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resonate by Nancy Duarte April 16, 2012

Posted by Matt Lopez in Uncategorized, [Books] Visualization & Presentation.

Resonant is defined by Merriam-Webster as “continuing to sound”.

Nancy Duarte’s book resonate provides the reader with tools to create presentations that will “continue to sound” with their audience and ultimately lead to the acceptance of your idea. Duarte recognizes that the majority of presentations are full of too much information, poorly structured and downright boring. She presents nine rules throughout the book that should be taken into account when creating your next presentation. These rules range from storytelling to getting to know your audience to designing your presentation around one big idea. The big idea in resonate is that people do not take enough time to develop a presentation to ensure that it will creating a lasting impression on the audience. The lack of preparation could be determining the main idea of the presentation, the structure of the presentation, understanding the target audience, rehearsing the presentation and soliciting feedback or in a number of other areas. The book was written to help people transform their presentations that typical consistent of a PowerPoint slide show with charts and bullet points to an actual presentation with a balance of credibility, emotion and analytics.

Below I have summarized my key takeaways from Duarte’s book:

  • The power of story. Stories have been told to teach lessons since the beginning of time, so why not use them in your presentations? Stories tend to remain with audiences far longer than bullet points on a slide and have the ability to evoke emotions from your audience which can be used to adopt your idea. Additionally, stories bring contrast and conflict into the picture and people want to see how it is resolved or how they can be a part of the solution.
  • Understand your audience before you present. Before an interview, you try and learn as much as possible about the company and the person you will be meeting so that you can connect with them and show why you are the right person to fill their need. Your presentation should be the same way. If you head into a presentation without knowing your audience, it will be very difficult for them to buy into your idea, so do your homework.
  • Show the audience the way. People in general are resistant to change unless they can clearly see the benefit of the new idea that is being proposed. When you propose your new idea people can either accept that idea or make a conscious decision to not accept it. To increase the chance of acceptance, you need to show them the reason why they should, the path to acceptance and the troubles that they may encounter along the way. Ignoring the problems that they may come across will only hurt your credibility as people may believe that you did not think the idea all the way through.
  • One big idea, not many. Duarte emphasizes that not only should your presentation have one big idea, but each slide in your presentation should only have one idea. Having one clear and concise idea in your presentation makes it much easier for the audience to follow and it will ensure that they key message they take away from your presentation is the right one. The material that winds up in your presentation should support this idea. Having only one idea per slide is also helpful for the audience because it is clear to them what you are trying to convey. Breaking a slide into two or three does not cost any more money and changing slides frequently will actually keep the audience’s interest better.

While none of Duarte’s insights are earth-shattering, I think that she does a nice job of compiling and presenting key ideas on how to engage the audience and increasing the chance of adoption of your idea. Duarte references her own personal experiences, as well as the experiences of other effective presenters which reinforce the points that she is trying to make. Based on my own experience of presenting and watching presentations, I fully agree with Duarte in that most people do not spend enough time developing their presentations and as a result they are less impactful and engaging. She also hammers home the point about the power of storytelling through the many stories that are told in the book. The most memorable parts of the book for me are in fact the stories and because of where they were placed, it is easy to recall the main points of the book purely through the stories. Where I do have some slight disagreement is around the rehearsal of the speech. Duarte recommends having a screening that is around three times as long as your presentation to get feedback on all aspects of your presentation. While this sounds nice in theory, it is much harder in reality. Finding a group of people to listen to your presentation and provide you feedback can be challenging enough and to ask them to do it for three hours (assuming a one hour speech) seems impossible. I don’t agree that this would be helpful, but it does not seem realistic.

This book is valuable, not only to people that have given a limited number of presentations, but also to people that have given many presentations over the course of their life. It provides the reader with key ideas to keep in mind when developing their next presentation and ways to improve their next presentation using their previous one. The book examines in detail the process of designing presentations in the same way that a company would look at the process of designing a new product or service offering. Duarte comments in the book that presentations are broken and she provides the groundwork to fix them so that they are more effective, clear and concise. During one’s education, many classes are taken on mathematics, history and science, but often times that person may only be exposed to one class on communication/presentation. For this reason, I would recommend this book to anyone that has not had extensive training in the art form of the presentation. I found the book to be helpful and even if I had heard some of the arguments before, it served as a good reminder and I will be sure to use the book as a reference when I design my next presentation.

