Category Archives: Projects

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Tips for a Personal Website

Building your personal website can seem like the most daunting task in the process of building your web presence. But it doesn’t have to be! There are a number of sites and services, many of them free, that provide a framework and templates that let you quickly and painlessly build a personal site.

So, why build a personal website? For one, résumés are boring. No pictures, no videos, no flair, and very little personality. On a website, you can link to work samples and presentations (from your beautiful new Slideshare profile), you can easily link to your LinkedIn profile, and you can imbue the site with your personality. Moreover, it shows potential employers and connections that you are technically savvy, which is important in the 21st century economy.

In addition, résumés are static. As soon as you hand (or even email) someone your résumé, they forever have that version of it. However, if you include your personal site’s URL on your résumé or business card, your connections will have access to a dynamic, up-to-date (hopefully!) source of information.

Finally, a personal website is searchable. Remember, an important part of building web presence is controlling what results people find when they Google your name, and so your site provides a lot of relevant context that will be indexed with your name.

Convinced? You’d better be. Below, I’ve listed some tools to easily make your new personal website. Needless to say, this isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a good place to start.


Sites.miis.edu          sites-dot-miis-logo-c

As a MIIS student, you are able to create your own site on the sites.miis.edu domain. To set yours up and get started, go to sites.miis.edu, and click on “Create a Site” in the upper-right of the page. Once you’ve got your site registered, the content management system (or CMS) that you’ll use to build your site is WordPress, so I’ll direct you to that section for more information on using that platform.

***Note*** If you decide to use sites.miis.edu, know that your domain will expire six months after you graduate (or otherwise discontinue) from MIIS. At that point, you’d have the option of either moving your site to a new domain (which isn’t as complicated as it sounds) or letting your website disappear into virtual nothingness.

MiddCreate             middlebury-logo

Another option for MIIS students is to create your site at your own domain by using MiddCreate. MiddCreate allows you to create your own subdomain (for example: amycollier.middcreate.net) for free and install open source web tools on it, such as WordPress, Known, Omeka, Drupal, MediaWiki, etc. This gives you the flexibility to create as many sites as you want on whatever content management system you like, as well as have full creative control over its appearance. MiddCreate is hosted through Reclaim Hosting, a company that started out of the University of Mary Washington.

If you’ve already built a great website at SITES dot MIIS but want to customize it beyond the available options, you can migrate your site over to MiddCreate. You can learn more about the differences between SITES dot MIIS and MiddCreate at the Middlebury Office of Digital Learning’s blog.

***Note*** If you decide to use MiddCreate, you will lose access to your domain six months after you graduate (or otherwise discontinue) from MIIS. You then have the option to 1) pay Reclaim Hosting $45/year to keep everything, 2) download your entire site to store on your computer, or 3) move everything over to another hosting provider. Learn how to migrate your site in the MiddCreate Support Docs.

WordPress                Wordpress-logo-hoz-rgb

WordPress is a great content management system that is as simple or sophisticated as you need it to be. It is also one of the most widely used website platforms on the MIIS campus and in the DLC, meaning that there are a lot of people who can offer a great deal of assistance with WordPress sites. To get started, you just signup, choose a theme (this does a lot of the design legwork for you) and fill it with your content.

WordPress sites created through sites.miis.edu are limited in the themes they can use, but you will have access to some plugins and can edit the PHP code behind your site to a degree.

Installing WordPress on your MiddCreate domain will give you full functionality (just like if you were to use WordPress.org). This means you can upload and install any theme or plugin, edit the PHP code, and have access to your site’s files.

If you create your own WordPress.com account, your site will be hosted for free on WordPress.com and you won’t have to worry about purchasing a domain or losing access. However, this means that your site URL will by default include “wordpress.com” and you won’t be able to upload any custom themes, plugins, or modify the PHP code.

About.me                  

About.me offers a simple, one-page personal website, that serves more as a landing page to redirect viewers to other pages, such as your LinkedIn profile. You could build this as a starter page while you’re working on a more comprehensive personal site, or you could use it in addition to your personal site in order to drive traffic and provide yet another relevant Google search result.

