6 Alternatives to Bullet Points

 

First things first: bullet points are not inherently bad. They can be very useful in written documents. When used in presentations, however, they stop your presentation being as effective. (They often turn presentations into written documents) In fact, your audience engages less, remembers less, agrees less and likes you less when you use bullet points in your PowerPoint presentations. (International Journal of Business Communication, 2015)

So why take that risk?

Usually the answer to that question is one of: 1) It's what I've always done, 2) It's the easiest way thing to do, or 3) Because what else would I do?

For me, 'we've always done it this way' is not a reason to do something. 'This is the best way to do it' is a reason to do something, and sometimes that overlaps with that we've always done, but not always. 

Presentations are often huge opportunities. You have a room full of people giving you your attention (with potentially thousands more online afterwards) and you're there to talk to them about something significant. So although bullets may be easy, why not make the most of the opportunity? Why not do everything you can to not only get your message across but to get it to stick in people's minds? And finally, the 'what else is there?' issue - well, here are five alternatives to using bullets.

(Subscribers, there's LOTS of images in here, some of them stacked up as slides. It's probably going to be a lot easier to view this on the website itself rather than in an email / feedreader - here's the link.)

1) Just put fewer words on the slide

An example of using fewer words without reducing the impact

An example of using fewer words without reducing the impact

An obvious and straightforward place to start. Take away everything you don't need - if it's surplus to requirements, if you can remember to say it out-loud, or if it doesn't really matter whether you say it or not, just get rid of it!

The example here is a slide I used in a recent workshop. I could of course have listed all the ways in which marketing is changing, using bullet points to separate them. But I felt the slide would have more impact with just a single sentence written on the screen, me listing examples out loud, and a visual metaphor as the background image.

2) Cascade the key messages across multiple slides

Rather than making four or five points on one slide (and risk your audience reading ahead and getting out of sync with you the presenter), make one point per slide over four or five slides. This gives each point room to breathe, and helps with signalling to ensure your audience understands and remembers you.

If you're making several points on a theme you don't have to make new slides from scratch for each one - just do the first slide, right-click and Duplicate it, then edit the text on the duplicated version. I've used this technique in the examples below (use the arrows to switch between slides):

If you've got the most recent PowerPoint you can use the Morph transition between the slides, which works really nicely.

People worry that this method will mean a longer presentation but this isn't the case - you take the same amount of time overall, but cycle more quickly through the slides.

3) Use colour to make lists readable, rather than use bullet points

An example of using colour to differentiate chunks of text

An example of using colour to differentiate chunks of text

There are times when you need several points on a slide - for example when you're showing an audience what you'll talk about, or are summarising something, or making comparisons. In these instances neither of the first two techniques are appropriate; you need all the text on one screen. So just write it out like you normally would, but get rid of the baggage and negative associations of bullet-points by not using them - and recreate the POINT of them (making text easier to read) by using alternating colours.

In the particular example shown here, I've actually built up to what you see over three slides. The first just says has the alternating colours text list much larger and in the centre of the screen, then the second is as you see above but with the Bodleian's reply hidden, and then lastly the slide you see here.

4) Highlight key sections of your slide, one by one

I do this a lot - sometimes by building the content of the slides one animation at a time, or by changing the colour to highlight each section, one at a time. Again it means you can have all the points on screen, but you're not using bullets and you're in sync with your audience.

In the example below I've got all three points on screen but each one is highlighted yellow (picking out the yellow from elsewhere on the slide) while I talk about it - again use the arrows to move between them:

5) Turn your bullet points into something visual

An example of using icons instead of bullets

An example of using icons instead of bullets

A fifth option is to basically use bullets without people thinking 'Aargh, bullet points, death by PowerPoint here I come' etc. Use icons (for example from iconfinder.com) as bullet points - the images will help your audience learn. A basic example is shown here.

