22NTC Field Notes: Day 2

  1. 21NTC Field Notes: Day 1
  2. 21NTC Field Notes: Day 2
  3. 21NTC Field Notes: Day 3
  4. 22NTC Field Notes: Day 1
  5. 22NTC Field Notes: Day 2
  6. 22NTC Field Notes: Day 3
  7. 23NTC Field Notes (Days 1-3)

And just like that, I’m more than half-way through NTC! Today included three really fun community conversations—the “hallway track” of this online conference—and then a lot of sessions about including stakeholders in technology projects, usability testing, and the combination of the two!

I’ll share the same suggestion for reading this that I did yesterday…

Since these are notes, they aren’t edited (much), and are long and wide-ranging. I recommend quickly scanning through everything to get a sense of what’s here and then diving in to one session that seems most interesting.

If you have any questions about a session I attended, post a comment or @ me and I’ll do my best to provide more details.

“Content Strategy” Community Conversation

Dina who suggested the topic shared this definition of content strategy:

“The planning and judgement for the creation, publication, dissemination, and governance of useful and usable content across departments and functional areas.”

The conversation really kicked into high gear once someone asked about how people structure their content teams. One of the key things everyone agreed with was that having a person with the role of project manager who isn’t the primary writer or editor has huge value.

I shared that one of the earliest steps in the content strategy process is making a clear-eyed assessment of both internal and external capacity. Do your content dreams align with the ability to create and maintain information. Once you start thinking about capacity, it can help people make better decisions about which content is truly important for website visitors and organizational needs and which are more pet projects.

Multiple attendees like the project management tool Wrike which is new to me!

Usability Testing: Ensure Your Websites/Applications Are Intuitive and Easy-to-Use

Presented by Allison O’Dell and Brooke Damico

“Usability Testing” collaborative notes

Usability testing is how you catch the problems that will impact real website visitors, making sure it’s functional and actually meets their needs. These tests should be done early and often! Testing can be done with anything from paper prototypes all the way to a totally functioning project.

Side benefit of testing: It makes your users feel engaged with the project!

The pandemic forcing us online has been a benefit for user testing. Being remote can reduce the pressure on the tester while making it easier for all observers to view the screen. Sessions can also be recorded for later review.

Testing participants should be representative of the real-world audience of your product or website.

Aside: It was mentioned by the presenter that sometimes your parents are good usability testers. This is 100% true! My mom has probably done more usability testing with me than anyone except my partner. (Thank you both!) Someone shared this amazing real website: The User Is My Mom.

Facilitating Usability Tests

There should only be a single facilitator. Their job is to “coach” the tester to complete the tasks while probing to understand their actions. The facilitator tries to help the tester remember to think out loud and reassure them. Use questions like:

  • “What are you looking for?”
  • “What do you expect to see?”
  • “Why did you click that?”
  • “What do you expect to happen next?”

Beyond the facilitator, have 2-3 observers familiar with the tool who can help make observations about what’s happening. It’s also often said that observing usability tests are the best way to help internal stakeholders see the product/site with new eyes.

Doing the Tests

One great thing for people concerned about how much time testing takes is that:

When deciding what to test, the testing prompts should be based on common tasks or objectives for the products. Look back to the project requirements to find these key tasks that were identified in the planning process.

Don’t got beyond 3-5 prompts. Users will get tired!

Make sure that test prompts refer to goals (“Can you find X?”) and not telling them how to achieve the goal (“Can you click on Y?”). When I’m writing my own usability test prompts, this is always something I find challenging. It’s important to write the task in a way that is really clear but doesn’t bias the tester toward accomplishing the task in a certain way. “Avoid giving away the answers or leading the users to the solution!”

A truism of good research applies to usability research as well: If the user gets completely stuck or hits a dead-end, that is ok. The failure to accomplish a task is a valid test result!

At the end of the session, we watched a pretend usability test on The Funders Network website and went into breakout groups to share our observations.

I thought this was a great session overall and am newly motivated to do more usability testing on future projects. This was a good refresher and also made me feel confident that I can do good usability tests. Much of that is owed to the amazing book Rocket Surgery Made Easy (affiliate link) (or get it from your library!) that’s a fabulous quick read on doing usability testing. If you were sad you missed this session, read that book!

