An interview with Donna Spencer

About Donna Spencer

Donna’s a freelance information architect, interaction designer, and writer. That’s a fancy way of saying she plans how to present the things you see on your computer screen, so that they’re easy to understand, engaging and compelling. Things like the navigation, forms, categories and words on intranets, websites, web applications and business systems. She’s been doing this professionally since 2002, is a regular speaker at Australian and international events and is the author of the book, Card Sorting published with Rosenfeld Media in 2009.


Main points

  • If I hear from a potential client that they only want me to do a design without research, I might not take that work.
  • I see three types of client:
    • Clients who just assume I do stuff with users. It’s a given for them.
    • Small organization where users are internal. I don’t even mention research. I just do it.
    • Clients who won’t do research for different reasons.
  • To prevent clients from cutting off the research part of a project, I make sure I understand clients well enough in the beginning.
  • Scope research well.
  • Figure out whatever you can about users without users - analytics, existing market research, search terms, etc. Then you’ll know what you don’t know and have something to talk about with your stakeholders.
  • As long as the client understands the risk of not conducting research, that’s okay.
  • I keep reminding no-research clients that we are making things up, that we are making mistakes, and that we don’t know which of the things we do is wrong.
  • Listen well to identify research opportunities.
  • Stretch what you are asked to do a little bit and do the things you think you should do.
  • My primary deliverable is a whiteboard and a marker which I use to tell a story to my stakeholders.
  • People love stories, not findings.
  • Signs of client engagement with research - calling personas by name, excitement about findings, and visits to my desk by key stakeholders.