Wix                             Wix.com_Logo

Wix is another popular content management system, and it has a free version. Like WordPress, Wix offers myriad pre-made templates that you can use and fill with your personalized content. If you want to get more adventurous and customize your size further, the themes do offer some flexibility. One great feature that Wix offers is being able to control how your site is viewed on different devices; you can optimize your site for mobile devices vs. desktops. A downside to using the free version is that your site will have a small advertisement.

Weebly                      

Weebly is similar to Wix; you choose from pre-made themes and fill them with your content. Weebly is advertised as more e-commerce friendly, and the interface is more beginner-friendly. Weebly also offers a mobile app that allows you to edit your site. The site offers free options, but many of the more advanced features require a subscription.


Additional Resources

Here are some additional resources that provide strategies for building a website. Enjoy!

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Tips for Slideshare

Slideshare is a visual platform that allows you to upload files and presentations. Once uploaded to your Slideshare profile, you can share these files on your LinkedIn profile, your blog or personal website, or anywhere else you see fit. The site is owned by LinkedIn and so it syncs particularly well with that service. Below are some tips for making the most of your Slideshare profile.

  • Start with what you have. Look through the presentations, papers, and reports that you’ve already written, whether for academic or professional purposes. Filter through these and find the ones your proud of, and decide which ones will be relevant to your professional identity. Polish them as needed (for instance, remove the typical academic heading with your name, your professor’s name, and the due date) and upload them to your Slideshare account. These presentations are now searchable with your name, and can be easily shared on other web platforms.
  • As you make new content, remember that Slideshare is a visual platform. So, stay away from text heavy presentations. Create content with your Slideshare audience in mind, making the content clear, interesting, and concise for a viewer clicking through slides. Also, make sure to have an interesting cover slide that will draw people in.
  • On each file you upload, make sure it ends with a way to contact you. Even better, add a “call to action.”

Finally, as is the case with all the platforms I’ve recommended, remember to be consistent. Whether it’s once a week, once a month, or bi-monthly, determine how often you’re going to create content, and stick to it. This will help drive your profile up in search results, and will ensure that your profile consistently has the latest and most up-to-date content.

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Tips for LinkedIn

LinkedIn is widely used in the professional world, with 94% of recruiters reporting that they use the site to vet candidates. So, it’s very important to have as part of your professional identity.

For professionals and job-seekers building web presence, LinkedIn is an absolute must. The site is widely used in the professional community, and provides a medium for you to make your credentials and skills easily searchable. However, it’s not enough to have a LinkedIn profile; follow these steps to make sure your profile is an asset to your web presence, rather than a disservice to it.

Custom URL

First things first, you’re going to want to customize your LinkedIn profile URL if you haven’t done so already. To do so:

  1. Move your cursor over Profile at the top of your homepage and select Edit Profile.
  2. You’ll see a URL link under your profile photo like www.linkedin.com/in/yourname. Move your cursor over the link and click the Settings icon next to it.
    • Note: “Update your public profile settings” will show up if you don’t have a public profile. Learn how to enable your public profile.
  3. Under the Your public profile URL section on the right, click the Edit icon next to your URL.
  4. Type the last part of your new custom URL in the text box.
  5. Click Save.

Source: https://www.linkedin.com/help/linkedin/answer/87/customizing-your-public-profile-url?lang=en

Photo

Your LinkedIn profile photo should be a high-quality headshot of you in professional attire. Smile! Also, choose a picture where you’re making eye contact with the camera. It may seem trivial or silly, but this will help future employers get a sense of your personality, and feel a connection. This is enormously helpful, as employers search for someone with good fit for their organization. Also, as you’re taking the photo, remember that LinkedIn will crop it to a square.

Headline

Your headline, which will display beside your photo in search results, is your 120 character hook to draw potential employers and connections to your profile. The default on LinkedIn is for your headline to be your current employment. Personalizing it will add a personal touch, and it will differentiate your profile. According to LinkedIn, your headline should say what you are, who you help, how you help them, and give proof of your credibility. LinkedIn also warns of the four deadliest headline sins: having a cheesy headline, a confusing one, a boring one, or a desperate one.

Still looking for inspiration? Here’s a template to get you started:

I am a [subject matter expertise] who
[does what] for [client, company audience, project]. The proof is
[experience, education, GPA].

