Exclusion Example: Emoji in Twitter Titles

A thread this week about emoji in Twitter titles provided me an instant treasure trove of design exclusion lessons — broadening my perspective and building empathy for non-visual people using Twitter.


First, though, let me back up a step to explain why it’s a gem. Why it illustrates the need for first thinking about exclusion when approaching inclusion.

Inclusive design became a major learning trend for me in 2017 — starting with fresh perspectives arriving in my life via the designers and developers at Automattic, especially our Head of Design John Maeda.

In April I jumped straight in via the Design and Exclusion conference we launched in collaboration with Twitter, NextDoor, Airbnb. Listening to debiasing stories where people shared intimate details of feeling excluded rocked my boat a bit.

My mind really cracked open in August when I become aware of Kat Holmes and her work on this crucial topic. Previously with Microsoft and now via her own company, Kata, Kat presented the foundations of inclusive design internally at work over a video call. She then presented a longer, in-person version at our Grand Meetup in September; and later in 2017 Kat became an official advisor to Automattic, also. Hurray to that!

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Photo showing the Design.blog page on inclusive design.

For a great introduction to Kat and her work, see Kat Holmes: Who Gets To Play? on design.blog.


OK, back to the Twitter emoji in titles thing.

What. The. Heck. Like most lessons I’m learning about building inclusion into designs, this one hit me straight in the temple. Painfully. Why hadn’t I thought of this before? I mean, “duh.”

The author, a blind person named Sassy Outwater, not only points to something incredibly real and timely — but then proceeds to share a master class in accessibility in the reply threads that follow.

Here are a few highlights; check out the full thread for more as they come in.

Memes and GIFs are hard because the screen reader technology can’t figure out any optical character recognition (OCR) on the moving bits:

Tips and tricks for including blind people using screen readers:

Here are the current screen readers people love best:

Here’s the survey she mentioned: Survey of Preferences of Screen Readers Users on WebAIM.

Shedding the light on the fact that in today’s world, mobile devices are the most universally accessible devices because — they’re small and with you always — and they have default voice-over utilities:

And then a question I had, she answered perfectly, which in my mind was, “OK, so how does it sound when the screen reader comes across the non-text symbol?”

Hah! (smile) (laughing)

Learning, not shaming:

I don’t expect everyone to use the word please but I appreciate those who do. Common courtesy is society’s problem, not an issue to drop on developers. That’s ableist. Universal design says we are all sharing the same space. Courtesy goes a long way. — Sassy Outwater

 


Eye-Mind-opening, thank you Sassy — and Kat, John, Ashleigh, Lori, Anne, Cate, Maria, Davide, DK — and many others who’ve taught me so much about this topic.

I mentioned that this is timely — one reason is for learning and improving. The other is sharing what I’ve learned: if you’re in Arizona come to my talk about inclusive design at WordCamp Phoenix 2018 in February.

 

If You Love Being Limited

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Screenshot from a phone showing the reasons why the narrow options on Squarespace can limit your site’s potential.

Laura Sorensen — the talented designer behind Atelier LKS (and my first cousin) — explains why Squarespace might not be a great for fit for your website in 10 Reasons to Choose WordPress Over Squarespace.

First of all, their templates virtually require high-end photos to not look odd or underwhelming.

Some Squarespace sites are gorgeous, but you can bet they have a full stable of high-resolution professional photography to accomplish that, because their templates virtually require it. If you lack professional photography, your Squarespace site could easily look odd or underwhelming.

Other reasons to choose WordPress over Squarespace include: flexibility, lower cost, freedom from limitations of many kinds, and better help + community.

My favorite part of her 10 reasons list:

You love being limited. If the simplicity of being told what to use or having narrow options makes your life easier (rather than limiting your site’s potential), then Squarespace might be for you!

WordPress will grow with you. It’s unlimited, built for freedom, and you can do more with less.

The Real Reason People Won’t Change

I first heard the concept of uncovering competing commitments in a talk by Rich Sheridan of Menlo Innovations. On the topic of embracing change he pointed to the act of uncovering as a key activity when teams are blocked. And when addressing low performance.

In the Q & A of this session I asked:

When someone isn’t performing well, how do you motivate them to change in the positive direction — without using fear-based tactics around losing their job, if they don’t turn things around?

