User flow example

A user flow shows the steps a user takes as he/she moves through a website. In this example of a user flow, these are the screens the user will see as he/she buys a pair of shoes.

Looking at the flow (even a low-fi, sketched version) gives a content strategist a chance to consider what messages the user needs to receive, and where the ideal touch points are.

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Nomenclature Example

For a content strategist, a nomenclature chart, or vocabulary, is a specific set of terms that reflect the voice of the company.

In these examples of nomenclature charts, the content strategist has chosen a set of key words, and tested them with the organization’s target audience to see if they resonate. For each key word, the content strategist supplies a definition, as well as synonyms. What makes this different from a dictionary is that the synonyms are not necessarily direct equivalents, but instead words that the target audience or organization might use interchangeably with the key word.



Competitive Audit

A competitive audit reviews competitors sites to learn from them. A competitive audit is most successful when it is done from the perspective of meeting specific goals: what are your specific goals, who is your target audience, and how do your competitors rank in terms of meeting those goals.

It’s important to note that competitors may not have the same goals as you. Therefore, we are not looking to see how successful they are at meeting their goals. We are only focused on what we can learn from how they approach our goals, and where we have opportunities to improve, comparatively. Here’s an example of a competitive audit for a healthcare provider.

In this example, the healthcare provider has identified 3 goals, and their own target audience. They have identified 2 competitors (ideally, a competitive audit would have between 5 and 10) and by noting the keywords they see, and ranking each site, they can then learn from others’ choices.

Quick Turnaround for User Feedback

Usability and testing is a great way to learn how users are responding to your application, but it’s rarely quick and easy to do. Here are a few examples of testing options that can make a big difference to the user experience:

Testing a Concept

There’s an old Foxtrot comic strip where Jason announces “I’m going to invent shoes with wheels on them.” His sister Paige asks dryly, “will you call them roller skates?” Concept testing gets at far more than just double checking that no one else has come up with the same one. I’ve worked with a hospital where concept testing showed us the logo resembled a cigarette, and with a mobile development company that found through concept testing that their site’s messaging around “creation” made them sound like house painters, rather than developers.

Testing a concept involves first having one or more concepts to test: messages, images, or key words. I like to create a maximum of 8 messages to test, and then put them online, against a white background with no context. I can send people to see the various URLs from social media, and easily get a large number of comments on each concept.

For some projects it’s better to show all of the concepts to each user, though in most situations you want users to only see one concept (to decrease the likelihood that seeing one concept will influence their thoughts on another).

Paper prototypes

Paper prototypes (i.e. sketching screens onto paper, and allowing a tester to “click” on buttons with a finger, then showing them the next page/screen) get a lot of flack from testers saying that their users couldn’t get a sense for the application’s actual usability. They’re right – paper prototypes aren’t intended for testing ease of use. They are, however, an excellent way of testing messaging and flow.

The key to testing a paper prototype is preparation. If I have created an ecommerce flow, I need to sketch a screen for every page a user might try to get to. I need to make sure my paper screens have clearly identified buttons and links, and I need to get familiar enough with the variations within the flow to be able to easily hand the user his next “screen” based on what button or link he selects.

Most tests work best with one or more observers taking notes, so that the moderator can be free to ask questions without worrying about writing down answers. For a paper prototype, this is even more important. The moderator will be responsible for “changing” screens, meaning he or she will certainly not have time to make notes on when the user was surprised or frustrated or confused.

Tree tests

Tree tests are quick to put together and valuable for getting insight into both a user’s vocabulary and the viability of the IA.

In a tree test, the user is asked to find information on a topic, and then is shown the main navigation of a site (as they would when they saw the top nav bar). This is typically done with software such as User Zoom or Treejack, which allows the user to then click on a navigation item and see what pages or subnav appears. When the user is satisfied that he or she has found the section or page that would have information on the requested topic, they click “submit.”

For observers, this is a great way to identify user expectations.

Word association

We all know that words have power, but some have different connotations to different groups of people. With this in mind, picking key words from the taxonomy and asking target audience members to define or react to them is a great quick way to explore the audience’s vocabulary.

Ideally, a word association test should not ask about more than 10 words. More than that will begin to  influence the way the user is hearing the terms.

One piece of advice: given the variety of connotations for any given word, word associations  are only useful if they’re coming from the target audience.


Where most user testing focuses on exploring the user’s mindset, surveys are often less open ended, simply because they are not in real-time, and don’t provide opportunities to ask follow up questions. However, surveys are a great way to identify goals, expectations, frustrations, needs, and fears.

For example, if a project has a discovery period, and we want to identify the three biggest problems to address in a software system, we can accomplish that by asking all 300 employees to respond to an online survey much faster than if we were to interview even 30 of them.