Managing Projects With an Equity Lens

Presented by Rubin Singh

“Managing Projects with an Equity Lens” collaborative notes

Important background:

Rubin, the presenter, asked himself what he can do as a project manager to use an equity lens in his work:

Establish a project charter. A project charter is a living document for an improvement team that outlines the presenting problem, the target and the boundaries of a process improvement effort. Problem statement: the problem captures in the form of a measurement. Business case: The business reasons for doing the project. Goal statement: The target of the process mesaurement. Timeline: When each project phase will be completed. Scope: What's in and what's out of the project. Team members: The people who will participate in the project.
Establish Equity-Based Meeting Norms (inclusive meetings) 1. Make it comfortable to take risks. 2. Include everyone as you plan. 3. Rotate roles every meeting. 4. Ensure every voice is heard. 5. Be transparent about how decisions are made

When assembling a team, make sure the team is truly diverse across race, gender, age, technical ability, and any other axis you can find. Make sure constituents/users are represented on project team. If you’re working with a consultant or vendor as a nonprofit, you have the right to request a diverse team!

He offered an interesting take on diversity statements: He felt that every organization needs one, but acknowledges that they can sometimes be performative. As an outside vendor, though, he can use that statement as a tool to start real conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). I like this view and it reminds me that privacy policies and accessibility statements can be used in a similar way.

Next, I thought Rubin made a great point about working in an iterative project approach like Agile. A diverse project team won’t be entirely made of implementation experts, so expecting them to fully understand and sign off on project requirements in one quick process is unrealistic. Working iteratively shapes the project in a way that gets continuous feedback from your diverse project team.

The practice of using personas can be really problematic: “The Trouble with Personas.”

Takeaway: Equity can’t be compartmentalized. It must be a lens used to evaluate and improve processes throughout your organization.

Relevant: NTEN’s Equity Guide for Nonprofit Technology

This year, I have a goal of treating my physical and mental health as part of my job. (Hooray for being self-employed.) I skipped the keynote and went for a run. The apple and plum trees are nearing peak bloom here in Seattle. The magnolias aren’t far behind, and you can see the cherries getting ready to explode!

All Things WordPress Community Conversation (Again!)

I showed up, requested a room, and we had an awesome wide-ranging conversation. Topics included:

  • The new ADA guidance requiring websites follow WCAG standards
  • The US Web Design System and ForumOne’s custom theme based on it
  • How does WordPress compare to other systems like Drupal, Squarespace, Wix, etc. Consensus: Drag & drop platforms can be limiting but don’t require maintenance. Drupal often requires a larger development budget.
  • The variety of different ways that developers build WordPress sites. If you’re hiring a developer, cast a wide net and talk to many people so you can find one with an approach that matches your needs.
  • Is WordPress secure? That is a common concern for people. I personally think the risk is overblown and that a well-built WordPress site that is kept up to date is quite secure (compared to any similar site that was built with a different tool).
  • How can you import and store data in WordPress? We discussed how to build custom post types and custom fields and then import content into them. However, you might also consider a third party tool like Caspio if you don’t have a developer to build you a custom system.

More importantly: NTEN has a WordPress community. It is free for anyone to join. You should join it and ask your questions!

Care About Equity and Inclusion? Then Make Your Website Trauma-Informed

Presented by Melissa Eggleston

“Trauma-Informed Websites” collaborative notes

“A good website is like a good conversation.”

Letting Go of the Words, Writing Web Content that Works

“Trauma is everywhere humans are.”

Definition adapted from American Psychological Assocation: “An emotion response to a terrible event…” It’s about the response, not the event.

Early thinking about trauma started on an individual level, but people have come to understand how trauma can impact whole communities (e.g., racism, colonialism). Important point: Trauma is not equally distributed across our society, so it’s an equity issue.

What is "trauma-informed"? Recognizing that people often have many different types of trauma in their lives. Being careful in interactions as people are often re-traumatized by well-meaning caregivers and community service providers.

Being trauma-informed is a process (just like how equity needs to be a lens, not a siloed project).

From a tech perspective, being trauma informed is asking, “how can I make it easy for you to do what you came to this website to do?”

Vision for the future: Universal website best practices that are trauma-informed. I love this. The new version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines is seeking to include more standards around neuro-divergent user experience. It would seem that this dovetails in perfectly with trauma-informed website design.

Those of us in tech can very easily cause harm (usually accidentally) because we are separated from the people we serve by our screens.

Overlap with UX Ideas. 1. Safety 2. Trustworthiness and transparency 3. peer support (only point not bolded) 4. Collaboration and mutuality 5. Empowerment, voice, and choice 6. cultural, historical, and gender issues
Most concepts of trauma from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration overlap with common user experience (UX) concepts. Peer support is the one that could be adapted more for UX.