Summary

Your LinkedIn summary is a 2,000 character opportunity to introduce yourself. Other elements on your LinkedIn profile are fairly rigid and straightforward; your summary is an opportunity to show some personality!

So, now that you know why you should write a summary, here are some tips for writing an effective one:

  • Tell people what they can expect from you; describe what you do for someone unfamiliar with your job, and tell the world why you’re credible in that role.
  • Fill it out! Use all 2,000 characters if you can.
  • Break it up with headers, sub-headers, and graphics.
  • Include your contact info at the end. Some people also add some personal interests or hobbies at the end.

Got writers’ block? Here are some template ideas to get those creative juices flowing.

Experience & Education

This is the more straight-forward part of your LinkedIn profile. Use these sections as a dynamic, fleshed-out résumé. Keep your career goals in mind while you work on these sections, and tailor your profile accordingly; if you’re an aspiring translation freelancer, you may decide to not include your former career as a concessions stand attendant.

As you work on these sections, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Be sure to link to the company or institution.
  • Use prose, not bullet points.
  • Keep entries to a 2-3 sentence summary.
  • Start with an overview.
  • Front load your achievements. Is there a project or major win you can brag about?
  • Describe how you brought value to your team

Media

Once you have the aforementioned basic elements of a LinkedIn profile, you can snazzify and supplement your profile by adding media, such as PDFs, videos, and images. You can add these generally, or associate them with a particular position.

(If you want to extensively integrate media with your LinkedIn profile, I highly recommend setting up a SlideShare profile that you can connect.)

Groups/Following

Now that you have a gorgeous and dynamic LinkedIn profile, you need to use it! Join LinkedIn groups relevant to your industry or background (for instance, the MIIS Alumni LinkedIn group), and post periodically in these groups so that professionals in your industry begin to see your posts. Also, consider following companies and organizations in your field, especially if you’re interested in working for them.

More!

There are many more ways to improve and better use your LinkedIn profile. For instance, you can create a localized profile in another language, add a video, and search/apply for jobs.

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Tips for Google+

it’s important to do what you can to impact what results people see when they search for you. That’s why it can be important to consider maintaining a Google+ profile. Moreover, if and when you have a virtual interview via Google Hangout, your profile will be visible, and you want it to complement your awesome interview.

Pretty much everyone uses Google, and Google prioritizes its own pages in its search results. So, make sure you have a Google+ profile, and a complete one. You may be like me and countless others that set up a Google+ account, worked on it for an hour, and didn’t go back for years. However, employers finding an out-of-date or incomplete profile will do an incredible disservice to your web presence. This will likely be one of the first results Google lists, so make sure it provides a good first impression. You don’t have to make this your primary profile or website, but make sure that you link to these from your Google+ profile; make it easy for those searching for you to find the information you want them to find.

Tips for Using Google+

Below are some wise tips I’ve gathered from the four corners of the world-wide web. Enjoy.

  • Use a headshot for your profile picture
    • Many users choose to use a picture of their dog, car, or their very blurry pixelated face as a profile picture. Using a professional looking headshot (à la LinkedIn) will set you apart and set a professional tone for your profile. Keep in mind that Google will crop this into a circle, so be sure to adjust your photo so it frames your face well.
  • Use a high-quality cover photo
    • Your profile picture, while important, doesn’t take up a great deal of real estate on your profile. The cover photo, however, spans across the entire upper page. So, be sure to use a professional picture (not too busy or distracting) that is high-quality enough that it won’t pixelate. Google recommends using 2120 x 1192 as the dimensions.
  • Accessibility settings
    • Decide how much information you want people to get from your profile, and whether people will be able to contact you through it. Adjust your privacy settings accordingly.
  • Fill out your profile story
    • Leverage your story on your profile to help you introduce yourself on your terms. Be sure to use keywords and links relevant to your field; Google will index this information, which will help improve your search-ability. Consider using the same text as your LinkedIn summary.
  • Share content
    • When you post relevant content (articles, blog posts, etc.) to your profile, it simultaneously demonstrates to searchers that your profile is up to date and that you are informed in your field. Some people even think that as you post more, Google will index your material quicker.