Rich answered:

For general performance issues, always check in with them as a person first. What are their other commitments? [He then referenced the HBR article about reasons for people’s resistance to change]. If it’s truly a performance issue that needs addressing, and the fear is no longer artificial, communicate that clearly as you kick it off.

Curious to dig in more, I thought: what are other possible causes of low performance, and how am I doing in my assessment of those cases to separate the perception from the truth?

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Screenshot of the Harvard Business Review article, “The Real Reason People Won’t Change” (2001).

Competing commitments are detailed in the article Rich shared: The Real Reason People Won’t Change. The authors describe concealed commitments that block change where people hold on to and hide their assumptions. To get to the truth, they suggest an exercise is to turn the questions or complaints around — rephrasing them — to find out what they are worried about and how it’s preventing their success. And more important, which part they play in resolving it.

At the team level this exercise often takes a deeper dive over a long period of time. Something I haven’t found on my teams that we take time to do, especially with large groups of people, many moving parts, and urgent deadlines. Partly because taking the time derails progress; the abstraction of examining complaints and gathering enough data to find the source of low performance. That takes precious time away from shipping continuous product iterations for customers, which is our primary mission.

One pattern I’ve seen with projects that go on too long, the responsible parties in the end often admit they didn’t know quite how to solve the problem. Or, they ran into a blocker that needed help outside the team. But they didn’t feel comfortable openly admitting it.

Based on this research, I can now say that disagreements passively held are often indistinguishable from poor performance.

A lack of passion or drive — which in turn blocks progress to follow up or complete something — could indicate someone isn’t connecting personally to the goal, or to our company culture, or their team.

Which helps answer the questions: 1) Why does someone “go dark?” and 2) Why does a team underperform?

A key point from my experience is that when you uncover the assumptions behind the low performance, you might find out that the underlying fear or disagreement is real. By pointing to something real — together — you can discover the missing alignment. The commitments made after that discovery shine the light on the truth and guide the next steps. Steps toward clarity and alignment.

A Conversation Shines the Light

When you need to find common ground, a conversation shines the light.

Talking with Group A:

“Oh, they’ll [the “others” in Group B] never go for that.”
“Have you asked them yet?”
“Well, no. We tried to get a meeting and they declined.”
“What about just quickly posting your questions?”
“Oh, OK.”

Later, talking to Group B:

“What do you think about the proposal?”
“Well, we had some alternate ideas but they [the “others” in Group A] would never want that.”
“Oh? What did they say when you brought it up?”
“We haven’t talked to them about it yet.”

Facepalm moment for me as the facilitator. It turned out the two groups hadn’t ever connected on this topic. Once a conversation shined a light on it, we saw the shared goal in plain sight. Assumptions dissolved.

Alignment is knowing versus thinking we know.

Continue reading “A Conversation Shines the Light”

Amazon’s Leadership Principles

Still haven’t found a better list than Amazon’s Leadership Principles. Concise, clear, ambitious. A benchmark.

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Bookmarked this in 2017, now printed it (on paper!) for a weekly read and review.

Here are my favorites.

Bias for Action
Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.

Insist on the Highest Standards
Leaders have relentlessly high standards – many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and driving their teams to deliver high quality products, services and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.

Customer Obsession
Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.

Ownership
Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say “that’s not my job.”

Gutenberg is the Next-Generation Engine for WordPress

If you use and love WordPress, this is must-watch TV: Gutenberg showcased during the annual State of the Word including a bit of amazing live editing by Matías Ventura. We’ll be seeing much more in 2018, and as everyone starts testing it more — the team improves it daily and progress ramps up — and eventually it comes to the rest of the world via an official WordPress release.

Matt previously laid out the vision with We Called it Gutenberg for a Reason (August 2017).

The Automattic VIP team shared a useful overview: The New WordPress Editor: What You Need to Know about Gutenberg. My colleague Ian Stewart gives his angle in Why I’m so excited about the Gutenberg Editor for WordPress.

I also highly recommend watching Morten Rand-Hendriksen’s Gutenberg and the WordPress of Tomorrow presentation from WordCamp US 2017.

If you’re brand new to the project, start here: Introducing a new way to WordPress.

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Introducing a new way to WordPress: Gutenberg.