For me the book was highly relevant as I give both internal and external presentations at work, as well as at school. While reading the book, I related to a lot of the problems that Duarte raised about presentations and immediately started thinking about how I can improve my presentations with a little more effort. The book also made me reflect on the times that I have been an audience member and counted down the seconds until I could leave because they were so poor. I found it encouraging that Duarte emphasized storytelling in presentations so much because I enjoy telling stories to friends and family and see the emotional impact that stories can have on the audience. I think that it will be challenging to design a presentation that has all of the elements that Duarte mentions and it will take a number of presentations before getting most of them, but even if I can add a few right away, I have no doubt that my presentations will be more effective.


Made to Stick April 15, 2012

Posted by belinda Lyons-Newman in Made to Stick, Uncategorized.


Made to Stick, written by brothers Chip and Dan Heath, provides insight into what makes ideas stick along with advice about how to put these insights into practice. The book is written in a similar style to Malcolm Gladwell’s books, and is intended as a complement to Gladwell’s “Tipping Point” in that it identifies specific traits that make ideas stick while Tipping Point looked at what makes social trends leap from a small group of people to a large group epidemic. Although the authors say that there is no formula for a sticky idea, sticky ideas do draw from a common set of traits, which make them more likely to succeed. The authors put forward their SUCCESs framework with six core principles that make ideas stick:

  • Simplicity: Prioritize and exclude relentlessly to uncover your core message
  • Unexpectedness: Generate and sustain people’s interest and curiosity with unexpected information. Our curiosity rises when we feel a gap in our knowledge and we experience it like an itch that needs scratching.
  • Concreteness: Ideas are easier to remember when they are concrete. Ideas will be stickier when explained in terms of sensory information and people’s actions.
  • Credibility: Information from a credible authority such as a person with personal experience, a celebrity or expert helps to make an idea stick. Statistics by themselves are not very sticky. They should be used only to illustrate a relationship, which people will remember.
  • Emotions: Make people care by forming an association between the thing you are introducing and something they care about in a way that taps into their identities and their aspirations.
  • Stories: Stories encompass many of the above principles. They inspire people to act. Stories drive action through providing an experience of simulation and providing inspiration.

The biggest challenge to stickiness and the common factor in ideas that don’t stick is what the Heath brothers call the Curse of Knowledge. When we know a lot of information about something it becomes difficult to put oneself in the perspective of someone who does not know it and it becomes difficult to imagine what it is like not to know it. The SUCCESs framework and exercises in the book instruct the reader on how to transform ideas to beat the Curse of Knowledge.

The authors are credible in part because the straightforward story-telling style of the book implements and serves as an example of the stickiness principles. The lessons in the book are simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional and told in stories. It is an engaging book and the principles are easy to take in and remember. The stories in the book are convincing because they document countless stories of the SUCCESs model principles effectively making ideas stick.

Although the authors do an excellent job of incorporating exercises and examples of how to design sticky ideas and transform important messages communicated in an un-sticky way into a more sticky format, most of the book is still nevertheless focused on success stories where we are looking retroactively at what made an idea stick. As I think about how I will incorporate the lessons from Made to Stick into my own work, I hope that it will be as easy to proactively create sticky-ness as it is to see what is successful about ideas that have already successfully stuck.

Made To Stick addresses a critical component of the design process where once such care has been taken to develop a good idea, we must then determine how to communicate it effectively so that it catches on. In this implementation design phase, once the research has been done and a good idea is in process, the SUCCESs principles can be used to think about how to communicate the idea. This part of the process is critical since even the best of ideas cannot get traction if they do not stick.

Other books I have read on similar topics include Tipping Point, Presentation Zen and marketing communications textbooks. Made to Stick reinforces some of the key messages from these other books, for example, Presentation Zen also focuses on the high value of simplicity. I will certainly use the lessons from Made To Stick in my future presentations and in crafting messages for my consulting work helping nonprofit organizations to maximize their social impact including in how they think about communicating their causes.

Sketching User Experiences, Getting the design right and the right design – Bill Buxton March 7, 2012

Posted by Sebastian Fuenzalida in Sketching User Experiences.

The first time I saw the cover of this book, I wondered: “Why that guy is rowing through a graph?” but in second thoughts, that is not a graph, is more like mountains reflecting in the water.  After a couple of pages into the book, my mystery was revealed: it was a map!

This book is divided in two parts: “Design as a Dreamcatcher” where the author developed a framework to incorporate design into product development processes and “Stories of Methods and Madness”, were we are presented with several techniques to implement the visual thinking required to make the integration in part 1.

