An Event Apart: The Crafts in our Systems

by Luke Wroblewski August 6, 2012

In her presentation at An Event Apart in Washington DC 2012 Erin Kissane talked about the principles of craft and how they apply to creating systems that support effective content startegy. Here's my notes from her talk on The Crafts in our Systems:

  • Content strategy is system design. We don’t just make things. We make systems that make things.
  • A system is a set or assemblage of connected or associated things. Everything you work on within a system(sub problems) impacts the complete system. All big projects are ultimately systems.
  • Many people want to work on small projects that can have a big impact. Microcopy and small Web sites are examples of craft projects that can help you grow your skills. But focusing too much on niche craft might remove you from larger scale problems that also need help.
  • Systems need to be crafted through workmanship.

Learning the artifact

  • When we make a system, we need to understand the artifact the system is intended to produce. Gather an intimate knowledge of your artifacts.
  • The way you learn the artifact is to be with it. It’s a combination of the process and the materials. Look at the thing itself.
  • For content strategy, you need to understand the stakeholders, the content management system, the processes they use. But you also need to spend time with the artifacts with the content assets.
  • Content audits allow you to look at all the assets in a system. You need to spend time with the individual units of content in order to truly understand and craft a system.
  • Stop making assumptions and work around what’s already there. There are no shortcuts for this process.
  • “The craftsman works, looking and looking again from one revelation to another.”
  • Better systems make better artifacts.

Make for Makers

  • Makers use specific tools to create artifacts.
  • Content management systems are usually awful. But internal tools need to be designed just as well, if not better, than our consumer products.
  • Wordpress is the single most used CMS in the world. 54 million Web sites use them and 22% of sites coming online use Wordpress. It’s a lot easier to use than many other systems.
  • Every time we don’t serve makers well, we don’ serve users well. Each maker can impact many users so there’s network effects from serving makers well.
  • Follow the pain: that will lead you to the problems within systems.
  • Making the tools is not good enough, you need to also make the tools the right way.

Take the Time

  • Time is central to the idea of craft. Well-crafted systems require time to develop and realize. It’s often not about talent. It’s about time spent.
  • Most systems projects suck because of time. They are either to long or too short.
  • Craft is time-travel: take future problems and move them forward. The time you take upfront prevents countless hours after. It aims to prevent problems down the road.
  • We want to move troubles forward so we can deal with them earlier in the process –in a controlled environment.
  • It seems more costly to take the time to get things right up front, but its more costly not to. We need to fight for time.
  • A great project manager can help teams make the time needed to get things right. The secret isn’t just saying “no”. Instead say “no, but what I can do is this.”
  • “Consider what did the doing take, and what did it give?” If you took extra time and got better, it was worth it.
  • The time of a craftsperson takes as long as they need but no longer.

Ship Small but Excellent

  • MVP: small enough for excellence. Do as little as you can -narrow your scope and do a small thing very well.
  • Pilot projects are your friend. Do something small and build on your success.
  • You can narrow the scope of not only your total project but of each individual piece as well.
  • It’s better to get a subset right then to work on the whole system and get it wrong.

Deep Knowledge

  • Reinvent only with reason. Deep wells of knowledge are things we can keep going back to not reinvent things. Our “new” problems have been solved before.
  • Uncover institutional knowledge: find the old hands in companies and organizations. Do apprenticeships.
  • There is a play between doing things the right way and getting the right results.