 

 

 

To get involved with Gutenberg, head over to GitHub for design and development, follow along with team updates on Make WordPress, and — of course install the plugin and start using it if you haven’t already.

 

2017 Daily Reads: Dalio and Drucker

Two books made a big impact on my year in 2017, transforming my thinking. One for a massive amount of new insights and the other for improving my thought patterns.

Both books I’d buy again and give away—both are now open on my reading table each morning.

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A photo of two books that became a daily ritual in 2017.

The Daily Drucker by Peter Drucker (2004)

(Edited by Joseph Maciariello—note: Drucker died in 2005, soon after this book came out.)

Here’s an example of a daily insight I wrote about: A Decision Without Action Is Only a Hope.

This book is now a “daily devotional” for me; less holy scripture and more mindset for effectiveness in business, life, relationships. The improvement on my thought patterns was immediate: I noticed the ideas and principles coming up in daily work and life conversations, the mindset for effective time tracking and outward focus on contributions accelerated my career growth, and I deepened my understanding of business and how best to run an organization.

My all-time favorite — now well-worn and bookmarked — is September 4, “Practices of Effective Executives.” A distilled summary from his bestselling book of the same name.

The September 4 “Daily Drucker” reading details the five practices for effectiveness: 1) know where your time goes 2) focus on outward contributions 3) build on strengths 4) concentrate on superior performance and 5) make effective decisions.

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A photo of the Daily Drucker reading for Sept. 4th, with a handwritten card I used to hold the spot.

Which ties perfectly into Ray Dalio’s masterpiece where decision making is a key theme.


Principles by Ray Dalio (2017)

See a brief example of the insights I gained: Synthesis: Navigating Levels Effectively.

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A photo of the Principles book open to page 336; talking about meaningful work and relationships.

As I said in the beginning, this book hit me with a wall of new insights. I’m still processing it after 3 reads! Hat tip, Matt.

Top highlights of the book for me:

A winning formula: meaningful work + meaningful relationships + making a living. This ties in well with the freedom and mission that WordPress and Automattic stand for—a livelihood for anyone in the world with a website, blog, or shop.

Good principles are effective ways of dealing with reality.

Beware ego block by remembering that you’re looking for the best answer, not simply the best answer that you can come up with yourself.

Use pain to trigger quality reflections, learn what causes your pain and what you can do about it. This is the most effective habit Ray developed over 40 years.

Practice being open-minded and assertive at the same time, and think about your and others’ believability when deciding what to do. Find the most believable people possible who disagree with you and try to understand their reasoning.

Ideas versus decisions. Meritocracy is for hearing everyone’s voice — not for everyone making the decision.

You’ll find much, much more in the book; see also the book’s website: principles.com and social media. On LinkedIn Ray’s been sharing the most popular principles as readers give him feedback — with short audio clips.

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A screenshot of Ray Dalio sharing a top insight from his book, on LinkedIn.

I suggest buying both electronic and the hard copy. In 2018 I’ll share more thoughts and insights from the book, plus share experiences and learnings from putting the principles into practice.

What were your top books from 2017? Did anything become a must-read or daily habit?

A Product Lead is a Quality Driver

As my product lead role evolves I’ve started to see patterns emerge in my work across WordPress.com teams at Automattic. Two that keep coming up for me are focus on people, not technology and be a quality driver. I’d like to dig into the Quality Driver aspect in this post.

A Quality Driver navigates all the levels, end-to-end

Here’s a recipe for success as a product lead that I’ve now written down on a paper card near, and placed on my desk. I’m working on internalizing it as I put it into practice.

+ Obsess over customers.
+ Know how we want to communicate our message.
+ Understand our business goals and core mission.
+ Keep in touch with where the technology is headed.

Driving quality as a product lead takes place at many levels, from strategy to operations to tactics. At the highest level we write stories — sometimes framed as bets — to set the vision. Then working with teams on projects, schedules, organization — all the way through to the details of design, engineering, marketing, and support.

The key for me as I grow into this role is to synthesize everything as I navigate through the various levels. (For more, see my previous post on Synthesis: Navigating Levels Effectively.)

Another way I’ve to frame this Quality Driver  is in the form of a job description. A bit aspirational and ambitious to motivate me to grow and scale my product leadership. It’s my new mindset.