Bill Buxton made a great introduction to thinking out-of-the-box in “Design for the wild” were we are prompted to think about good solutions to help a kayaker to navigate in artic waters. Without losing his path. Immediately,  I started to think about applications for iOS/Android with maps and routes GPS-enabled. The problem here is that I’m biased by my past and education and I was not thinking in the real environment were this product would be used. Extreme cold temperatures wont let you take off your gloves, so how can you manipulate the touching screen?  Yes, there are new gloves with special materials that let you use your touch screen but that is really what we need while rowing in artic waters? The Ammassalik, a tribe in eastern Greenland, crafted a beautiful solution and it is showed in the cover of the book. A 3D map who represents the coastline, they can be used inside mittens, keeping the hands warm, they float if they fall in the water, because they are made out of wood and most importantly, they do not need batteries nor GPS connections made them 100% reliable, making it better than any digital product we can think at this moment.

Buxton after showing us several cases were incremental solutions or “n+1” products cannot sustain a company in the long term, he introduced a New Product Development Process (showed in the picture above) in order to catalyze innovation in companies who want to survive strategically launching new products often.

Particularly identifiable is the funnel-shaped design phase, but using this scope we can see the collaboration between the different departments of the company along the complete process.

This brings me to the underlying objective of this book:

…to change the unviability of implementing a reliable way to develop new products in-house, within the corporate culture, tailored to the strategic plan of the company, in a managed (rather than bandit) process and where we can be take into account the technologies employed in the rest of the product offerings …

After several design thinking and innovation classes, I’m a complete advocate of that objective.  My problem is related with my learning style, I’m a converger, and its is hard to transform (in my head) the process, sketching and diverging into a process, where you get an innovative solution as output. The process is still a “black-box” for me, and this book does not clarify it for me.

At the same time, the book really helps to let you know the tools that designers (trained as designers) use in their daily works. The problem is  that they seem to be too design-ish oriented in my point of view.  Let me show you a couple of examples extracted from the second part: “Stories of Methods and Madness”.

  • Wizard of Oz: Technique were the design team imitates the automatic processes realized by a final system, without need to implement it completely.
  • Visual Storytelling:  Making storyboards to represent User Experiences.
  • Extending Interaction: Real and Illusion: High-Fi Paper prototypes to show interaction to the  future users.

All of them need to have a profound level of technical designing skills, specially making storyboards, which make me doubt about my possibilities to be a designer some day, because I’m really bad drawing. This contrast with the Design Thinking concept introduced by Tim Brown in his book “Change by Design” where everyone could be a designer.

To finish my blog post I want to add a “new” technique called Mechanical Turk, which is strongly related with Wizard of Oz. The term was coined as reference to the Mechanical Turk-Chess player, showed in the picture.

At that moment there was not IBM Watson to play chess with humans, to process real-time movements and strategy, that is why instead the used a hidden human who played mimic the movements of the robot.  Nowadays this technique of “getting human intelligence” into real problems that computers cannot solve is used by Amazon to crowdsource little tasks like tagging pictures or identifying handwriting.

My final thoughts are: can we use crowdsourcing to generate Fast-cheap “Wizard of Oz” prototypes?  And What is the role of managerial – engineering  professionals in the design process?

Visual Meetings – Review March 5, 2012

Posted by Pritesh in [Books] Visualization & Presentation.
Tags: ,


With Visual Meetings, David Sibbet hopes that the book would encourage people to ‘reclaim and universally appreciate’ the visual way of communicating with groups. Sibbet certainly does a remarkable job of providing a comprehensive guide for anyone looking to add visualization tools to improve the ability of a group to realize their shared goals. It covers a spectrum of tools and methods ranging from the simplest of tasks like hanging paper on a wall to more complex tasks such as strategic visioning process for a team. Think of this book as a ‘graphical user interface (GUI) for meetings’.

Description and Key Ideas

The book presents the concepts of visual meetings in a manner that reflects how people ‘move from ideas to action’. It captures this process in four sections divided as IMAGINING, ENGAGING, THINKING and ENACTING which is also visualized on the cover. The author provides examples from his personal experience working with companies and organization to reinforce the key topics.

In the first section on Imagining, Sibbet highlights the role of visual tools to create a shared frame of reference for participants in a meeting. It eases the reader into understanding the value of visualization and how individuals can begin to unlock their innate ability to draw. The section on Engaging is focused on how to involve the meeting participants using visual tools and methods. Sibbet describes a variety of ways to improve the participation of attendees (such as sticky notes, graphic recording, idea maps etc.). The use of scenarios and templates for different types of meetings is particularly useful.

