal the whole time. And like this is where we’re going with this. When you do this step, it’s going to look like that when we finish it. So all of these storytelling, facilitating, structuring, tie together, at least in my brain.
Andy Polaine 36:32
Indeed Indeed, I mean, I have another kind of thing, which is, I’d still viewed as at work as a game, right? You put on me, for most people, we put on a suit, they put on a costume, they go into work, they play a role. There are bosses, there are levels, you know, their rewards, there’s the there’s the whole thing from bonuses, and then you sort of go home and you kind of take it off again. And you know, my constant thing that I’m striving for in life and in coaching is to try and help sort of collapse that so that you know, it’s not… those aren’t two different things that you’re not having to hold that sort of dissonance in you. Because I think it’s…
Donna Spencer 37:07
Oh, that’s tiring.
Andy Polaine 37:08
It’s tiring. Yeah. At least people burning out.
Donna Spencer 37:11
Yeah, I found the things that mean, I can bring all of these skills to it. So it feels easy for me.
Andy Polaine 37:17
So we’ll have to start a podcast of designers and dragons or something.
Donna Spencer 37:21
Yeah, well, so erm… Dan Brown is super interested. Who did I talk with. I talked with Stephen Anderson about this recently, that I’m sure there’s lots of us.
Andy Polaine 37:33
So I think though, as a if anyone’s wanting to get facilitation practice, the biggest thing to try and do. I think it’s, it’s, it’s a nice way of kind of in a very amusing way of practising. So look, we’re coming up to time we could just keep on nattering for ages. I know. As you know, the very first Power of Ten talk I gave was at UX Australia actually, the podcast is named after this Ray and Charles Eames’ film Powers of Ten. And the final question is always, what one small thing that’s maybe overlooked or underrated would if it was rethought, have an oversized or outsized effect on society or the world?
Donna Spencer 38:09
So given I listen to all your podcasts, I should have thought about this ahead. And you did warn me, and I didn’t think about it at all. But I actually… given this like throughout conversation, I think I have figured it out. If we respected the skills of the people, we work with more, and acknowledged that they don’t have the same experiences and skills as us more and did more to help them bridge the gaps that they have, by listening and grounding ourselves in the experience of other people, what designers say they do, but they don’t do it within teams a lot. So we could pay more attention to understanding the people we’re we’re interacting with, and caring more about what they bring to projects, we would have less combative situations, we would have less issues where ego has tripped up a team. And we would work together a lot better and a lot more smoothly.
Andy Polaine 39:21
That’s a very good answer, but could also just roll the dice roll for all the important decisions about and see what happens. So completely random project.
Donna Spencer 39:30
Yeah, roll with a d20 and figure out what feature comes next.
Andy Polaine 39:32
Yes, exactly. We just have… so the last nerdy bit for it for games masters or dungeon Master’s is things called you know, these roll tables where there are a whole load of random events are listed in a table when you roll the dice and you pick one of them, you could just just do it like that.
Donna Spencer 39:46
And an elephant appears in the middle of the passageway.
Andy Polaine 39:49
What I’ve been thinking of doing for facilitation actually or for workshops to say okay, roll the dice and your product has now become illegal, you know, and that kind of thing.
Donna Spencer 39:58
That’s a good idea! I’m in the middle of writing some design methods kind of content at the moment.
Andy Polaine 40:03
I’ve been I’ve been putting some together.
Donna Spencer 40:05
Yeah, we try to put two conflicting ideas together, you can roll a d20
Andy Polaine 40:10
You can’t use the data that you thought you could and stuff.
Donna Spencer 40:12
Yeah. Good idea.
Andy Polaine 40:14
It’s good. I’ve got a list of them, I’ll share them with you. Where can people find you on the on the interwebs?
Donna Spencer 40:21
You can find me all over the place as Maadonna with two A’s at the beginning. So m a a d. My business website is maad mob again with two As maadmob.com.au. And it’s easy. And then you can find me on LinkedIn as Donna Spencer. Those things will find me on most platforms and socials. So I don’t do all all the socials. Just kind of do Twitter and LinkedIn.
Andy Polaine 40:48
I’ve been, you know, early adopter, and then early leaver.
Donna Spencer 40:50
Yeah, me too.
Andy Polaine 40:50
We’ll put all the links in the show notes and the link to…
Donna Spencer 40:53
Just so we get those As right.
Andy Polaine 40:55
Where does the double A come from? I mean I get Madonna, right, because Madonna Spencer…
Donna Spencer 41:02
It’s one of these daggy things. So I you know, and many lifetimes ago, we got a email address. This is my ex-husband and I that… Yeah, we had a combined email address
Andy Polaine 41:12
When you used to share a phone…
Donna Spencer 41:13
And my surname at the time was Maura. Anthony and Donna, so we had maad at Bigpond or something. Then I went to start a company so called maad mob. And then I had this brilliant idea that turned it into Maadonna. And that was the best idea I’ve ever had..
Andy Polaine 41:34
Okay, there you go. Early. Yes, early adopters of email addresses and domain names. Yes.
Donna Spencer 41:41
Andy Polaine 41:43
Donna, thank you so much for being my guest on Power of Ten.
Donna Spencer 41:45
Thank you very much. As I’m sure you’re aware, you’ve been listening to Power of Ten. My name is Andy Polaine. You can find me at @apolaine on Twitter, or polaine.com where you can find more episodes and sign up for my newsletter Doctor’s Note. If you like the show, please take a moment to give it a rating on iTunes. It really helps others find us. And as always get in touch. If you have any comments, feedback or suggestions for guests. All the links are in the show notes. Thanks for listening and see you next time.