Course 3 Final Project ~ Communication ReDesign


Image by flickr user MorBCN, via Creative Commons

It’s time for another confession: I’ve begun to really dislike email. 

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE email. For letters. And when there’s not a better way to communicate.

But for work, email has reached a new low.  Most of the time there are more effective ways for us to communicate, including good old-fashioned face-to-face conversations.

During the Visual Literacy Coetail course I began analyzing the way we use email at work. The most important emails I send have to do with curriculum resources and professional learning for our school community.

“Be honest,” I said to one of the teams I work with. “Have you ever seen this?”

My team looked at the Google Document and shook their heads. I had shared it at least twice hyper-linked within an email.


Like many organizations, we have a lot of initiatives happening at our school. People are well-intentioned, but busy. If my purpose for sharing resources is to help colleagues and ultimately students, I clearly need a better way.

Good Company 

Many organizations and individuals have begun grappling with the soul-sucking nature of email. I began researching other strategies and tools I might be able to use.

Justin Rosenstein co-founded Asana, an application designed to help organizations work without email.  In the clip below, he reflects on his prior work at Google and Facebook. “We felt … stymied … slowed down … by the friction and overhead of the coordination of our own teamwork,” he says.

He goes on to say that spending time doing ‘work about work’ such as reading and writing email takes energy and time away from what we really want to be working on.

No doubt this applies to many fields.

Author Scott Berkun spent time working at WordPress and wrote about his experiences in the book The Year Without Pants. WordPress does not rely on email as a form of organizational communication.

In this Fast Company piece, Berkun says:

“Email empowers the sender. They can put in your inbox whatever they like and as many times as they like (many receivers use filters and rules as countermeasures).

Email is a closed channel. There’s no way to see an e-mail if you are not on the ‘‘to’’ list, forcing work groups to err on the side of carpet bombing entire project teams, or companies. We all feel only a fraction of email has direct relevance to us as individuals. Email tends to bury people in FYI communication, messages unworthy of inboxes.

Email decays over time. If someone writes a great e-mail, an employee has to do something to preserve it. Otherwise it sits in an inbox, hidden from new employees. Over time, that organizational knowledge fades away.”

Instead of email, WordPress uses blogs. (Of course they do!)

Berkun writes that at WordPress information normally sent in email is simply posted on community blogs.

“If you care about that project, you follow the blog. If you don’t, you don’t,” says Berkun.

Next Step: Move ‘Great Resources’ to Public Blog Format. 

So I decided to experiment. If my emails are clogging up inboxes or being relegated unread into an email curriculum file, they aren’t doing anyone any good. In fact, they may have the unintended consequence of adding stress.

I’ve learned a blog’s power of categories and tags. When used well, categories serve as a blog’s table of contents and tags are the index. When I analyzed my emails, several categories emerged to provide the initial table of contents for a school resources blog.

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 12.02.43 AM

I tried to envision a place where colleagues might go not only when they needed something, but a site with the potential to inspire and entice.

Designing another blog felt both overwhelming and exciting. I tried numerous WordPress templates until settling on one called the Motif theme. It seemed the best match for my purposes and a good place to “break down … raw information into delicious little chunks of visually relevant information that are easy on the eyes.”

Being aware of the way people read online also means keeping the site well organized with the just the right amount of text and white space. (No large blocks of words!)

During Coetail, I’ve gotten quite comfortable using Compfight for Creative Commons photos. I decided to take my learning further and follow Kim‘s recommendations regarding Creative Commons and Flicker, paying close attention to the interesting category.

While I love Compfight, this new path seems to greatly increase photo options.

You can see the new ‘work in progress’ blog here. I’ve populated it with several quick posts to play with tags and visuals and I’ll officially roll it out next week.

Screen Shot 2014-03-01 at 9.32.11 PM

Now instead of emailing new resources or linking them to documents in Google Drive for teams, I’ll take a cue from Dan Pink: consolidate, and send weekly email teasers with highlights of new posts.