The next section about graphics for visual Thinking is essentially the heart of this book. It does a wonderful job of providing several templates that can be used to organize, plan and solve problems as a group. I particularly liked how Sibbet presents the Group Graphics Keyboard © (source – www.grove.com) as the building block for visual thinking. The concluding section on Enacting continues on the similar theme and provides tools that are directed towards getting results and being more productive. It illustrates more graphical tools to support better team processes, decision making meetings and project management meetings


At work I end up spending almost half of my time in meetings. So when I first saw the title of the book, I was certainly intrigued by the concept. Sibbet does a great job of analyzing and presenting every aspect of visual meetings. The author’s style of presenting the ideas graphically along with examples from his experience makes the book a very practical guide for visual meetings. I do agree with the author’s point of view and believe in the value of visual thinking, but there are two areas where applying these ideas might find resistance. In a typical organization (those that are not that accustomed to visual thinking), changing the culture to leverage visual meetings is a somewhat difficult process. Ideally, you would need an experienced facilitator who can initiate and proliferate the idea of visual meetings in the organization. Without such a person to set an example, it would be hard to change an organization’s culture to appreciate and accept visual meetings. Another related area that makes it hard to apply some of these ideas in practice is the role of attendees. A large number of the meetings that I participate in are as an attendee/participant and not the host of the meeting. And not surprisingly the majority of the hosts for the meetings are not trained/ familiar in the concepts of visualizing meetings. In my opinion the author does an excellent job of guiding facilitators but could include a section on influencing the broader organization to adopt visual meetings as well.

The book provides very useful tools to facilitate the process of design thinking. Designing, as we learned, is a team sport. Often the people involved in designing products, processes or businesses meet and share their points of view and this book is an essential tool to ensure the designers are sharing the same point of view. A lot of the techniques we have learned so far for brainstorming, mind mapping, affinity diagrams (clusters) etc. overlap with visual meetings. As the book acknowledges, mastering the techniques of visual meetings can certainly allow you to become an experienced visual facilitator, but will also provide you with ways in which you can integrate your creative and analytic thinking to make better decisions.


Although I have used some of these techniques in meetings or discussions, I haven’t read any other book on visualization. In my experience with this topic, it does require some effort to plan and prepare for the meeting to incorporate visual thinking. I typically organize my thoughts using diagrams in PowerPoint which takes up a lot of time – but with the tools gained from this book; I can now use my drawing skills to facilitate visual thinking as well. I would certainly encourage designers view the webinar by David that serves an interactive guide to the concepts in the book.

Back of the Napkin – Review March 4, 2012

Posted by jackielamping in Back of the Napkin, [Books] Visualization & Presentation.
Tags: ,

Description and summary:

In The Back of the Napkin, Dan Roam makes the claim that anyone can use basic drawings to describe and solve complex business problems more effectively. First, Roam argues that our brains are hard-wired from birth to think visually, and that activating these deep-rooted visual thought centers (such as volume, shape, orientation, position, and change over time) helps bring our ideas into clearer focus. Second, he claims that hand-drawn sketches (whether on a napkin or whiteboard) are more effective in communicating ideas than refined PowerPoint diagrams because they’re intuitive, unintimidating, and – in Roam’s experience – invite significantly greater audience participation to clarify, edit, and improve. Finally, Roam describes a simple “SQVID” framework for breaking down any business problem into its “6W” component parts (Who, What, When, Where, How, Why) and how to visualize and draw each component as a basic sketch.

Roam anticipates counter-arguments from readers who say “I can’t draw” by emphasizing the absolute simplicity of the drawings required (arrows, stick figures, and basic shapes). He also maintains that everyone has a natural inclination toward visual thinking that manifests itself in different ways: “Black Pens” instinctively get up and start drawing, “Yellow Pens” let someone else lead sketching but get inspired to make comments along the way, and “Red Pens” hold back throughout the process but then redraw the entire picture correctly.

Roam pulls from his lengthy experience as an international business consultant, having seen many painfully ineffective presentations and failed pitches while noting a high success rate with whiteboard usage. He cites a particularly illustrative example from his own experience in which he agreed to fill in for a colleague’s public speaking event at the last minute and had only a train ride to prepare a 45 minute presentation about an unfamiliar subject: Roam crafted a simple diagram on the back of a napkin, recreated it on a whiteboard during his presentation, and inspired so much discussion that his session extended for 2 hours and won him a huge new piece of business. After realizing the tremendous power of a simple sketch, Roam was inspired to learn everything there is to know about using visuals for problem solving in business. When he found little material, he set out to write his own book.