6) Combine several of the techniques above

The final example below is how I introduce the timings for my Presentation Skills training days. It does what a single slide with bullet points would do, but uses colour and visual elements over three slides to introduce the information in a more engaging way. Part of the reason I bothered doing this is the slides allow me to talk about each part of the day in turn, whilst staying in sync with my audience, AND it allows the audience to see the full day's timings in one go on the final slide of the sequence.

So there you go! Several ways to avoid bullet points. It's really worth taking a small amount of time to rewrite presentations to avoid bullets: your audience will thank you for it...

Starting small and scaling up, and what have we learned about Design? UX at York

In March I presented at the excellent Northern Collaboration event on UX, held in Huddersfield. Here are the slides from my talk, which was basically a timeline of our ethnographic and design adventures at York since we went to the first UXLibs conference in 2015:

I've blogged about the event and the other talks over on Lib-Innovation.

This week, as part of our approach to disseminating our UX work and talking (and listening) to as many different types of audience as possible, I presented to the Good Things Foundation in Sheffield. Good Things is a charity working around social inclusion and digital divide, and it was really interesting to hear about what they did, especially their work with public libraries. 

They were particularly interested in design, so the presentation consisted of an extended and adapted version of the one embedded above, with a more specific section on design added in. At the moment Slideshare is not playing ball so I thought I'd upload the design related slides as images here in the meantime, because I do think the design aspect of UX is the part we libraries struggle with most, and it's good to share what we've learned.

Just click the arrows on the image below to cycle through the slides (email subscribers, this'll work better live on the site - click here to view this post on ned-potter.com)

If you have any more tips on getting human centred design embedded as part of the organisational culture in libraries, do let me hear them! 

UX-led changes at York and beyond

Reblogged from Lib-Innovation

As anyone who has embarked upon User Experience work will have learned, ethnography is actually the easy part. For all its messy, complicated, time-consuming complexity, getting the go-ahead for fieldwork and undertaking it is relatively straightforward compared to designing (and getting approval to put into place) changes to our services. It is vital to have a cut off point where we as UX practitioners stop collecting data, bite the bullet, and move on to phase 2 of the process. After all, it's the design and service tweaks that make this UX - otherwise all we're really doing is ethnography.

I think it's really important to a) push as many small tweaks through as possible, and then learn from them and assess their impact, and b) make details of the changes publicly available so others can get not just inspiration but a use-case to push through their own change.

So - what have institutions been doing as a result of what they've learned from ethnography? I have several examples from the University of York and some from further afield too.

I thought it might be useful to group the examples of UX-led improvements into categories. In all these instances ethnographic fieldwork has either instigated the change or supported the change - it's interesting that often UX can be the trigger to get something done which library staff and users have been considering and / or suggesting for a while. Often the fieldwork is one source of feedback alongside a couple of others in the examples below, which combined to be a strong enough argument to make a change.

Catalogue improvements

At York we've made several small changes to Yorsearch, the (Primo-based) library catalogue, in addition to the full user-interface change which will arrive shortly.

  • The classmark for books now appear in the search results screen, rather than the user needing to click on a title to reveal its location. It's only a small change but we get around 25,000 views a day for Yorsearch - that's a lot of people now having to make one less click to get what they need. This particular change came from our first UX project with Postgrads, along with work from the Discoverability Group, and from seeing that that Imperial had successfully achieved the same thing with their Primo interface already, following their own UX work...
     
  • Talking of Imperial, they've made the full report of their 2016 UX work available for anyone to download [*applauds*] - have a read, it's fascinating and useful material.
     
  • We changed the terminology in the catalogue on the buttons you press to access books and ebooks - from Get It and View It, to Find in Library and View Online. Again this came out of several sources of feedback, including the Discoverability Group, and front-desk staff reporting that users simply didn't seem to get it when it came to View It and Get It.

