DonnaM » Personal


London – social filtering needed

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

I’m going to be in London in June (for UX London) for the first time and have about 4.5 days completely free to tourist. I have absolutely no idea what I absolutely must do. I will definitely see stereotypically London things but need some help with the weird things that I might specifically like. 

So, based on my previous touristing, here’s what I like:

  • Walking through interesting history & architecture (can probably tick this off with no effort)
  • Anything that is just stunningly beautiful, or unique nature
  • Costumes, of any type and any period
  • Weaving
  • Other textiles
  • Design museums (even better if they have textiles, but furniture and interesting industrial design is excellent)
  • Paul Weller, The Jam & late 70s punk
  • Dr Martens – is there a Dr Martens museum? Or awesome shop. That would be cool.
  • Doctor Who
  • Interesting, funky shopping streets. Even if I don’t buy anything
  • Cool arts & crafts markets
  • Secondhand bookstores
  • Pubs that combine great beer with great people watching
  • Pubs with good beer
  • Live theatre
  • Cathedrals – not for religiousness, but they are often awesomely beautiful

And I really don’t need:

  • General art galleries: Yes, I’ll pretend to be cultured, but I feel more like ‘yes, I saw that’. If I must do it, I must
  • Snooty expensive things
  • Touristy expensive things
  • Any tour that makes me do it your way, not my way (I’m looking at you, Gracelands audio tour)
  • Nasty, flashy shopping streets where I feel like I can’t walk into a shop (I’m looking at you, South Beach)

So tell me what I should at least research. And tell me what I should think about…

What’s in a bio?

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

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!

I love blogging

Monday, September 8th, 2008

I was just reading through some old posts (I have a 101-day old to-do list item to ‘update list of best articles’) and re-remembered how much I like blogging. Much more than the ephemeral twittering or plurking, and much easier than articles & books.This is a note-to-self to do it more.  And given I resigned from a fairly big client gig recently, I should be able to!

Week in review

Friday, August 29th, 2008

Some weeks are bigger than others. This week was a big, eventful one with lots of stress, and lots of ego.


  • Appeared in Computerworld NZ (and was on the front cover of the print version)
  • Had an article published about Four essential skills for information architecture by User Interface Engineering
  • Reluctantly resigned from a client gig I’ve been working on for a few months
  • Finished writing my UI13 talk on Design Games
  • Finished a content inventory and web analytics report for a new project
  • Saw a sneak preview of Ruth‘s Web Directions presentation on incorporating accessibility into design (and it’s good)
  • Wrote two blog posts, both of them completely ego-centric
  • Downloaded way too much Culture Club from iTunes, then discovered that I scrobble my playlist to

I can haz beer now?

Changing my name online – easy or impossible

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

As I mentioned recently, I am changing my name back to Donna Spencer.

Last time I changed my name was pre-internet and it wasn’t terribly hard. But now I have identity spread out all over the web, and am wondering just how easy it will be to change my name, and how important name is to identity.

I anticipate one thing will work in my favour. In the main, my name isn’t necessarily tied directly to my username. My main usernames are maadmob, maadonna & donnam. I don’t need to change them at all, but it certainly would be interesting to know what would happen if someone did need to do that.

So I’m keeping a running post of progress as I go – both to highlight the identity issues and good/bad examples of user experience.


First stop (for no other reason than convenience) was Facebook. On my account page was a clear option to change my name (image below taken after I had done it), followed by a big warning about the types of names they won’t accept, and that all name changes are checked.

Screen shot from Facebook showing the 'change name' option


I was wondering what would happen with WordPress. Ideally I’d be able to change an author’s name, have old posts under the old name, and new posts under the new. After all, the author doesn’t change, just the name.

Turned out I can change the nickname, but not the name. So I think I’ll probably set up a new author with a new name, rather than risk uncertainty of just changing a nickname.


This was dead easy & only needed a minor edit in one field:

More to come…

Announcement – I’m changing my name to Donna Spencer

Friday, April 18th, 2008

This is just a little post to let you all know I’m changing my name. I’m returning to my maiden name, which was Spencer.

