DonnaM » Blog Archive » What’s in a bio?

What’s in a bio?

I usually tweak my bio now and then, but with my card sorting book coming out soon (yes, really – March) I want to have a better look at it – after all, it will be on the printed version forever.

It made me think about the point of a bio and what you really want to learn from it. Mine at the moment sort of tries to tell a bit about my experience, a bit about my personal approach and some of what I want people to know so I can do more of it (i.e. teaching!)

But is that what you want to know when you read someone’s bio? How important are these:

  • Time in the current industry or doing the current work (I have 9 years up, and it feels strange…have I been at this long enough to be less specific?)
  • Types of systems I’ve designed (intranets, websites, applications, e-commerce, search). Does that matter? Or is that actually the most important thing?
  • Who I’ve worked with. I never include this – do you trust me more if I’ve worked with big-name brands?
  • My approach or philosophy. I care about this when I read other people’s bios, but do you?
  • What I do when I am not working? Does that make me look human, or get in the way of what you really need to know?

Ah, this is all too hard. And I teach people how to write. Now while I wait for your comments to pour in, I think I’ll go take some of my own advice.

And if you’d like to tell me about your favourite bio (of someone else), that would be fantastic!

9 Responses to “What’s in a bio?”

  1. Gary Barber Says:

    I know a few professional biographers that can take 200-300 drafts of their own 400 word bio to get it to the point that they don’t dislike it. What hope do we have… *sigh* :)

    I do look for an indication of the industry sectors people have worked in as these can sometimes have a very different outlook.

    Personally I like a chatty bio that is engaging and yet informs me. Something that shows not just the skills, but the journey and the philosophy of the person and even their road ahead. But that’s just me.

  2. Nick Finck Says:


    I recently re-wrote my bio with the help of Meryl Evans, a professional editor and copywriter. It was a bit of a struggle for me. I used to list the number of years I have been doing IA and go into a bit of personal detail about my background. etc. I even used to list tools I used way back when.

    The new bio is a bit more refined. A general reference to my years of experience, some mention of where I am located and what projects and things I am involved with. The most important thing, right up front, is what I do.. even if the reader doesn’t know what “information architecture” is it is important to mention it right up front.

    A good exercise for me has been thinking about it in terms of a slogan or mantra… “I do X” ..and trying to figure out to most succinct way to say “X” that offers the least ambiguity possible. X may mean some sole searching on the notion that if you could be known for one thing what would you want it to be? “shes the guru of X” or “shes the gal who does X”

    It wasn’t apparent to me that others had difficulty knowing exactly what it was I do. I don’t mean knowing really what IA is and isn’t, I mean just knowing that I specialize in IA. I hadn’t done a good job at showing or communicating that. Even in a revealing conversation with an old friend who I had actually done presentations with I was shocked to learn that she didn’t get really what it was that I do. So i started asking around to my peers, colleagues, mentors, friends, and even family members and I got this:
    I asked a bunch of friends how they would describe what it is I do in three descriptors… no right or wrong answers, here’s how it went down:

    * IA, speaker/event planner, and entrepreneur/business-owner
    * Web Community Organizer
    * information architecture consulting
    * IA, organize people, and motivate others
    * IA, UX, and double-meat subs
    * IA, Design strategy, tall, and photographer
    * User Experience Designer, Writer, and Wine drinker

    From my own personal perspective this is what I do:

    * User Experience – Information Architecture, Usability Specialist, Interaction Designer, UCD Strategy
    * Entrepreneur – Designs by Nick Finck (now defunct), Blue Flavor
    * Publisher – Digital Web Magazine, A List Apart (no longer involved)
    * Speaker – SXSW, Webmaster Jam Session, WebVisions, IA Summit, etc
    * Event Organizer – WebVisions, World Usability Day (just one year), Refresh Seattle, Blaze (some day), etc
    * Writer – Articles on Digital Web, Blue Flavor, A List Apart, etc

    From there I crafted the slogan you see on the home page of my new site… tho that too took several revisions and edits.

    I still list some of the more well-known companies who I have done IA work for as I feel it helps establish my credibility in the industry (well, my last name is not Rosenfeld anyway) for those who may not know me. I try to keep that list balanced between large corporations and smaller but well known businesses. The names I choose to include have changed over the years but the majority of them are still the same.

    Writing a bio is no easy task and I highly recommend working with a good editor who has an outside perspective. When in doubt, ask your target audience (the people you hope really read your bio and hire you for your services). :)

  3. Donna Spencer Says:

    Thanks Gary – I’ve just done a slightly chattier version. Hope it works better…

  4. Donna Spencer Says:

    Nick, that is a really, really awesome idea. I think my favourite copywriter is on holiday at the moment, but I’m going to talk to him as soon as he gets back.

  5. caronnect Says:

    I like Nick’s tiered bio – allows readers to stop when they’ve read enough. There are no typos/grammatical blunders (my personal hatred) and it’s concise yet informative. I totally agree with “general reference to my years of experience, some mention of where I am located and what projects and things I am involved with. The most important thing, right up front, is what I do.. ”

    A bio should also be reflective of personality, so making it a bit chatty is good for your bio :-)

  6. Ruth Ellison Says:

    I like to know:
    * where the person is from
    * what projects that they’ve been involved in
    * your approach/philosophy
    * what you do in your spare time. I really like this aspects of people bios! It puts a bit of context and makes it fun too.

  7. Jessica Enders Says:

    Hi Donna

    I like to know
    - what the person does at the moment (in as tangible terms as possible – no boardroom bingo words pls)
    - what broadly has been the person’s working path to this point (to give a sense of what they are experienced in and already know)
    - what the person is passionate about (to add colour and personality to the profile).

    I think it should be written in whatever tone the person feels best reflects their personal approach (so relaxed and chatty would suit you fine, as Caronne as noted).

  8. Danny Hope Says:

    It’s quite difficult to write something which will work well across a range of contexts.

    Do people maintian several bios or just reuse the same text, even though it might not be optimal for each setting?

  9. Donna Spencer Says:

    Thanks everyone for the ideas.

    Danny – I think I’m going to write (or get written) separate ones for separate purposes. My bio that accompanies a workshop should be different to that for a design gig and different to the one that tells generally who I am. They’ll all have the same core, but emphaise different things

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