Content Design London

Confab 2018: best one yet

Published 8 June 2018, by Sarah Winters in Content Design.

Confab this year was top-notch. I would have paid to see Gerry and Sara alone. It’s a bit late but here’s a quick summary of the things I learned.

Gerry McGovern – Keynote

Main message: work with other disciplines and with evidence of what is actually happening.

Need to measure what is happening. Not our opinions.

Gerry is always outstanding value. He always gives a number of case studies that you can use to have content conversations in your organisation. For example at the St John Ambulance Centre, Australia study that found that an apostrophe can save lives.

Gerry also talked about how trust has moved. We don’t trust authority, we trust each other (mainly), although some do trust leaders. Viacom published a report and Gerry wrote about it in:Young people are skeptical, connected and happy

There were other case studies, all with great info. More are on Gerry’s slides:

Best Gerry quotes

“We have time do it wrong, we don’t find the time to do it right.”

“If we work in silos we work to fail.”

“Titanic – it was alright when it left here. It’s not enough for content. Needs to arrive in New York.”

The way to get around it is to work together. He said that we love our disciplines far too much. We have to love evidence more. We need to work together in multidisciplinary teams based on evidence.

Sara Wachter-Boettcher

Every time I look at new content I have the ‘What would Sara Wachter-Boettcher do?’ question in my head. I have biases (like every other human) and it can take a little effort to see in the hectic pace of life.

Main message: think about what you do. We tend to think best-case scenario but actually, it’s not always the case. Think humanely.

Sara opened with a story about Google telling you that the distance you walked amounted to a certain number of calories, quantified by mini cupcakes.

Full BBC story is here:

Just looking at that ‘feature’ for 3 seconds will tell you just how wrong that is. Think food guilt or shaming. Think people with weight challenges. You really don’t have to think long and hard about all the people that could affect negatively. What’s worse is that you can’t even opt out of it. It’s forced on you.

Within hours, the feature was removed because of all the feedback they got on Twitter.

But Sara’s point at the end was stark: within 3 hours the feature was removed because it was poorly thought out. It took more than 3 hours to build.

Test with real users, people. It will save you a lot of time and money.

I could probably give you Sara’s presentation verbatim and it wouldn’t do it justice. Sara shows some of her talks here:

I would recommend just watching them all.

Ida Aalen: easy and affordable user testing

This is the first time I have heard Ida speak. I’ve read a lot of her posts but in person was a delight.

This is just 2 of the highlights.

Main point: user research can be quick and quite painless. It is always worth it.

Ida said that in user testing 1 in 2 problems were overlooked by experts.


Seriously. Look at that.

We think that we are experts in our fields. We certainly have a lot of experience but that doesn’t mean we are right. User testing is the only way to get it right.

Ida also said you only have to test with 5 users to start to see problems and that small and frequent tests are better than bigger and infrequent tests.

Not leading in research

‘Leading’ in research is when a user researcher will ask questions in a way that will affect the participants’ answer.

Thankfully, I don’t see a lot of this in sessions now. When I first started in the user-centred world years ago, it was rife. This is pretty much a pointless waste of time. If you lead your participants, you may as well not ask them any questions at all. Instead, Ida had this advice for us:

Don’t say:

I’ve designed this website, I’d love to hear what you think!


The team that designed the site need help to figure out if it is really working.

Reason: people might not want to say negative things in case it hurts your feelings.

Don’t say:

you are really good at this!


Thank you, thanks for helping me with that. Let’s move on to the next task.

Reason: if the participant stops being able to do things – they might feel stupid. Never evaluate on how the user is performing.

Don’t say:

It would have gone faster if you have clicked the menu button


found some room for improvement. Thank you for helping us identify this.

Best Ida quote:

Colleagues are not your users

Empathy behind the algorithms: creating people-driven SEO with Chris Corak

I went to loads of sessions but this one really stood out for me because Chris gave us tools and techniques we can walk away and use. I may not have agreed with absolutely everything but almost.

Chris’ main point: use SEO tools to create good content.

Chris gave some stats:

  • 41% of adults use voice search daily.
  • We speak in full sentences and ask questions
  • 15% of voice searches have keywords that Google has never seen before

That last stat is mindblowing and I am very excited to see how we handle that as an industry.

Examples of how search is changing. If you say: “What’s the video game with two Italian brothers?” Google will give you Mario. Google understands.

There’s so much amazing advice in Chris’ presentation, it’s here:

I would love to see Chris speak again and see more on this at future content conferences. You know my rant: SEO is not something some magic team can slap on at the end to make your content useful. It will make it findable, which is only a tiny step. There’s no point finding useless content. But using SEO tools can give you how people think, what they are talking about and the vocabulary they use. It’s a goldmine of data that can help you.

I know Confab is in the US and for UK peeps it is expensive but I can tell you, it’s an amazing conference that is so worth it.

Slides from Confab speakers can be found on the confab website:

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