Library space and environment improvements

  • We made a hot-water tap available 24/7. Our UX work revealed that particularly in winter  students from Asia like to drink hot water in the way that in the West a lot us like to drink chilled water; this gave more context to previous requests for a hot drinking water tap. One has now been installed alongside the chilled water fountain.
     
  • We made the Burton Library accessible 24hrs a day. Our library is open 24 hours, but previously only the main Morrell Building (the one with the books) and the Fairhurst (lots of study space) stayed open all the time; the silent reading room in the Burton closed at 10pm. Our UX work constantly demonstrated that the Burton was not as highly valued as we imagined it was - for example several students left it out of their congnitive map of the building, almost no students included it in their touchstone tours, and in our behavioural mapping we even observed students wandering up to the entrance, peering in to the stairwell that led up to the reading room, then just turning around and coming back, apparently not feeling like they wanted to cross the threshold. As part of the UX unstructured interviews we discovered that even some students who knew about the Burton didn't like using it because even if they had no intention of working past 10pm, they loathed the idea of setting up all their work and devices etc and then having to move them to another building at 10pm if they were still there at that time after all.

    So we upped our promotion of the Burton, it had a very nice re-design (although that wasn't directly related to anything we'd done with UX, it was happening anyway) and we made it accessible 24 hours a day. We're now monitoring the space as part of a new UX Project and the initial impressions are that it's already busier.
     
  • We've given the students blankets. A pile of blankets in a basket near the entrance - people can help themselves and deposit the blankets back there when they leave. I cannot tell you how popular this has been... There are examples of effusive tweets and feedback on our graffiti wall in the presentation below - it's so nice to do something simple but effective! Temperature is always a problem in libraries, and there's often a more or less even split between people who are too hot and too cold. My History of Art students came to me to say they found working in King's Manor (our City-centre site which is nearly 500 years old so not overly warm) really hard when it was so cold. So we managed to get Estates to get some more heaters, and we bought blankets - this idea came from some UX work undertaken at Cambridge in 2015. We also bought blankets for our main library and the Minster library too. 

    (Top tip: buy really drab and unexciting looking blankets. They keep people just as warm but are much less likely to go missing...)
     
  • Thanks to Ingela Wahlgren and Andy Priestner who gave me examples of their (current or former) institutions having changed the locations of digital screens as a result of behavioural mapping, in order to put the screens somewhere people will actually look at them. This could be displaying key info in areas where people have to queue, or it could be as simple as putting them in the direct line of site as students move forward through a space, rather than off to the side in people's peripheral vision.
     
  • Sometimes students describe an area as noisy even though it's ostensibly a silent study zone. Truly observing the space can often solve the mystery of why this is happening - Jenny Foster gave me an example of her institution realising the beep of the self-issue machine could be heard four floors up! So they found the volume and turned it down. At Cambridge they discovered there were loud hinges on office doors so they oiled them...
     
  • Like with the noise examples above, small changes really do add up. Carl Barrow told me some of the changes his HEI had made based on their fieldwork: additional signage (both analogue and digital), more printers, phone charge stations (why aren't we all doing these?) and a new coffee cart. Together all those minor tweaks will have a significant impact on the user experience, which is the name of the game after all.
     
  • UPDATE: At the #NCLXUX event I've just heard Carl say they also re-positioned digital screens, having noticed no one looked at most of them. One, which was positioned in the entrance as people came through the turnstiles, DID get looked at - so they used that exclusively to promote the Skills Team's workshops, and as a result saw a much bigger uptake for those sessions... I love this - a great example of the impact UX can have in unexpected ways...

Library service improvements 

  • At York we've moved academic staff onto our part-time package for borrowing books, giving them a little longer to return items without impacting too heavily on the rate of circulation overall
     
  • We've changed the way we run our annual review of subscriptions to allow for more time and stop it clashing with other key things in the academic calendar
     
  • We've changed the way we communicate key information to academics
     
  • We've used academics' detailed views on our current reading list system to inform the choosing and customisation of the new one
     
  • At Cambridge the FutureLib developed a whole app for finding study space

UX and Impact

I'm excited to hear a load more examples of UX-led change at UXLibs III (the third annual User Experience in Libraries Conference). The paper submissions we've had this year are fantastic, and the emphasis of the conference this year is on the impact of UX.

