Paths, Processes & Behaviours: How Our Work Takes Shape

Cross-posted from the Made by Many blog:

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I was invited to talk at a SheSays event yesterday on presentation skills. My talk wasn’t so much about presentation skills as it was about Made by Many’s approach to presenting our work; in fact I was pleasantly surprised when I was told that they were interested in hearing me speak about Made by Many’s work because we ‘visualise a lot’ and also present our work ‘in interesting ways, including showcasing work in progress, sketching etc – the presentation is designed & considered as much as the work’. Kind words from Mel, one of the organisers. Here’s how the presentation flowed, it’s on Slideshare at the end of this post or see it on Slideshare here:

We share our ideas

I began by speaking about how one of our key philosophies as a company is our belief in sharing our work. Whether it’s on our blog, on Slideshare or by discussing it with people, we think that bouncing our ideas off other people is a great way to sharpen them and refine what we’re trying to say. Simon wrote a post about Spotify some time ago where he actually mocked up a few screens that illustrated what the service would look like if he designed it, and we were pleasantly surprised when someone from Spotify actually commented on it. We don’t have Spotify as a client (yet!) but getting your ideas out in the open is also a great way to get noticed.

We collaborate where we can

Along the same principles, collaboration is another thing we strive for – internally and with external people too. You may have seen this post about Simon and Tom working in real-time to build a service using Dropbox; we often collaborate with our clients as well by putting our work-in-progress up on a blog like Going Global – sometimes we invite clients to a closed one so they can contribute too.

We use good old pen and paper

Because real people live in the real world and in the real world people aren’t in front of a screen all the time. OK, we may be getting there thanks to iPhones and the mobile web in general, but there really isn’t a substitute for getting your hands dirty with pens and pencils. We cut up and stick things that inspire us on a large sheet of paper when we’re in the initial stages of a project, we work in groups, we use whiteboards, and very often we have brainstorms where we scribble down any ideas we have related to a project – no idea is too small – and discuss which ones we’d like to focus on.

We explain how it works; we create journeys; we show how a user would interact with our platforms

We explain to a client how a user would navigate our service: what they’ll put into the service and what they’ll get out of it. We use a lot of arrows, lines and logos to explain how the service would work – often we find that clients are able to understand the visual depiction of the idea much better than they would a bunch of text, and so buy-in is easier. For vInspired, for example, a platform we built to engage 16-25 year olds with volunteering, students interact with the platform very differently from teachers, who’d go to the site to download resources rather than actively participate in volunteering.

We build models

Service models help us get an overview of the different elements in a project and how they interact with each other. We find that creating service models is very useful in helping people understand the dynamic nature of our work, because we build stuff that is part of a much larger ecosystem – the web. And we all know that the web is ever-changing, never resting. Service models help us visualise what we’ll need to factor into our work, or for the client to factor in to their business model. Everything we do isn’t digital, though. We built a prototype of a game for one client where working on a screen just didn’t cut it – we went back to the drawing board (literally) and used post-its, paper, glue and marker pens to draw how it would work, and we found that it got across the game strategy much better than a screen could have.

We use sketches to develop content

We find that sketching allows us to work iteratively and bring in clients to the process at a much earlier stage, because it isn’t as scary as, say, Photoshop. I’m not a big Photoshop user, but sketching I can do (however badly!). Sketching also allows us to focus on the important things in a service like the user experience and interactions rather than getting bogged down by colours and branding at an early stage.

We take visual notes to practise visual thinking

If you’ve read Charlotte’s post on the SXSWi 2010 session we attended, and seen Tim’s and Charlotte’s note-taking efforts, you’ll understand why we think this is a nice new way of capturing the key takeaways from meetings and presentations.

We let our personalities shine through

Last but not least, we make sure that our work has the Made by Many stamp on it. Our SXSW homepage was much appreciated by a lot of folk, and we like to think that it really represented what the crazy bunch of us are like as people, and what Made by Many is like as a company.

Huge thanks to Tom for his patient work in helping me make this presentation look pretty, and to Sara for brainstorming with me on the title. I hope you like it!

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