Discovery Activities

“I want to run a discovery session with my team, but I don’t have any ideas for activities!” It’s a common concern. A discovery session, intended to learn from the client or key stakeholders, can feel overwhelmingly open ended. Try some of these sample activities, and see if any feel right for accomplishing your discovery session’s goals:

Activity: A Day in the Life
Goal: Create a persona, prepare for user research

“A Day in the Life” is a group activity, where the team first individually records a step-by-step of their own day, and then comes together to define a step-by-step of their target user’s day. By recording their own days first, people will begin to focus on what actually happens during the day, rather than what they want their users to do. However, since this is being created without an actual user or users present, it’s important that someone record all questions that come out of the activity. These questions will frame later user research.

Activity: Partners, Squared (works best with 8-16 people)
Goal: Come to agreement on a vision with buy-in from the whole team

Divide the group into pairs of two. Each pair has roughly 5 minutes to come up with a plan (this could be a product design, or any other decision). After the 5 minute session, each pair combines with another pair (4 people), to pitch their idea and then either choose one, combine the two, or come up with something new that all 4 agree on. After 5 minutes, the 4-person group pairs with another 4-person group and repeats the process. This should continue until the entire group has come together and is pitching 2 ideas, and is ready to either combine or choose from the ideas.

Activity: Sticky Note Flow
Goal: Create a user flow out of a large amount of functionality

In this activity, the team begins by listing out every piece of functionality they can dream of wanting. Each functionality gets written down on a sticky note, regardless of how easy or difficult it will be to build, or even if some team members thinks it’s valuable and others disagree. When all functionality is written down, the group will work together to group them, identifying functionality that is either very similar, or functionality that works hand in hand with other functionality. Then the team will work together to put the functionality into chronological order. When this is complete, the team is set up to record a few options for the user’s journey.

Bonus: Make a list of the business goals and user’s goals, and identify what functionality meets each goal. If there are goals leftover at the end, find out why.

Activity: Ben and Jerry’s Stack
Goal: Create a shared vocabulary and mission statement.

This activity is adapted from Kristina Halvorson’s Messaging Period, as described in her UIE15 talk. First, ask the group to spend 3-5 minutes listing out every adjective they can think of that describes the company as it *ideally* is. Then bring the group together, put all of the words up on a board where everyone can can see them, and give them a few minutes to each write a few sentences explaining what the company does, using some of the words in front of them. Have the team share some of their sentences, and together discuss (and edit) which ones best identify the company they want to be.

Next, have the team work together to develop one “mission statement”: a sentence that explains who the company is, what they do, and why. This sentence is the one that all future decisions can be held against. If a decision does not support the mission statement, it’s the wrong decision. Lastly, return to the descriptive sentences, select 3 or 4 of them, and edit them to truly support the mission statement.

Looking for more examples? Try the Gamestorm website for ideas.

Sample Editorial Calendar Worksheet

This is an example of an editorial calendar worksheet and the calendar itself. You can also check out the template.

Pre-Calendar Questionnaire Sample Answers

  • What is our goal?
    We will increase from 5 qualified leads a month to 8, and increase our clients from 1 a month to 2.
  • What is our message?
    We can give you the power (and spray cleaner) to have a spotless kitchen without spending time on it, so you can enjoy your career and family.
  • What are our channels?
    Facebook page, blog, SEM
  • What are our tactics?
    Monthly theme connected to school events, holidays, and the weather

Calendar Worksheet Example

  • Month of: June
  • Theme/sub-message 1*: School’s out, spend time outdoors
  • Holidays or events we’ll reference: Summer vacation
  • Specific deadlines: Sale from June 20-25
  • Tactic 1: Blog articles, weekly
    • Article 1 topic: 10 fun things to do this summer
    • Article 2 topic: How fast can you clean up? (comparison against 2 competitors)
    • Article 3 topic: Recycle old spray cleaner bottles into fun DIY summer toys
    • Article 4 topic: Compare our spray being all natural to the “all natural” summer outdoors
  • Tactic 2: Sale
    • Sale: half off from June 20-25
    • Create ads for SEM
    • Post on Facebook and promote on blog
  • Tactic 3: Facebook updates
    • Photo of the bottle spraying out summer with the words “Summer’s in the air!”
    • #43: Have a picnic.
      What will you do with your extra time today? #nomorecleaning
    • Share photos from fans with their “extra time”
    • Quote “summer breeze makes me feel fine, blowin’ through the jasmine in my mind” to advertise jasmine scented cleaner
    • #37: Go for a bike ride.
      What will you do with your extra time today? #nomorecleaning
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Sale Ends

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