Sources:

  1. https://blog.kissmetrics.com/personal-google-plus-account/
  2. https://authoritylabs.com/blog/8-tips-help-improve-google-profile/
  3. http://www.blogtyrant.com/google-plus-tips/
  4. https://designschool.canva.com/blog/google-tips-quickly-boost-results/

Building Your Web Presence

So, you want to build you web presence. But where do you start? Let this resource series be your guide to developing a web presence that will help you achieve your professional and personal goals.


First, assess where you are

To get where you’re going, you need to start where you are. So, first we have to figure out where you are. Whether you call it egogoogling, reconnaissance, or a vanity search, it’s a good idea to start by seeing what your web presence currently looks like. This is especially true when you’re entering the job market or preparing for a jump to new employment. This process will enable you to identify results you want to highlight, any you’d prefer to remove or bury, and what kinds of presence you’d like to build.

One more note before we get going: it will be best to Google yourself in a private browser window, ensuring that you aren’t signed in to anything (especially Google). If you can use a browser or computer you don’t typically use, even better. The reason for this is that Google tailors its search results to you, based on your Google account and cookies that have provided Google information over time. If you are signed in, or even just using your usual browser, Google will show you different results than it would show other users, as it tries to guess what kind of stuff you want to see. This is important to keep in mind as you move forward; just as Google tries to guess what YOU want to see, Google will be guessing what employers, colleagues, or others want to see based on THEIR account settings and viewing history. So, you’ll never have a perfectly clear picture of what someone else is seeing.

With that in mind, it is now time. GOOGLE YOURSELF! Search for your full name—with and without middle name—and also search for your family name, any nicknames you might use, and any other variations you can think of. Search for your name in conjunction with other identifiers, like your hometown, phone number, address, email address, or employer. For instance, if you regularly comment on a blog, Google your name in conjunction with the username you use. Google “[your username]” “[your real name]”, including the quotation marks. This will force Google to return a very specific result that contains both sets of words, to see if the two names can be linked. In addition, think of and search for personal descriptors; for example, if Joe sits next to Lucy on a flight and introduces himself as a student at MIIS in the MBA program, Lucy could likely find him online with that information. So, think through how you introduce yourself, and imagine how people could find you with that information. This provides an excellent opportunity to both revise your “elevator pitch” to include information people could use to Google you, and to build your new web presence to reflect the information from your intro.

Google search operators

You can use special search operators to narrow your search results to find particular results. Google itself is a good source for this “language.” This can be useful if you’re looking for a specific source, or if you’re looking for your name in conjunction with something else. Experienced web searchers (like the HR departments at the companies you’re applying to or the paranoid mother of your new roommate) will likely utilize these operators.

What do I look for?

You can go as deep as you want here, but remember that Google search results can go on and on. Keep in mind that the vast majority of people won’t look beyond the first page of search results. A good rule of thumb is to check the first three pages of the search results.

First, assess how many of the results are actually you. Second, evaluate the value of the results that are you. How could these results affect your reputation? Any drinking pictures from social media posts? Old angsty blog posts from high school? Besides reputation, also check for accuracy; do the generated results provide an up-to-date picture of the brand you’d like to project? Check for positive results you’d potentially like to boost, including professional profiles, articles about achievements, or connections to prominent organizations. To sum it up, you’ll be compiling a list of results you’d like to bury and others you’d like to boost. In the next step, we’ll identify gaps.


Next, plan what you want

Before you decide what you want, what do you want your web presence to do for you? How do you want to “brand” yourself to the world? Are you primarily interested in building a portfolio, making your accomplishments and work more accessible? Do you want to cultivate a reputation relevant to your current or desired career? Do you want to present yourself as a creative educator, a driven entrepreneur, a no-nonsense finance specialist, or a culturally-savvy interpreter? How can you leverage your web presence to express your personality?

Keep these (and other elements you discover along the way) in mind as you move forward to the building phase.


Now, let’s make it happen!

Building your web presence, when looked at for the very first time, can seem daunting and overwhelming, even with a plan for what you want. All web tools are not made equal, and so some are a particularly good place to start when you’re establishing your online identity. Below, I’ve suggested an order you can go in if you’re looking for some structure; following this path will help you grow from newbie to web presence master!

First things first

If you don’t have up-to-date Google+ and LinkedIn accounts, those are the best places to start.