So if you all of a sudden see comments, posts and general noise from Donna Spencer, it’s still me.

It’s not about you

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

In the last few weeks I’ve been in different situations that all reminded me of a key principle in any persuasive communication – no matter whether it be writing, designing, pitching or delivering a report. It is a principle that is absolutely key, and all so easy to forget…

The situations I found myself in were something like this:

  • I was writing my new ‘Why choose me‘ page. I started out writing about how fabulous I am and why you should hire me (yes, that’s crude, but go see what most consultants do). Even to me it was boring and dumb and flat and I hated it. So I thought about why I hated it and what I needed to write instead.
  • I was helping someone interview candidates for a website manager job. One person really got up my nose – when asked ‘Why do you want this job’ he explained how he wanted to work in a new domain, how he needed a change and how interesting it would be. I spent some time thinking about why he annoyed me so much.
  • I was struggling with a content rewrite for a client. It was hard to understand, dense overly-complex and really dull. It was potentially an incredibly interesting topic turned deadly.

On reflection on the similarities between these situations, I realised the problem – in each situation the writer/interviewee talked about themselves and how great they were, instead of talking about the person they were talking to. And I remembered something that I already knew:

Nothing is about you. Everything is about the reader/listener.

I think it was Kathy Sierra who really nailed this a few years ago (and who I would like to thank for her many ideas and insights). She put it so eloquently:

who kick's ass

This is the key to every single piece of communication. No-one cares about you, but they do care about what you can do for them.

Remember it, embed it, do everything you can to make other people shine; and good things will come your way automatically.

8 things you didn’t know about me

Sunday, December 23rd, 2007

My friend Maria tagged me for the ’8 things you don’t know about me’ meme. The rules are pretty straight forward:

  1. Link to your tagger and post these rules
  2. List EIGHT random facts about yourself
  3. Tag EIGHT people at the end of your post and list their names
  4. Let them know they’ve been tagged

So, here’s my list of things you may not know about me:

  1. I have a degree in economics, though it started as accounting, and for a short time included science.
  2. I’m a weaver – I have a huge loom in my front room and really, really love weaving. I never have time of course.
  3. When I was a kid, my career dream was to be a veterinarian. That all stopped the moment my agriculture teacher told me how vets confirm a horse is pregnant (something to do with very long gloves).
  4. At school I was never popular (smart, skinny red-head kid) and am still surprised when I realise people like me
  5. I missed a birthday once crossing the date line – I thought it was really cool until I was sitting on the plane with no-one to wish me happy birthday.
  6. I have not been anywhere in the Northern Territory, and have actually only seen very small parts of most other States
  7. I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up
  8. My career highlight so far was chairing the 2007 information architecture summit

And here’s who I’d like to know more about:

  • Lisa Herrod, Maxine Sherrin and Steve Baty – three fantastic Sydney friends I don’t get to see enough
  • Dan Willis – smart and completely mad and one of the best people I know
  • Alex, because I’m sure he’ll have some very strange facts to share
  • Caronne and Ruth because they are fantastic friends
  • And Andrew because I love him (and I’m tagging him even though he has done this already on one of his blogs)

Less than 24 hours – time to panic

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

[This post is part of the Evil Election Eve Blog Carnival]

It is less than 24 hours until Australia’s Federal Election. And I’m about to start panicking.

The same thing happens to me every time an election is called. I start with good intentions – this year I’m going to pay attention to the issues, figure out who really deserves to get my vote, learn how the voting system works and vote very deliberately.

But every time, as the time approaches, I get more and more overwhelmed. The media is saturated with crap that immediately makes me avoid it. Stuff ends up in my letter-box that is full of rhetoric and no substance. Advertising features people’s faces (which I have a chance of remembering), but I have to vote by name (which I have no chance of remembering). Pretty soon into a campaign I’m so over it that I block everything out.

Then there’s the overhead of trying to figure out the voting system. I’ve lived in NSW & ACT. State elections have a different system to the Federal Election. I’ve never gotten it straight and haven’t a clue how it works.