Critical analysis:

When I first read Roam’s story about using a napkin sketch to give a wildly successful presentation, it was tempting for me to conclude that I should stop spending so much time preparing slides for meetings and instead just “wing it” by getting up to draw a few crude sketches – it would save me so much effort! But as Roam went on throughout the chapters, I started to pick up on his underlying message that in fact, there’s still a great deal of effort involved: you have to know your audience (i.e., Are they right brained or left brained? Do they know a lot about this problem or a little?), and the critical business problem you’re trying to solve in order to select the appropriate sketch to draw. You also have to know how to “show and tell” to successfully walk others through your thought process.

Roam’s argument that “every problem can be solved on the back of a napkin” is incredibly compelling in that it implies we can all expend less effort while yielding greater outcomes. This notion appeals to anyone in the modern business world acting under time constraints – most notably any EWMBA student. However, napkin and whiteboard sketches are clearly not appropriate for all business situations. For example, while they may be incredibly useful in clarifying business problems, selling ideas, and inspiring participation and debate, they are ill-equipped for running complex mathematical calculations, maintaining regular business operations, or communicating through asynchronous channels.   

Still, I do agree with Roam’s key notion that people are inherently visual thinkers, and that pictures sell harder and inspire more discussion than words. I studied behavioral neuroscience as my undergraduate major, and the biology states that pictures are more universally recognizable and simpler to understand than higher-order thought processes like reading. I also work in the field of education where there’s lots of debate about how people learn differently (visual vs auditory learner, etc.), and what makes course material more likely to be remembered. The current research demonstrates that concept retention improves when both pictures and words are presented, rather than words alone (http://www.cisco.com/web/strategy/docs/education/Multimodal-Learning-Through-Media.pdf etc).  

I also buy into Roam’s argument that the act of drawing pictures itself helps engage an audience in the discovery and problem-solving process. I can personally think back to a handful of business meetings in which someone got up to draw on a whiteboard, and I remember clearly the concepts that were discussed despite those meetings having taken place many years ago… I can’t say the same for the thousands of other meetings I’ve forgotten over my career.

Assuming Roam has plans to produce another version of the book, I would suggest adding at least 1 chapter that provides a series of short example scenarios and quick sketches that could realistically be used in a presentation or discussion (or better yet, that have already been used in the past with successful results). The current book offers a small number of lengthy examples, along with templates for sketching a range of other problems; it could be even more effective with a wider range of quick-and-dirty, real-life examples.

Value of this book?

As MBA students working full-time jobs, we hear things like “less is more” when it comes to PowerPoint presentations, or “tell me your elevator pitch”, or “give me a 1-page summary” on a fairly regular basis… Yet rarely do we learn specific examples of how this can be done effectively for different types of business problems. This book offers a helpful framework for simplifying such communications and making them more effective.

In addition, following Roam’s approach to exploring different visualizations for the same business problem is a key skillset for any innovator to learn. We’re being taught in Design as Competitive Advantage to “reframe the problem statement” and “look at things differently” and “find new sources of inspiration”, but it has been difficult to draw that out of our working teams despite all of the exercises we’ve gone through so far. Roam’s direction around the “6W’s” and “SQVID” as an approach to problem solving would be very valuable to include in course teachings in the future.

It occurred to me while reading The Back of the Napkin that sketching pictures to represent business problems is much like the prototyping process that we’re learning in this course. The basic idea is to create a visual representation of your idea that’s crude enough to indicate flexibility and encourage an audience to respond and contribute. The challenge with prototypes is that they may not always be appropriate or adequate for expressing a conceptual business problem to executives. Roam’s figure sketches provide a way to bridge the gap between what’s suitable in a research or engineering setting versus a business meeting or large-scale presentation.  

Relevance of the book?

In my experience working in business, anyone who gets up in a meeting and starts drawing on a whiteboard instantly commands the room. They’re seen as more knowledgeable and viewed as problem solvers because their actions and designs change the nature of the meeting – they spark new thoughts, energize people who haven’t been engaged, inspire others to get up and start drawing, and make for a very memorable conversation. In the past, I have felt the urge to get up and draw on a whiteboard, but I didn’t have the slightest clue of where to start once I got up there. Now I have tools and frameworks to pull from, and I’m less intimidated about having to be a good artist or getting it perfectly right the first time.