Widening your gaze

Once you have the essentials out of the way, you can supplement those with a Slideshare account, personal website, and by adjusting your use of social media and email.

Going the Distance

Now that you’re a web presence pro, here are some ideas for ways to continue to improve and cultivate your identity.


Finally, keep it up!

5137992620_5ae53dbafb_oDesigning and curating your web presence is an ongoing project. As you continue to develop personally or professionally, be sure to tweak your web presence to reflect that. Maintaining your presence doesn’t have to be hard or cumbersome. Heck, it can (and should) even be fun!

Best of luck!

 

Want more advice?

If you have questions, feel free to come in to the DLC. We’ll be happy to help.

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MIIS happened. Did you miss it?

It’s true. MIIS happened. And it was awesome!

If you were there, you know what I’m talking about. If you weren’t, you might feel like you missed something important, which you did, but that’s ok for two reasons: 1) I’m going to recap the highlights in this blogpost, and 2) MIIS is likely to happen again next semester or next year sometime. So, let’s go over it…

The first ever MIIS Happening event was a Pecha-Kucha-inspired happening. All that was provided was a time, place, and style in which the event was to take place. (Of course, beyond that there was a “countdown” template provided and practice sessions leading up to the happening, but that was all just to support the learning curve of the inaugural event) Basically, the word got out that anybody from the MIIS community could present on anything they wanted as long as they presented it in the very short, concise format that Pecha-Kucha supports… and the outcome was truly engaging and inspiring. For instance…

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Jessica Yoo – talked about how limited our understanding of Korea as a whole can be, and recounted a short timeline of how she was able to reconnect with her heritage over time by connecting family history with national narratives of the United States, North Korea, South Korea, and Russia!

 

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Alfredo Ortiz – walked us through his life as a multidimensional individual in a professionally demanding environment. The audience relished in being able to get to know Alfredo better, as well as learn how to better address their own identities.

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Amanda Liles – talked about what it has been like to be othered by common language, specifically by deconstructing the word disabled in the context of living a very full and spirited life both at home and abroad!

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Evelyn Helminen – talked about what it’s like to participate in Nation Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) every year, and how its creative constraints have helped her to discover herself in the process, ultimately encouraging others to engage in NaNoWriMo as well!

Lauren Scanlan – talked about another way of thinking about self-discovery and cultivating motivation. She used a wonderful metaphor of role playing games and used her own life as an example of how to achieve personal success. I laughed myself to tears… in a good way.

Peter Shaw – shared a recorded Pecha-Kucha project about a teaching-field trip his students took to Bay View Academy in Seaside to teach 8 different languages to middle school students. In a way it was the most elaborate project because it involved 20 different students’ voices on 20 different slides.

Moyara Ruehsen – shared how to change the composition of one’s family to support one’s vision and goals. For those who were able to keep an open mind, it seemed to have had a particularly humbling moral to the story, which was to not feel guilty outsourcing help. Why? Because we all need help, and by employing help, you’re in turn helping someone else.

Not everyone who presented was mentioned in this blog post, but in summary, MIIS Happened, and it was awesome! The applications of what we did are numerous and already trickling into your programs and projects, so keep an eye out! That was us.

Blame us or thank us, but be sure to stay tuned into the next MIIS Happening

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You helped us help you

This past Tuesday from 12-2 the DLC had a table set up on Samson Patio, accompanied by a mobile white board. We were staging an event to assess the needs of the student body in the final weeks of the Spring Semester. We wrote on the board:

Come have your needs assessed!

How can the DLC help you succeed in the last 4 weeks of the semester?

I need to be able to:

Use   |    Make   |   Manage

And at least 25 of you all gave us your detailed opinions about how we could help you to succeed in the last 4 weeks of class. This is what we learned:

  1. Some students demanded that we offer training on Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Staff Management software, like Salesforce, Asana, and Basecamp.
  2. Some students are tired of playing the role of technical support to teachers who struggle to use the iLearn platform, and GA positions are springing up to address those needs, but the DLC is assumed to be at fault for that.
  3. Excel training in workshop format will remain in high demand every semester.
  4. Making websites (in e-portfolio/blog format especially), infographics, and digital storytelling methods are coming in increasingly high demand.
  5. Some students love being supported by the DLC in full-class format because they want to be able to learn beside their classmates in DLC workshops.
  6. TLM students continue to request that we teach them how to build apps.
  7. Many of you don’t feel comfortable navigating Apple computers
  8. Some students are under the impression that we in the DLC assume going to Lynda solves problems, but many of you find it intimidating to teach yourselves in that way.