Quality Driver as a job description

Strategic — Raise awareness for the top issues facing our customers, and coordinate with teams to make the needed product changes. Pay attention to the end-to-end experience of our products, acting as the chief quality officer. Hold a holistic view across the business and own every aspect of the customer journey.

Operational — Act as an effective facilitator between developers, team leads, and company leadership. Align team resources to company goals and product initiatives. Engage with product teams for effectiveness, motivation, and project management. Build a culture of trust, quality, and high performance.

Strategic — Communicate a strategic vision and turn it into action. As a compassionate and effective product steward, use the ability to succinctly communicate our CEO’s vision to teams, as well as communicate everyone’s aspirations to the CEO. Find the gems, bring them to light, and move the needle. Work on the right things, avoid crashes, and be a few steps ahead of everything — knowing how every change fits in with our plans. Help everyone understand the context of their work and the broader vision for our products.

Knowing my success

Following the recipe I started with above, I can measure my impact as a product leader by watching for:

  1. Business growth for a sustainable and profitable future.
  2. Better customer engagement and satisfaction.
  3. A natural and healthy flow of communication.
  4. The happiness and effectiveness of teams.

On Self-Management and Energy

My word of the year for 2017 seems to be energy — some days I have, some days I have not. With clear results depending on the day and my energy level.

The following thought comes to my mind each day as I face the first decision of the morning: get out of bed and exercise, meditate, and read — or sleep in and feel more rested?

Use energy to get energy. George Leonard in Mastery

In the past my decision hinged on whether I thought one choice or the other would lead to a better Lance-at-work or Lance-at-home. Of course the right answer is both (chuckle).

Here’s the full quote.

The long road of always learning trumps a quick-fix mentality. To avoid burnout use energy to get energy, maintain physical fitness, tell the truth, set priorities, and stay on the daily path. Find joy in goalless practice itself. The plateau isn’t something to avoid; in fact, it’s one of the most important parts of the journey, and where you’ll be the happiest.

 

energyLike skipping meals, missing key rituals I’ve set up to start each day — habits that provide me with energy — means that I don’t perform at my highest level. High as measured by my presence and output at work. Not to mention the negative effect on my relationships and mood and self-esteem resulting from a lack of energy.

I’ve deepened my understanding of what this “energy” means. Leonard’s Mastery taught me about giving energy to get energy. How to Think About Exercise by Damon Young reminded me that fitness can bring much more than just bodily pride: it leads to intellectual and spiritual results: “We shouldn’t exercise only for health.”

This year another thoughtful deep-dive on energy came my way in The Making of a Corporate Athlete (2001) via Matt and Cate.

Extensive research in sports science has confirmed that the capacity to mobilize energy on demand is the foundation of IPS [ideal performance state].

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Screenshot of an oldie-but-goodie HBR article. (And ,where would be without this treasure trove?).

The sports metaphor is appropriate. As knowledge workers we also train, exercise, and grow. Here are my takeaways from the research:

  • Energy is defined most simply as “the capacity to do work.” Training starts with the physical level because the body is the primary source of energy and “the foundation of the performance pyramid.”
  • The enemy is not stress but linearity: the failure to oscillate between energy expenditure and recover. And stress can be a motivator and positive thing. I recommend looking up eustress if you want to learn more. “The problem is not so much that their lives are increasingly stressful as that they are so relentlessly linear.”
  • Physical stress can be a source of greater endurance as well as emotional and mental recovery: work fewer hours and get more done. In one case a manager saw success by increasing the good kind of stress in her life. “Because [Clark] no longer feels chronically overburdened, she believes that she has become a better boss.”

View the full article for the visual description of the “High Performance Pyramid” — for now, here’s how I understand it:

The performance pyramid is a mental model of energy, starting at physical and moving to cognitive, and finally to spiritual. Connecting everything with a higher purpose.

TOA (Thoughts on Acronyms)

Have you ever seen an acronym in a work chat or read it in an online article — or anywhere — and immediately had to Google it?

“Like, ummmmmmm, WTH does this mean? SMH.”
“Ohhhhhhh. I see. OK. TIL.”