Here’s an example of an emailed newsletter from Dan Pink:

Screen Shot 2014-03-01 at 9.37.59 PM

Colleagues can read them if they wish or simply delete the email. The blog will still be there and they can search it any time.

Of course, there will still be times when face-to-face communication isn’t an option and email is the most efficient path. However, it won’t be to share resources or professional learning options.

My hope is that by shifting these to a blog format I contribute in a some small way to a reduction in organizational email noise and clutter.

The new blog, of course, will still include the occasional cat video, especially if it’s in French and very clever.

8 Replies to “Course 3 Final Project ~ Communication ReDesign”

  1. Awesome! This is exactly what we’re doing with a new initiative at YIS too (I’ve tried this idea several times, and I do think it takes a certain level of comfort with blogging to really move forward, but it’s also a great way to keep a record of what’s been shared over time). Looking forward to seeing how it goes for you!

  2. Hi Shary,

    This looks pretty great so far! The key and the challenge, of course, is keeping it updated regularly enough that people find it engaging and keep coming back. We’re trying to do something similar with a professional learning blog, and looking at yours I am realizing that we’ve been trying to do too much with each post. We need to just share resources, give a blurb and let the links speak for themselves. I like that you’re making it visual and not too wordy.

    I like the idea of the weekly email teaser… perhaps we could do this same thing as part of our daily eBulletin, but every Friday put in a teaser about different blog posts around the school.

    Thanks for sharing! I’m looking forward to hearing about how it goes.

    Have a great day,

    1. Hi Katy,
      I have high hopes for a new way of communicating and sharing this type of information … but of course, it’s an experiment. 🙂
      It was fun to merge the visual literacy course material with the design process. I’ll definitely write about it again in a couple of months to share how it’s going.
      Thanks so much for stopping by my blog!

  3. Hello Shary,
    I could not have said it better than you have! Couple this feeling about email with the fact that I am a two finger typist and you have a better insight of my frustrations. As much as I agree reading email is my professional obligation, I find myself skinning through so much communication and feeling that I will get back to it since I don’t really have the time to explore the links embedded in the text and of-course as you can imagine the time never seems to come….Hardly do I ever go back and truly get the benefits of what was shared with me.
    I too work at a busy happy place where there is constant dynamic flow of information , knowledge and insights and I want to make the best of these experiences. One change I have made is to learn to use the tools at my fingertips to their fullest capability ; so now I tag important emails, use my calendar and have organised folders on my desktop. I also make the effort to connect with my colleagues and ask directly about the information or new technology since I learn so much better with demonstration .
    Finally I also need to confess that I have to purposely limit my exposure to social media since this just eats away at my time. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    1. Hi there,
      Thank you so much for stopping by my blog! It sounds like you’ve found some strategies for getting organized. I’ve been grappling with this both for our resources and personally as well. I love IFTTT for some of it, but still need a final push for organizing my Diigo bookmarks and then a consistent routine for updating them. A good project for the spring, perhaps! 🙂
      Thanks again!

  4. Hi Shary
    Just finished with sending the Henri 2 You Tube link to my family 🙂
    I don’t know whether it is your cat video (I love cats) or the emails being FYI’s which I enjoyed more. Needless to say, they were both extremely important and informative.

    I find my inbox, inundated with FYI mails, in fact mails which I increasingly find like the ringing of an irritating door bell- Go Away!
    Your blog is a great idea, and I would like to suggest another one. It is inspired by the visual literacy course, but what if we created info graphics instead. Like family trees- just extended the information everyday and left them for people to look up to when interested- very like your blogs.
    I know I say this because I am a visual learner but think of how much time it would save.

    1. Hi Himani,
      I’ve been enamored with infographics for some time now, but haven’t had a reason to create one yet.
      Sharing resources from an infographic springboard would be great! Some of the ‘for purchase’ WordPress themes have really interesting layouts with great visual appeal, but they aren’t quite infographics.
      I’m really curious to see how the blog format goes, particularly whether or not it increases the readership of resources and new information.
      Thanks so much for stopping by my blog!

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