So what are we going to do about it? Some of you will receive a direct email in response to our assessment. Some of you will be best addressed in group format, so keep a look out for a group email. And other needs may take a few more days of prep to be addressed appropriately. We may organize a workshop or two, but we need to have another team meeting on Wednesday first.

More updates coming soon

Death by powerpoint

Do ya Pecha Kucha?

Pe-cha-ku-cha? Hold up, before you think I’m insulting you, let’s talk about it.

Pecha Kucha literally means “chit-chat” in Japanese, but in this context, it’s a style and method of presenting. So when I ask, “Do ya Pecha Kucha?” what I mean to ask you is, do you know how to rapidly present an idea in 6 minutes and 40 seconds? Better yet, can you devote a mere 20 seconds to 20 different slides? Let me tell you, if Peter Shaw and Bob Cole can do it, I’m sure you can!

Just before spring break I lead an open-ended workshop with Peter Shaw that helped 20 GSTILE students contribute 20 seconds each to 20 pecha kucha slides for the TESOL department…

And this past Friday I watched Bob Cole freestyle a pecha kucha presentation using truly random assortment of slides. Needless to say it was AWESOME and it even included some audience participation, which caught us all off guard.

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Bob Cole’s 20×20 about MIIS Happening and Pecha Kucha

 

Both the process and finished products of the presentations were quite amazing, so in the spirit of MIIS Happening and the upcoming Pecha Kucha Clinic on Friday, April 10th, let me share with you some key takeaways…

  1. Pecha Kucha is direct
    • 20 slides may seem like an overwhelming amount of space for content, but 20 seconds is a very short amount of time to present anything meaningful. There’s no room for slides full of text or complex diagrams. Every slide is a short, powerful chapter in a story. Peter used 20 still images from his class field trip to Bay View Academy, where his graduate students taught foreign languages to middle school students. The voice overs for those 20 slides came from 20 students in the session, so each student had to be very succinct in the soundbytes they provided. Each one used an average of only 50 words!
  2. Pecha Kucha is engaging
    • Styles vary even within Pecha Kucha, but the idea is to convey a meaningful message or story in a short amount of time. In a way, it’s a direct response to death by powerpoint. Pecha Kucha tends to bring a presenter’s points to life by giving them a relief point. After 20 seconds, the slide shifts whether they’re ready or not, so when presented live it tends to keep the attention of the audience, who deep down inside know that they only get 20 seconds to hear and see each point. It’s like a power point that’s adapted to our short attention spans! Bob was riffing, but great at keeping our attention. He even had a timer built into his slides, which you can find the template for on the MIIS Happening page.
  3. Pecha Kucha is fun
    • Unlike all the text above, Pecha Kucha is enjoyable to be a part of. On the back end I got to help Peter Shaw put together a fast-paced multimedia project using PowerPoint, Garageband, and Camtasia, and on the front end it’s fun to watch! Get a group of Pecha Kucha presenters together and you’ve got yourself a party… of sorts, which is exactly what MIIS Happening is!

I don’t want to spoil the details of the MIIS Happening event, so just take my word for it that Pecha Kucha is what’s happenin’ – so follow the link to get schooled and I’ll see you on Friday in the DLC from 10-11am!

Smile for your mind map

Mind Mapping 101

Mind mapping sounds like something diabolical scientists do… but in actuality, it’s a simple tool to process the scope of work and direction for any project or idea. Like your average brainstorm, it usually starts with a circle in the center of a blank page, and expands with arrows out from the center connecting other free floating ideas, eventually leading to a page full of words, doodles, and color…

Once the concept has been thoroughly mapped however, people usually don’t understand that a mind map can and should be simple, easy to read, and easy to understand.

How do we do that?