The utility of acronyms is proven when the resulting phrase is easier to parse. The details are abstracted away nicely, hidden from view, and the reader gains quicker understanding. If the details aren’t essential to understanding and you don’t need to know what the concept is behind each word to grasp the bigger picture, such as DNA. — Douglas Hofstadter in Surfaces and Essences

Just like we don’t know all the inner workings of a cell phone, yet can understand how to operate it. We don’t call it a “cellular transmission device” — just “phone.”

Simpler is better, usually. WFM.

If acronyms are popular enough they can become common and useful — often lowercased — words such as radar, scuba, modem, or yuppie. These are considered “dead acronyms” because most people won’t know a) that they are acronyms at all, and b) if they do know they probably don’t remember the exact words represented. Which is fine.

Insight from REAMDE by Neal Stephenson, “Among geeks, the cool-soundingness of an acronym is more important than the existence of what it refers to.” Note, case in point: SCUBAT. Fun to also redefine existing like John did with PHP (People Helping People).

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Oh my gosh, get me outta here! Credit: computergear.

My tips and guidelines for acronym usage. YMMV.

    1. Consider your audience. Posting for an entire company? Assume no knowledge of your team’s insider lingo. Consider both your existing coworkers plus future hires that will join later and read back in the archives.
    2. Expand and explain at first use.

      In formal writing for a broad audience, the expansion is typically given at the first occurrence of the acronym within a given text, for the benefit of those readers who do not know what it stands for.

      Define the term the first time it appears in your text using longhand, with the acronym in parentheses. Then use the acronym, the shorthand, in the remaining text of the same post or page. “This week we launched The Awesome Sauce (TAS). Since inception TAS has truly been a team effort.”

      A perfect act to follow is The Economist. The magazine has a particular style that encourages an inline definition for the first appearance of a new word, something possibly misleading — not just acronyms — unknown or proper nouns, too. For example, “Automattic, a web platform company, announced today…”

      If you don’t define it — ideally using expansion at its first appearance — I will have fun with it.

    3. Use HTML title attributes. When publishing hypertext, say on your WordPress website, take advantage of hyperlinks and tooltips to give acronyms meaning and a visual explanation. You can use the abbr tag with a related title attribute. Here’s an example: WP. Here’s a good visual example of the HTML code, from Mozilla:mozilla-abbr-examples
    4. Beware lazy abbrevs such as pw, ty, yw. This may save you time in the moment, yet if you’re following along you’ll already be considering others’ needs above your own. Avoid the confusing usage by either typing the words out, or use a tool like TextExpander to do that for you. You’ll be known for your helpful attitude by using clear, unambiguous communication. If in doubt, spell it out.
    5. If you see something you don’t understand, just ask. Fun tip: you can play with your own version of the acronym’s meaning while you wait for the author to explain. At Automattic, when I see an acronym I don’t understand I’ll ask — but sometimes I can’t resist sharing back my phony interpretations on the thread, too.

Bonus acronymivia, HTH.

A recent fun acronym seen in my hometown, Tucson: BRO (Breault Research Organization, Inc). Heh, say it out loud. LOL.

More acronym geekery on Wikipedia — my favorite in the list there is PAYGO (pay-as-you-go). I learned the word “initialism:”

“Initialisms” are words where you can’t pronounce the resulting “word.” The spelled-out form of an acronym or initialism — what it stands for— is called its expansion.

FYI: this video is a funny take on how badly acronyms could go: “Corporate Acronyms: You may not know it, but some of the world’s most recognizable apps and brands are all acronyms.” YOLO.

TTYL.


A quick list of all the acronyms I used in this article, in case you’re like me and still learning a new one each day. In the order they appear above:

WTH: What the heck/hell (can also have an F at the end for f***)
SMH: Shake my head
OK: Okay
TIL: Today I learned
DNA: Deoxyribonucleic acid
WFM: Works for me
SCUBAT: Scaffolding contigs using BLAT and transcripts
YMMV: Your mileage may vary
HTML: Hypertext markup language
WP: WordPress
pw: Password
ty: Thank you
yw: You’re welcome
HTH: Hope that helps
BRO: Breault Research Organization, Inc
LOL: Laugh out loud
PAYGO: Pay-as-you-go
FYI: For your information
YOLO: You only live once
TTYL: Talk to you later