Connected UX

by Aarron Walter

26 Reader Comments

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  1. This seems like an exceptional way to engender a user-centered culture across all of MailChimp’s departments.

    Aarron, it sounds like this was a gradual, bit-by-bit process to get the whole company using Evernote and contributing data regularly. How long was that transition?

    Also, did you run into any surprises with how you organized the “research pile?” For example, you realized you should’ve been using Tags for X and Notebooks for Y, but didn’t start out that way.

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  2. We guessed and shot from the hip for years, then started to get the people and time to do proper research. Making the transition from lots of fragmented information to a connected system happened over the course of a year. It’s not that the process takes a long time (there is some overhead in finding the data you have on hand and getting teams on board), but we just didn’t really know what we had until we’d experimented a little.

    We’d put a little data into a central database, someone would ask a hard question, and we’d pull out an answer in minutes. Each time we did this we grew ever more excited about the potential. As we poured in more data and asked more questions, the principles of the experiment and why it worked became clear.

    Your milage may vary in your organization. If you have lots of fragmentation in your teams, it could take longer to get people to contribute. The best way to get people excited is to show everyone what you’ve learned and tell them how you did it. Start small, shock and awe, then watch it grow.

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  3. Aarron, great article! Couldn’t help nodding my head in agreement, especially about busting silos. Thank you for sharing.

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  4. Love the article, Aaron! Very insightful.

    Would it be accurate to say that most things are better being open source (with reasonable limitations, of course – e.g. open source only within the company)? It seems to me one of the greatest hurdles in making this work is finding the perfect balance between big, open source data and innovative organization of that data. It looks like you guys over at MailChimp UX have really gotten the recipe right here. Bravo!

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  5. Great article. I especially agree with the points stated in “It’s not the tool that matters”. If anything, I would probably add some thoughts about reputation points or some other social mechanism that encourage sharing. Motivating everyone is the key here.

    Our company is facing a similar challenge right now, however in a slightly different environment (UX agency). We have lots of quality content, tools and templates, which are scattered across the company.

    Evernote example is inspiring, but our plan is to set up a closed Wordpress platform with some smart plugins to enhance posting, subscribing and reputation building. I believe it can be flexible and yet simple enough for people to use it. Has anyone here tried that?

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  6. @Brad: When data is open in companies, it moves, gets reused, gets questions and generates questions. It creates a culture where collaboration is natural and leads to outcomes that can’t be anticipated. You can see the ethos of the open source movement in this story, but to me it’s just about remaining connected to one another and creating a culture of sharing.

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  7. @Wojtek: The UK Cabinet office has done something similar with WordPress and had some success. I’d love to hear how your experiments shake out.

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  8. The problem with tests is that they are not sales. There is a real but subtle difference in terms of testing and actually selling a product.

    Testing is hard, but compared to selling it’s easy. That is why designers love to test, we can avoid the real issue of sales.

    The real magic of Mailchimp is the way it sells you it’s product and how design has influence over the resulting purchasing decision.

    Hopefully we can talk and think more of how testing helps to sell better (if not any other product or service then to sell design services itself)

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  9. It is great article!
    Thank you for sharing.
    自動車査定

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  10. @Wojtek: We built something similar using WordPress (for a slightly different scenario but similar insofar as finding/sharing information across the organization that can serve as a single data source for multiple purposes).

    One of the main drivers for going the WP route was Aaron’s first principle of “Easy in, easy out” – a lot of folks in our organization have experience with WordPress as do many of our new hires.

    We took a standard WordPress install, added a custom post type with some unique fields as well as custom taxonomies, and added in some functionality to filter, search, and subscribe to submissions.

    We still have a ways to go to realize our bigger vision for the tool, but to speak to Aaron’s comment to Brad, our initial release certainly has helped shift that mindset in the organization to think more about connecting, sharing, and collaborating. Culture shifts take time and every little step helps :)

    Great article, Aaron! Thanks.

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  11. Hello there, just became alert to your blog through Google, and found that it is truly informative. I’m going to watch out for brussels. I’ll Thankful if you continue this in future. Many people will be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

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  12. Inspiring read! I love the idea of going with Evernote versus some obscure CMS.

    Any tips on getting buy-in? For instance, if we start dumping customer data into Evernote, how can we demonstrate the value of it to executives?

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  13. Really great practical insights here. Have been using Google Docs in a similar fashion, but the way Evernote (or other similar tools) can tag and reorganize things seems like an really powerful incentive to shift over and make connections from disparate pieces of data.