Finally, here are the slides from my Wales talk which mention a lot of the examples above, along with some next steps if you want to try ethnography at your own institution, and introductions to ethnography and design:

Fostering a creative culture, but not trying too hard...

Reblogged from Lib-Innovation

In the Relationship Management Team at the University of York Library we work on several projects across the year. Some of them recur year on year, some of them are one-offs. An example of a one-off project was three of us being tasked with looking into creativity: how could we be more creative and allow ideas to flourish in the team?

As part of this process I spoke to a few librarians, both in this country and abroad, who I considered to work in creative environments. I wanted advice and ideas and experiences around creativity not just as an individual but for an entire team. Some of those I spoke to I knew well, some of them I'd not interacted with before.

I'm not going to quote the individuals directly (because the conversations happened before this blog existed, so I didn't mention to the participants that I'd be writing them up) but I can point to several key themes which came out of more than one chat.

Before we get to the list, a summary of the consensus across all the conversations: the culture that encourages people to try things is usually more creative than the culture where 'creativity' is a specific goal or something that happens at assigned times. Talking about it too much makes it awkward. So it's easier to work towards a goal in a manner which allows for flexibility and new ideas, than to introduce creativity as an end in itself.

How can you encourage a culture of creativity in your team?

  1. You can't force it. As soon as you create any constructs around creativity (like having 'creative Tuesday' or whatever, where people are encouraged to spend the morning doing creative things) it prohibits the very creativity you're attempting to instigate.
  2. So it's more about a culture of trust, and of allowing experimentation. Rather than making a big deal of creativity, the most productive way forward is to foster an environment where people feel able to be creative. This means encouraging people to try new things, and trusting them to go off on their own path. It also means bringing back fresh and new ideas to the team, and cultivating an environment where new and innovative practices are shared. 
  3. Flexibility is essential. If you work a 40 hour week and all 40 of those hours are fully assigned before the week begins, then of course there will be no room for creativity. You HAVE to build some give into the working week, or month. The capacity for chaos. Allow people to be creative in a way which suits them.
  4. Start small. Make a change in the way you approach a smaller project. If it works, be more experimental with something a little larger, and so on. You get more confident as you go - even if the experiments don't always work. Which brings us to...
  5. Celebrate success, give permission to fail. This came up time and time again. People need to feel they can take a punt on something and not be embarrassed or told off if it doesn't work. And examples where things DO work need to be celebrated, to encourage others. Both success and failure should be a source of discussion so everyone can learn from both. And success shouldn't be the same for everyone - you have to be realistic about what the different personalities in the team can achieve, and set different people different goals.
  6. Think beyond the sector. We can learn so much from looking outside libraries, but we need to do this proactively rather than just hope it happens...

If you've got any more tips on fostering a creative culture, let me know in the comments.

Should librarians be travelling to the United States?

There’s been plenty of debate in the academic community over whether or not people should boycott the US under the current administration. The Guardian has a piece on it, Inside Higher Ed has a longer piece on it – American Libraries Magazine references the academic boycott but adds nothing about librarians doing the same thing. I’ve not seen much on this topic from an information-professional point of view. Maybe that’s just because we don’t travel around as much as academics – but seeing as the current US Government will, if there’s no kind of intervention in the meantime, probably be in charge for at least 8 years (Trump is tweeting about ‘voter fraud’ not because any part of him believes it’s an issue, but because it needs to be seen as an issue to justify what he does next – and what he does next will inevitably make it harder to get rid of him, via voting reforms) then it’s bound to come up for a bunch of librarians at some point.