Suggestion about user testing (ties into earlier session), consider paired user testing so testers are supported in their experience.

Putting this into practice

Trauma-informed website design is all about reducing cognitive load.

Everyone struggles to pay attention online. It’s even harder when you’re experiencing a trauma response.


  • A “wall of words” can be enough to make people not even try to engage with your web page.
    • One good tool to evaluate your writing is Hemingway (which includes a great free version!).
  • Mobile web experience is critical for equity. If you have low analytics for mobile, is it because your site is terrible on mobile? What if the 10% of mobile users on a site are the most important and most valuable?
  • “Broken links are broken promises.” This can be especially true for people with trust concerns. (Related: My blog post “Links are a Promise”).

Melissa runs a trauma-informed design monthly call. You can contact her to get added to the list.

Melissa’s resource page for trauma-informed design.

Inclusion in Website Usability: How-to Ensure Different Voices Are Heard

Presented by Aline Lin

“Inclusion in Website Usability” collaborative notes

Starting off with a good reminder of the many, intersecting identities that we need to think about when striving for inclusion:

What does inclusion on websites look like? Race, roles (i.e. member, donor, staff), socio-economic level, comfort level with techology, age, accessibility, culture, geographic location, access to high-speed internet
How to ensure different voices are heard: Surveys, interviews/focus groups. 3 types of usability testing: Card sorting, tree testing, task-based testing
Reasons for inclusion in usability testing: inherent unconscious biases, user-centric design, reduce risks, reduce overall development costs, increased engagement and conversion, improved user experience, building trust and brand

Testing with a diverse group of people fills in the gaps of analytics, heatmaps, and other quantitative, anonymous data.

Types of Testing

Card Sorting

Using cards (or “cards”) and having people sort them intro groups.

  • Are labels clearly understood by your audience?
  • Good for organizing and group content
  • Can be open (people name groups) or close (people assign cards to groups)
  • Recommend using 15-30 people for this type of testing

Tree Testing

Test the navigation of your site without the distraction of design elements.

  • Good for testing page flow.
  • Recommend 30+ participants

Task-based Usability Testing

See this presentation from earlier today.

  • This is a great way to see what people actually do, not what they say they would do
  • Can collect quantitative and qualitative data
  • Can be remote or in person
  • Recommend 5 users to uncover 80% of issues

When doing tests, do all of the following:

  • Get their permission to be tested and record the results.
  • Be clear that they are not being tested, the website is!
    • There are no right or wrong answers.
    • It’s ok to stop at any time.
  • Be careful to not blindly follow every comment when translating results of tests into concrete changes

Examples of Lessons Learned from Usability Testing

  • Situation: Research organization wanted to represent the diversity of the people they support. Used a stock image on home page of four people of different races.
    Tester Reactions: Why are those people there? How is that related to what you do? These people don’t look like they’re participating in research (like a doctor in a lab). They “saw through” the purpose of the image was for messaging “diversity and inclusion.”
  • Situation: Organization published a “Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion” page that included a very long list of resources.
    Tester Reactions: Missing resources about specific identities made people feel excluded.
  • Situation: Law firm home page trying to reach people across Maryland has a very large photo of the three partners.
    Tester Reactions: Testing results varied a lot based on income of tester. Higher socio-economic status (SES) testers thought the site looked old-fashioned. Lower SES testers thought people looked happy and like they would take care of you.

Using Usability Testing Data

Usability testing can produce quantitative and qualitative measures that you can use before and after a redesign to measure project success. Examples: time to task completion, task completion rate, word clouds of feedback.

“So you want to be a nonprofit consultant” community conversation

This conversation was an extension of a presentation from today that I missed, so I was there both to learn from the three presenters and try to share a bit of my own knowledge.

Participant question: How do you avoid being a slimy cold-caller?

  • Build up your network.
  • Start by moonlighting so you have stuff on your resume.
  • Share your knowledge and be active in communities so people think of you.
  • Do subcontracting to ease your way into working independently.

My one major contribution: Don’t assume that people who do what you do are competitors. They are your best source of referrals and usually there’s more than enough work to go around. Be really clear about what you do and what differentiates your work and people will funnel projects to you when they align with that.

Takeaways: Networking! Networking! Networking! Networking! Networking!

If you want to learn more of my thoughts on starting as a consultant, here’s my post of advice for getting started as a web developer and why I love working specifically with nonprofits.

See you tomorrow for the last day of 22NTC!

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