At its core, The Back of the Napkinis about how to communicate more effectively through the use of visuals. That message is deeply relevant across a variety of industries and professions, including teachers, lawyers, engineers, business professionals and more. The book is well-written, easy to scan, and obviously communicates effectively through images. It’s something you can pick up and find immediate value out of within a few hours or even 30 minutes. I would recommend it to anyone wholeheartedly.

Attached are a couple of my own napkin sketch attempts at describing the book:


Universal Principles of Design February 26, 2012

Posted by Kevin Egge in [Books] Visualization & Presentation.

Book Cover

There is more to exceptional design than what immediately meets the eye. Why do some products resonate with people and others don’t? In the Universal Principles of Design, the authors focus on bringing out 125 of the most intuitive and highly regarded components of great design work. The book is written and organized in an academic fashion. It is not a step-by-step design guide; rather it presents the fundamental attributes of each design component and assumes the reader has enough knowledge to put the framework into practice. The style is easy to read and concise. The most recent addition of the book was updated in 2010 and added 25 new components to the original 100.

William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler are the three design masters who collaborated on the Universal Principles of Design. Their goal with the book is to communicate that design should be treated as a cross-disciplinary effort with globally accepted principles. The inevitability for designers to become increasingly specialized in their field dulls their awareness of advances in other areas of design. Rather than studying hundreds of books to learn of other design disciplines, with this book designers now have at their fingertips the succinct details of the major design components. The authors’ efforts serve as a means for checking the quality of the design process and final product and in turn increases the probability that those designs will be successful.

The 125 design components in the Universal Principles of Design are structured in two easily accessible ways. They are first listed alphabetically to serve as a reference point on specific topics as needed. In this format, the book can also be read cover-to- cover for an overview of what designers need to acknowledge in their designs. More notably, the books alternative structure groups components into functional areas of design. This allows the reader to focus on only the relevant components of design that apply to the current exploration. With the components listed under category headings, some components are listed multiple times because they apply to more than one design function. The categorical organization covers:

  • How can I influence the way a design is perceived?
  • How can I help people learn from a design?
  • How can I enhance the usability of a design?
  • How can I increase the appeal of a design?
  • How can I make better design decisions?

The categorical organization structure solidly establishes the Universal Principles of Designas a repeatedly go-to book for every designer. For example, if the designer is looking for ways to increase the adoption of a particular product, he/she can quickly choose among the 33 design components identified in the “How can I increase the appeal of a design” category. The components range from the basic, Alignment (placement of elements such that edges line up along common rows) to the complex, Fibonacci Sequence (a sequence of numbers in which each number is the sum of the preceding two). To illustrate the framework of each component, the authors use a two-page spread – one page describes the varied aspect of the principles along with book references for further reading and the adjacent page contains diverse visual examples to further clarify those points. See the ‘Storytelling’ example below:


In the Introduction, the authors clearly articulate their feelings of necessity for this book by quoting famed designer and the author of The Elements of Style, William Strunk:

The best designers sometimes disregard the principles of design. When they do so, however, there is usually some compensating merit attained at the cost of the violation. Unless you are certain of doing as well, it is best to abide by the principles.

resonate April 17, 2011

Posted by Anders Taucher in [Books] Visualization & Presentation.

resonate, by Nancy Duarte

Book review by Anders Taucher

Have you ever seen the eyes of your audience glaze over as you have been presenting? Or thrown together a quick last minute bullet point-based PowerPoint, telling yourself that it doesn´t really matter since it´s just for some colleagues? Or how about creating a presentation doubling as documentation (a “slideument”), so you save time and effort? Can you honestly say that when you stand up to make a presentation, you make it your mission to change the world? If your answers are three no´s followed by a yes, Nancy Duarte´s book “resonate” may not be for you.


Duarte starts her book by focusing on presentations as a vehicle for change, especially stressing their emotional and storytelling aspects. She goes on to build a general structure of presentations, based on lessons from mythology, literature and cinema, introducing the “sparkline” (see figure) as a tool for visualizing the pattern of a presentation.

Duarte uses the sparkline to analyze speeches or presentations by the likes of Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King jr and Ronald Reagan, while building her argument for how to approach the task of creating a presentation that transforms your audience. Her wide range of examples is used well, to incorporate lessons on “the contour of communication” (Beginning, Call to adventure, Contrast, Call to action, End), as well as on the importance of understanding the audience, creating meaningful content, establishing structure, and so on.

