Produce and pray

(Reading time: 1m, 39s)

Over breakfast last weekend, Christie and I were talking about how important parents are for children’s development. That probably sounds like an obvious thing to say, but Christie is a child psychologist, so she has a more nuanced perspective.

Listening to her talk about her experience working with kids, I pictured a landscape — The child is a lake and the parents are the surrounding mountains. Everything washes down the mountains into the lake.

A child psychologist can wind up feeling like a pollution control technician — At some point she looks around and says, “Hey, maybe we need to start focusing much more on the source of the problem.”

I looked up from my plate and said, “Wow — It’s just like design!"

Christie took a long drag off of her cup of coffee.

“How is it just like design?”

“You spend years making stuff and eventually realize that more stuff doesn’t help all that much — The decisions around what stuff gets made are more important, and the people who set the tone and expectations for all that are further upstream.”

Let me give you an example.

How might an organization improve an existing design? It could be anything — a newsletter, a brochure, a web page … Let’s go with a web page.

Someone in the organization may say, “Let’s add some pictures and more descriptive copy to the page. That will help.”

Someone else will say, “More copy won’t help. People don’t read.”

At many organizations, this is where the decision stalls.

Maybe everyone turns to the boss to decide which is the right answer, and the boss doesn’t know. She can’t know — because the question is, “What approach will be more effective and persuasive?” And to answer that, you have to study people’s behavior in relation to both approaches. But there’s often little understanding of how people are really interacting with the design today, so how would they even know if changes have any impact one way or the other?

Christie would like to break the reward-and-punish model of parenting. I’d like to break the produce-and-pray approach to communications.

At least, that’s how I’m thinking about it this morning.

Tomorrow may bring some new view of the problem.

Thanks for reading,

Kyle