  1. Start with a firecracker
    • Consider how you frame the context of your map and you’ll find that a good starting point can lead to all kinds of interesting connections and discoveries. For example, if you put the words “Users ignore our product” in the center of your mind map, you’re going to have a much different outcome than if you put “Users are buying from the competition!”
  2. Speed map
    • A wise man once told me to read every book twice – once for feeling, once for meaning. Sadly, I don’t have time to read most books once, but most of us have time to draw two mind maps, so try not to get bogged down in the details during the mind mapping process the first time. First time around, just write what you feel!
  3. Keep it brief
    • As you speed map, try to limit yourself to 3 connections per node (the bubble or box containing the concept). Beyond 3 and you might be reaching for connections that don’t exist. Less than 3 and you’re just not thinking. By limiting yourself to 3 connections the first time around, you’ll find that you spend less time thinking, and more time mapping.
  4. Value the connections
    • Simple lines and arrows suffice for most mind maps, but mind mapping possibilities are endless if you consider the value of the connection. Label your connections, use colors, and draw unique symbols to represent connections. Your connections are as valuable as your nodes. As an example, the words “Fruit” and “Dried Cranberries” might connect well together, but “Fruit” and “Salad” might not connect well without an arrow labeled “Dried Cranberries”.
  5. Mind mapping should move at the speed of authenticity
    • I know I just told you to speed map, but if this is your second time around slow it down! By the time you get your first (and most pressing) concepts on the page, try only adding and taking away from the map when you can justify the action. Because it’s an iterative process, don’t expect it to be finished in just a few minutes. Return to it after a day or a week if time will allow and you might see a new node or connection you hadn’t before.

In the end, mind mapping is a tool best exercised with patience. I’ve been promoting mind mapping for a while now, and I’ve found that most people’s reservations about it stem from thinking it’s a waste of time. However, if you ever learned to make an outline before writing a paper, consider it the parallel process for project development. Take it one step at a time, and maybe your map will be as beautiful as the one above. For some good mind mapping tools try using Mind42 or CmapTools!

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Design Thinking 101

Design thinking is key to maximizing both brainstorming potential and project direction. Thanks to the D-School at Stanford, the picture above highlights 5 simple steps to designing a better project or product. This blog post however is not to reiterate how to design think, but rather what design thinking can offer you. Here are 5 reasons why you should consider design thinking for your next project:

  1. Perspective
    • Gaining or even changing perspective is difficult. We’re often so close to our own biases that we don’t even need to articulate them. Deliberately empathizing with the target audience is an invaluable exercise in changing perspective. Your dedication may be unshakable, but your approach may be askew. Try mapping out the life of, and needs of, your target audience, and defining what is most important to them before proceeding with innovation.
  2. Fresh voices
    • People who both lead and dominate discussion don’t have to be in charge of either of those roles in design thinking. Encourage your quietest team members to contribute by deliberately silencing the leaders, choose a random facilitator for each session, or ask your team to bring inspiring youtube clips or artifacts to the meeting. The opening stages to design thinking should be wild and unpredictable.
  3. Planned brainstorming
    • The only thing worse than a long-winded office meeting is a long-winded brainstorm session. Planned brainstorming has a limit, and design thinking will allow you and your team to close the door on brainstorming in a collective and convenient way. Try having your teammates bring ideas to the meeting before it starts, have them share their ideas with another, then present on each other’s ideas. Feel comfortable closing the door on a brainstorm session when it’s time to prototype.
  4. Distillation of ideas
    • Ideas are always good until they’re shared, then we may realize most of them are flimsy. There’s no better way to distill ideas into useful prototyping directions than to bounce them off other team members. Keep in mind that by empathizing wholeheartedly with the target audience, your ideas should resonate well with your team.
  5. Rewarding experimentation
    • By the time you move on to prototyping and testing your ideas, you should feel good about how radical your brainstorming process became. It’s equally as valuable to cull bad ideas from the table as it is to find the right idea to proceed with. And as the process becomes increasingly refined, feel free to return to the brainstorming process for something a bit more specific.

Design thinking doesn’t have to be the kryptonite of your group focus – and don’t expect it to be the savior of every project. Try it out here and there with intentionality. Tap into the creative potential of your team by pushing them to the edge of their comfort zones and welcoming their ideas as invaluable parts of the process. So next time you hear someone suggest design thinking a solution, give it a chance!