So I get to this point. It is 4.50pm, I have to leave the house in less than an hour to go to dinner, then vote early next morning. So I have less than an hour to figure out who I want to vote for and how to make my vote count. Oh, and I have to figure out where to vote, given I’m registered in NSW and live in ACT.

Given this marvelous thing called the internet, that should be OK. I’m sure someone sent me email this week about how to vote. I’m sure there is some good information out there.

But, really, I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to spend the mental effort of figuring out where to start, finding what I want, cross-checking it for bias, absorbing it, remembering for tomorrow morning.

So I’m going to do what I always do. Walk into the polling booth, looking like I know what I’m doing. Ignore all the people thrusting how-to-vote cards at me. Get inside, wish I had a how-to-vote card. Vote for the same party I always do.

I am way too noisy

Thursday, April 26th, 2007

I just discovered I am the number 2 google entry for Donna. I even beat The Donnas.

That just makes me think I’m being way too noisy… But it’s still funny.

P.S. I wasn’t even ego-surfing. I was playing around on web forms seeing how people set up default buttons ;)

A perfect day

Saturday, February 10th, 2007

I think I had close to a perfect day today. Here’s what I did:

  • 2 hours working in the garden, listening to philosophy podcasts
  • Went into town with my daughter to a multicultural festival. Ate great Italian gelati, drank Polish beer, ate Thai mussels (in that order)
  • Went to a bookstore (& found Dan’s book on the shelf, which was good as I owe a copy to someone as a prize)
  • Visited friends & spent an hour doing nothing but chatting
  • Did some weaving
  • It rained – something that has not happened for months
  • Now the frogs are jumping around outside, and the crickets are chirping, in rainy joy (I haven’t seen frogs or heard crickets all summer as the drought has been so bad)

The only thing that would have made it more perfect is if my husband had come to town with me. But he was home making beer – one batch of which is a Scottish Ale for me, and I can’t complain about that…

My year ahead

Thursday, January 11th, 2007

I was going to do a ‘year ahead’ post like Derek & Tuna. And I’ve been thinking about all the things I’d like to put in it.

But today I figured out what will really make my year work. Two seemingly tiny things:

  1. Say no (sometimes) when people ask me to do work for them
  2. Stop worrying about everyone else’s resource and skill problems

That’s it.

Year in review & year ahead (belated)

Monday, January 8th, 2007

I meant to write a ‘year in review’ on or around new year but, for completely normal reasons (i.e. I’m overcommitted), didn’t get to it until today.

I don’t normally do one of these, but I had a ripper 2006 and would like to congratulate myself on:

And…still spending some time with my family (though not as much as they’d like).

Oh, I’m tired just thinking of it. I think I’ll post my ‘year ahead’ tomorrow night.

On being stupidly busy

Monday, August 7th, 2006

I’ve written so little of substance here recently – a couple of longish posts and a bunch of announcements. I’m not particularly happy about that – I’d prefer to be writing meaty posts than announcements. But the announcements show why I haven’t been able to write substantial posts. I am more overcommitted than usual – working, writing, preparing workshops and talks.

I’m still thinking hard as ever about a whole range of things, particularly related to designing and learning to design, but I have no brain-time to tell you about them.

I looked at my studio today and realised that my loom has been bare for almost a year, my sewing machine is covered in dust and the chairs I upholstered 8 months ago are still unassembled. My beautiful sunny studio is turning into a haven for projects I might be able to do when life slows down a bit. My garden is knee deep in weeds that will take me weeks to remove.

So I’m going to hunker down for a few weeks and try to knock over all the extras, so I can get back to the stuff I want to be doing. Don’t be surprised if things are quieter than usual here.

Music made me feel like a teenager again

Thursday, July 13th, 2006

I had a rotten day at work. You know, really, really, really rotten. The type of day I haven’t had for years.

But I found a cure I haven’t used for a long time – good music, loud. I put my earbuds in, turned up my new Muse album and felt better. Took me most of the album, but I got there. In drifting through grownuphood, I forgot how amazing music once made me feel, and how well it can transform a mood. It made me feel reasonable rather than teary and angry.

Just lucky I didn’t listen to Jeff Buckley though!