    Thanks!

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  14. @Jake: The best way to get buy in is to start small, feed in a bit of data you already have on hand and experiment. When tackle your next research project, turn to your database of insights first to see if patterns are present. If you have feedback in your database with email addresses attached, try recruiting users for interviews with this data.

    Start small and if you can get away with it, don’t ask for permission. Evernote is free, other similar tools can be used for free too. Just feed in the data and start experimenting. When you have a couple of cool insights, share it with colleagues. They’ll wonder how the hell you found that info, that’s when you tell them what you’ve been up to.

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  15. Aaron, this was a great article, thanks!  As soon as I finished reading I started to dumb data into Microsoft OneNote but I found a limitation that also exists in Evernote.  How do you pull your data out without complex boolean operations?  It just seems to be a limitation that will be frustrating to work around…

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  16. @Holly: So far we’ve not really needed complex search operators, though some of us have used them for special circumstances. We’ve found that tagging regularly and triaging into specific notebooks helps us keep things organized. We search inside one notebook to get specific or across all when we have a broad question.

    I’m curious as to what sort of queries you’re trying to run.

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  17. I often use the WP blog, your article very helpful to me. I took a standard WordPress install, added a custom post type with some unique fields as well as custom taxonomies, and added in some functionality to filter, search, and subscribe to submissions.

    My Blog

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  18. Great post! I’m lucky to work for an organization that has been working hard recently to break down these silos, and I think we have an advantage in that our user research team doesn’t belong to any product group, so they tend to be able to see these connections pretty readily.

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  20. Great article! User data what ever might be the source user research or analytics or customer support are useful only when they are not hoarded…shared across the silos in an open environment and there is an attitude use it for drive improvement.

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  21. Thanks for the fantastic article. Question: when data is unstructured (like yours), does that make it hard to do a search in Evernote and find everything related to a certain topic? For example, there may be a lot of customers complaining about the design of your dashboard, but they all might use different terms (dashboard, account page, main page, home, my account, control panel, etc.).  To overcome that, do you need to tag each piece of data? Thanks Aarron!

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  22. We often hear about data collection and interpretation but I realize organizing it (with the right tools) would help a lot.

    I’m currently using Olark for a personal project and the information flow stops at me reading the emails in the inbox. Next step: integrating Email+Evernote and understanding how to share that info across a 3-person team.

    I’d be interested in more details of how you make that Evernote hub work so well within your team.

    Thanks again for the great article.

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  23. Great workflow – looks amazing.

    Aarron how do you handle your data over time with keeping consistent with your updated product?

    I mean you have feedback/bugs/insights/etc., you iterate, your product evolve and then few month/years later all those useful insights don’t match your current product and becomes obsolete.
    Do you clean your database? do you tag it? or just keep the info and then back to square one with a huge sets of data with only some relevant.

    How do you deal with those issues?

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  24. Though not directly relevant, I must take this opportunity to say that I really dislike the mailchimp rss email template. I have now integrated it a handful of times, and every time I find it frustratingly limiting. As a matter of fact, I have now dumpted using it all together due to the styling limitations that it imposes, and instead opt to have the web pages designed, and point mailchimp at the url where the page is hosted instead.

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  25. @marc d So far stale feedback hasn’t been a big issue for us. As we do searches in our database and come across feedback about things that we’ve already addressed, it’s almost always very clear to us and we just delete the things that could lead us astray. This may be more of an issue for gigantic organizations working on monolithic apps, but for us it’s been quite manageable.

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  26. I really enjoyed this article, and advocated for using Confluence as our DB.  I never saw people going to that well to find insights, and I’m convinced that’s just because of the nature of our business i.e. consulting vs product development.  Regardless, I’m convinced this can be a highly valuable tool for cross functional teams.

    My biggest “worry” was/is the one that @Michael W raised above: if people don’t tag or add other useful meta data to help with structure and venacular, how do you know search’s will get you useful information and understanding how quantitative it really is?  Would a simple tagging scheme or an optional form that people fill in when they contribute data help ensure that the results returned from search’s is complete, useful and meaningful?  My gut is that such form’s would make people less likely to contribute and just get in the way, but I’m curious what people here think.

    I like that Evernote has the concept of related articles.  That just seems like a brilliant concept.  It seems like a little tool or survey that allowed you to somehow train the algorithm for that would be quite useful.

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