You might think that more than 200 pages of this would be a bore, but the examples are (largely) very inspirational, and the book is very well illustrated, so it is actually a pleasurable read. It does get a bit long-winded and repetitive in some parts, and not all the case studies resonate (a word I will not use again without thinking of this book) that well with me. Some of her advice may seem a little obvious (“Give a positive first impression”) or extreme (“Go online and figure out how much money [your audience] make”), yet these irritations don´t get in the way of the points she is trying to make.

resonate” is not a tutorial on how to create great PowerPoint presentations. There are other books for this. (She, perhaps not surprisingly, recommends her own “Slide:ology” and “Presentation Zen” by Garr Reynolds for this purpose.) The book should instead be viewed as a general primer in the art of communicating a message to an audience. Therefore the book might be useful even to readers who belong to the growing number of PowerPoint-skeptics.

All in all, the book is a worthwhile investment, at least for those not very well versed in the art of communication. If you are like me, the first two or three chapters are the real eye-opener. That is where you may have the transformational experience, and perhaps realize the need to inject some passion when communicating your ideas. The rest of the book can be leafed through at leisure (the layout is exquisite), and used as a reference. There is a particularly useful two-page spread of the process of creating a presentation that I will definitely use as a checklist for building the structure of future presentations. (I dare not post a copy of that useful illustration, since Duarte has not made it available online.) The process recap shows how the journey of creating a presentation starts with ideation, how ideas are filtered and clustered and turned into coherent messages, how messages are arranged dramaturgically and finally visualized.

Among the many memorable quotes in the book, is John F. Kennedy´s statement that “The only reason to give a speech is to change the world”. Few of us are in the position he was in, yet it is clear that whether one is arguing for putting a man on the moon, or presenting a new idea to some colleagues, the aim is always to achieve some change of the status quo. And doing so requires not only compelling arguments, clear structure, contrasts, calls to action, and hard work. Most of all it requires passion. Reading Duarte´s book helped me realize that, and I think that would be a valuable lesson to many people, judging by many of the presentations I see.

You can watch Duarte´s Webinar on the topic of the book here: http://blog.duarte.com/2010/11/that-resonates-with-me-video-recording/

Sketching User Experiences by Bill Buxton March 14, 2011

Posted by karimcglynn in Sketching User Experiences.

Sketching User Experiences by Bill Buxton is a vast collection of historical lessons, examples of best practices, and real world case studies from the world of industrial/interaction/experience design. It is a testament to the power of design as a competitive strategy, a practical field guide for applying good design processes, and an argument for the power of sketching and experiencing ideas rather than simply thinking and talking about them.

Buxton’s idea of “sketching” is broader than the traditional concept of a rough drawing. Rather, Buxton defines sketching along a continuum which he calls the “design funnel”, which starts with rough drawings (ideation stage) and increases in fidelity to the point of prototype (usability stage). Along that continuum Buxton illustrates many examples of “sketches”, including various types of drawings, 3D sculptures, storyboards, stop-motion animations, and video demos, among others.

Bill Buxton's "Design Funnel"

The central point of Buxton’s book is that there is a different level of sketch-fidelity appropriate to each stage in the design process and what you need to convey at that time. Countering the assumption that if you are going to create a depiction of an idea you will want to make it as concrete as possible, Buxton argues that making certain features of the design too visually concrete at the wrong stage can mislead team members and prematurely cut off further ideation for that feature.

Buxton’s main thesis is consistent with the increasingly popular mantra of “fail early and fail often” as a guiding strategy for any creative endeavor.  The value of his sketching methodology is in producing many low-cost sketches up front, then gradually decreasing the number of options while increasing the fidelity of each subsequent sketch.  As he points out, this methodology is consistent with Laseau’s Funnel (1980), a description of the design process as the overlap between “Elaboration” (a process for opportunity-seeking) and “Reduction” (a process for decision-making).

Laseau's Funnel

While some might find Buxton’s description of the idealized design process to be the obvious approach in a perfect world, he also provides some practical examples for how to better implement it in the real world.  One of the main messages of his book is the value that a culture of sketching can bring in the form of sharing possible solutions—an important part of the ideation and decision-making processes.  He provides several inspiring examples of how different design teams have developed spaces in which they can share their sketches and offer each other constructive feedback. Buxton emphasizes that it is important for designers to “live with their work” and discuss it, rather than waiting for formal crit sessions in order to share things.

