Monthly Archives: August 2013

Helping a world of people – ‘reforesting’ Africa

Meeting two members of Landcare International (and, tangentially, the World Agroforestry Centre) today made me really excited, and I wanted to do some musing on why…

Why were they visiting us? Basically, talking with us about revamping their newsletter a bit. It’s satisfying to give some hints on making a communication product better so they can draw people in more, but the goal was what really set me on fire.

Actually, it was their passion for it. These two lovely people were such a great mix of pragmatic and optimistic; keen on sticking to what local people needed and wanted, yet open to new ideas; ‘up’ on new, innovative practices, yet able to explain them simply…

One of the most exciting of those ideas is amazing reforestation of east Africa – especially Niger. And the way it’s being done is completely by the people, for the people.

It’s basically about integrating trees into cropped paddocks to protect the crops, improve their yield (especially when legume trees are used), give fodder to animals and firewood to people – the benefits go on and on. And a president of an African country (excuse me forgetting) has declared that 100,000,000 of the trees will be planted!

It’s incredible, and the photos honestly tell it better. The World Agroforestry Centre has published a free PDF booklet about its importance, how it’s been done, and the huge difference it’s been making to people.

And that’s what lights my fire, too – making a difference. Knowing if I can help these two Landcare International people then somehow I can help a whole world of people, even if indirectly.

Finding your life’s purpose in 5 minutes

Finding your life’s purpose, Adam Leipzig tells us this 10-minute TEDx talk, only takes 5 minutes and 5 questions.

Well, less than 5 minutes if you already know those answers, I guess.

Before getting into the questions, I preface them with some confusion. Admittedly, at the end of the video, I wondered if others really found it so easy to pin down. Or if it changed them so radically.

Also, I didn’t take note of the internet wisdom never read the comments, which is usually rock-solid advice, but this time turned out to back up my own questions.

Anyhow: what’s your purpose in life?

Riddle me this: Who you are. What you do. Who you do it for. What those people want/need from you. What they get out of it (how they’re changed after).

It can be as simple as one sentence (and like the best communication plans I think, similarly, shorter is better).

Wisdom or folly, profound or puerile, the answers that jumped straight to my head in the talk were: I am SciCraftSarah and I edit and write. My work is for everyday people who might benefit in life from understanding more about science. They end up more empowered in their lives.

I realise, typing it out, that it’s a very ‘deficit model’ type of science communication, which I would usually steer well clear of for a multitude of reasons (next post!). Perhaps it’s a resistant, immature idea of mine, or it is just flat-out idealism about how science can help people?

However, it’s meaningless to be too harsh on myself yet. There are critics of the criticism of the deficit model – and there’s certainly much benefit in information about science when you don’t know it and want to know.

Can you answer your life’s purpose in those 5 questions? What answer do you come up with? Does your idealism get in the way of answering, or practicing it?

Designing user-friendly websites based on tasks, not categories

What’s the most common way of creating a webpage? Although it’s tempting to make some categories about what I need to put info under, and pick a great layout, you run the risk of not satisfying what your users actually need from the webpage.

I have been working on this a bit lately, as we design a new webpage at work and as I help 2 friends with their own webpages.

The key is to always think in tasks. What does someone want to get done when they come to your website? People don’t just come to websites to read aimlessly – really, they don’t. When was the last time you wanted to waste some time and decided to open a random webpage and read everything you could find on it?

We never do – there’s always a task in mind. That task might be, as for my friends’ websites, look for any new pieces of fashion from xxx designer. Sometimes it can help to think about tasks in the format of questions. What new pieces has xxx released lately? Can I get xxx in a different colour?

There are a range of different tasks that your audiences will be looking to complete when they come to your website. I have found, in other projects, that they are fairly distinct.

However, yesterday was strange: many of the tasks of different audiences (of my friend’s website) overlapped. I haven’t found that before. It was quite an interesting experience.

I feel quite sure that it will certainly change the way the website is laid out, because the similar tasks between audiences go beyond the usual ‘store’, ‘blog’, ‘contact’ classifications that you might use. I’m not sure how, yet, but it will.

Have you experienced either using tasks to design a webpage, or overlapping tasks between audiences?