I had accepted an invitation to give a keynote at a library conference in the US this year. It was arranged a long time ago, before Trump was voted in. Since his first week in office I’ve been agonising over what to do about this. I really want to go and do the talk. I’ve found a way to do the talk without breaking my ‘no more than 2 nights away from the kids’ rule. I know some info pros have done so many keynotes that they no longer get worked up about them, but I’ve done three keynotes in my life and still find it incredibly exciting; it was a huge honour to be asked. I’ve worked with the organistion running the conference and I love working with them, have loved interacting with their members. And when a country is under increasingly fascist rule from a President the majority didn’t vote for, you don’t want to turn your back and leave them isolated – you want to stand with them and support them. I wanted to go and talk with a group of librarians who, in all probability, feel exactly the same way about the current political happenings as I do.

However. Trump’s presidency is, in my view, the worst thing to happen to the world in my lifetime. I am so sick of looking at groups of extraordinarily wealthy middle-aged white men sitting around celebrating signing away the rights, prospects, livelihood, health and future of anyone who isn't essentially just like them. Pretty much everything the current administration has done since taking over is abhorrent. So to visit the country for work would seem like a tacit acceptance or legitimising of the regime. Somewhat analogous to visiting South Africa under apartheid. And in all honesty, I’ve been worried about getting in. Applying for a visa is complicated enough, but I’ve now read countless reports of people either getting turned away or interrogated at length, having their phones confiscated, and so on, including an author who was entering on the exact visa I’d be coming in on, to do more or less the exact same thing I’d be doing. So all in all, I felt conflicted.

I asked a handful of people I really respect, both inside and outside librarianship, what they’d do. They pretty much all said I should go (except for two people, one of whom, Myron, wrote this piece about it). There are lots of compelling arguments for going, not least standing with the librarians in the US. Going into Trump’s domain and speaking out against him from within. Plus the thing that came up time and again was: nothing good comes from NOT going.

The Guardian piece linked above puts it like this: “The crucial question to be answered is: what would such an action achieve?” The thing is, I don’t agree that this IS the crucial question. The crucial question is, is it the right thing to do? I'm usually quite pragmatic but it’s not JUST about cause and effect. Do the right thing because it’s right, not because of the impact it may have. And for me, the crucial aspect of the crucial question is really this: should I as a white non-Muslim man use the accidental privilege of being born in the right place to visit a country that others can’t get in to? And the answer is, no I should not. I cannot. Were it not for the travel ban I think I’d be persuaded by the arguments for going, but as it is, in the same way I wouldn’t avail myself of a business or eatery that wouldn’t serve others based on their skin colour or religion, neither can I enter a country others can’t.

Laura Woods wrote a great piece comparing US conferences with UK conferences, which chimed with a lot of my experiences. At the end she says “I would not judge a fellow professional for deciding to travel to the US” and that’s how I feel too, but I can’t quite get to the bottom of why I wouldn’t judge someone… I know that if people have to go for work – as in, they’re expected to go by their employer, rather than my situation where I’d be going in my own time – then it’s totally understandable to still go. And I know US Conferences are, as Laura details in the post, basically amazing, and hugely enriching experiences. I'd hate for new professionals to miss out on the amazing ECCA award from the SLA that I benefitted from back in 2011.

So, I don't feel like I have the answers here. I know there's a line for me personally in my particular circumstances, and the current US administration have put me way past that line. But I don't feel it's all so clear-cut as to be able to declare 'none of us should be travelling to the US', by any means. I hope that at the very least, every info pro with an opportunity to visit the US has the conversation with themselves over what to do, and I hope they find it easier to find the right answer than I did… And if, like I did, you find yourself wrestling with the ridiculousness of reducing a global catastrophe to your own moral dilemmas around travel, don’t be too hard on yourself – we all have to deal with these things as they impact on us, whilst acknowledging that of course they impact on millions of others to a far greater extent.