Sketching User Experiences is an inspiring work for anyone who is interested in working as a designer, or anyone who is interested in the power of design thinking to transform business.   However, the greatest value comes from Buxton’s encyclopedic knowledge of the biggest ideas in interaction design from the past 50 years. The bibliography of this book alone is a tremendous value to anyone who wants to imagine the future of interaction design through a better understanding of its past.

The Back of the Napkin March 12, 2011

Posted by dacsrgeorge in Back of the Napkin, [Books] Visualization & Presentation.

The Back of the Napkin is Dan Roam’s approach to bring visual thinking to the masses. Roam devotes plenty of page space systematically explaining the basics of visual thinking (Look, See, Imagine and Show) using simple ‘stick-figure’ drawings applied to problems both real and imagined. Beyond providing the reader with the tools and rules for good visual thinking, he introduces and applies the visual thinking framework to guide the reader’s thinking.

Roam attempts to win over his audience by proclaiming that it’s usually the most visually challenged person who ends up contributing the most, once they have been exposed to his methods. Regardless, of the clumsy attempts at trying to win over skeptical readers, Roam does have good and useful points. The basics of his approach are sound. The framework provided to supplement the approach is sound. The examples showing the use of the framework is both helpful and illustrative. However, it is unnecessary to have a prolonged tutorial on the basics of problem types. People reading his book will know the different problem types (who, what, where, when, why, how/many). Further, a good third of the book can be reduced to a single page, mapping problem type to visual tool. For ‘who/what’ problems select ‘portraits’, for ‘how many’ select ‘charts’, for ‘where’ select ‘map’, for ‘when’ select ‘timeline’, for ‘how’ select ‘flowchart’, and for ‘why’ select ‘multivariable plot’. Roam makes good use of examples throughout the book. It’s with the examples, particularly the real world ones, that he hooks the reader. We are taken through visual solutions of complex problems such as creating a comprehensive training doctrine for a company, and determining how to retain market share for a software company competing with the open source world. The book will be helpful to students and readers not exposed to the visual thinking process that pervades design programs, hci programs and creative agencies.

Certainly, I will use the tools that Roam provides, but, I caution the reader to keep in mind, that this kind of toolset is only valuable when applied to the right problem. Despite Roam’s proclamations that it can be applied to quantitative data sets, no one wants a visual that looks like a spaghetti explosion.

Example of Visual Thinking from the NYTimes website:

Made to Stick: How to Make Your Ideas More Memorable April 10, 2010

Posted by Khuram in Made to Stick, [Books] Leadership & Change.

In the same vein as Malcom Gladwell’s bestselling book The Tipping Point, Made to Stick takes a historical perspective of products, ideas, myths, trends and movements which caught on with the masses, and explores what it is about each that “made them stick” in the consumers consciences, making each a success.

Dan, a consultant at Duke Corporate Education, wrote Made to Stick with his brother Chip, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. At Stanford, Chip teaches a “Making Ideas Stick” class, where he consistently finds the more polished and talented speakers are generally not the most likely to get their ideas across. Greater impact comes from less-trained speakers who make their point by telling stories or focusing on a single point rather than ten. Think Obama.

The greatest value in Made to Stick comes from learning how to get and keep people’s attention. The book offers plenty of examples from advertising to teaching, illustrating effective ways to communicate ideas.

While the text is highly entertaining, the core provides an understanding and dissection of ideas that don’t stick, due to the Curse of Knowledge – once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. They attribute this villain to:

  1. Getting lost in a sea of information – what journalists call burying the lead
  2. Focusing on the presentation instead of the message
  3. Decision paralysis, often the result of too many choices or ambiguous situations
  4. The critical need to bridge the gap between knowing the answer and being able to tell others effectively.

To help readers create a “sticky” message – an idea that is understood and remembered, and that creates a lasting impact – the Heaths developed the mnemonic SUCCESs: Simplify the message, which is sort of like boiling the Ten Commandments down to the Golden Rule to get at the core of your idea. Root the message in something Unexpected, to grab your audience’s attention. Use Concrete evidence. Be Credible. (Ask yourself, Will anyone believe me?) Tug at Emotions to make people care. And use Stories that prove change is possible. Is this as easy as it sounds? Of course not. Is it worth doing? Yes.

Made to Stick contains sound lessons for business and communication today. Reading it will force you to think about simplicity in what you ask for. You’ll polish your communication skills if you read Made to Stick twice: once for entertainment, and once again to focus on the core skill you’ll develop in creating ideas that stick.