A new kind of team

Apr 08, 2016

Studying how collaborative teams create meaningful things

Just one month into a digital communications internship at Madeo, I started seeing websites, and how they get created, in a completely different way. I began the internship excited to explore web design and communication strategy.

Communications is more than just writing and design is more than just about what things look like. At Madeo, I get to see how designers, writers, and web developers work together in order to create meaningful communication. From my first week it also became clear that good collaboration needs the right space, hands-on expertise, and ingredients that make it part of a company’s culture.

Space for collaboration

Working at Madeo has made it clear that working in a collaborative environment is key in allowing people to take risks, ask questions, contribute, and collaborate. Both the physical and mental space should facilitate openness, listening, and exchange of ideas. Madeo’s New York office space in SoHo prompts creative juices, with fun knick knacks, (so many) mini cacti, and floor to ceiling windows that allow sunlight to warm up the office. I personally work in a large studio room alongside two strategists, two designers, and a project manager. This is beneficial because everybody is available to bounce creative ideas and inspiration back and forth (not to mention, our favorite snacks).

My first day

Before joining, I was intimidated about the upcoming experience, but the first day helped me feel part of the team right away. I was greeted with a personal welcome kit. The team got me a fun little gadget: a modular puzzle that I can solve when I have a free moment here or there. I then got a few rounds of training on the (many) apps and tools that the team uses. At noon, we went out for lunch, which was fun, and I quickly started feeling that I belonged to the group. Later, Zoe (our amazing community specialist) hosted a meeting with a few people on the team to discuss my own specific goals and expectations for the internship. All of this showed me how much the team cared to include me as a new member, and I appreciated the thoughtfulness.

Realizing what it takes: wireframing workshops
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I started to understand what it takes to communicate something well on a website after participating in wireframing workshops. Wireframing involves constant marking and erasing with sharpies on whiteboards while exchanging ideas about the best way to organize the relationship between content, features, and design. How should the user see more related articles? Should they scroll sideways, click on a button, or automatically load them as they scroll down? I’ve learned that there are endless routes you can take, and that each one can be challenged based on a designer’s assumptions, user research, client management requests, or technology considerations. Good collaborations allow these perspective to be considered, but also allow them to add to one another for a final working and successful website.

From hands-on experience to communication strategy

As an intern, I get to talk about strategy with the team and ask questions while I learn by doing. I’ve managed multiple aspects of website content through different content management systems and even contributed to social media work. And, working with such a diverse range of clients – from non-profits to businesses – helps me think creatively about how I want to convey a message. The challenges that various types of companies face allow me to see the different ways in which communication strategies can be applied.

A project that brings it all together
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One project that I got to work on extensively is the new website for Seeds of Peace. Seeds of Peace is an international organization that cultivates generations of global leaders in communities divided by conflict. They have a proven track record of positive impact in many communities, as well as an extensive network of thousands of alumni that continue to promote peace around the world – Seeds of Peace’s history of success is nothing short of inspiring. Their website hosts a huge variety of content, from 10,000+ news articles, to hundreds of staff, program, history, and donation pages. One of the first challenges that I took on was analyzing and comparing the existing sitemap to the new one that a Madeo content strategist created as part of their information architecture work.

The new comparison work involved creating spreadsheets, and communicating the changes to the many stakeholders involved. What was interesting is that the new sitemap included all the content – news stories, information pages, and everything in between – but it got organized for visitors to find the necessary information much more easily. Seeing how we changed the organization of the content taught me a lesson in information architecture: the way elements get organized on a page, within navigation, and between pages, is essential to a user’s experience. It might be obvious, but as a writer and communications person, it is insightful to see the overlap between the different roles that influence user experiences.

It was also interesting to be exposed to both strategy and hands-on content work on the same project. I got to dive deep with content management for Seeds of Peace, helping to handle the content for staff and program pages, along with tagging hundreds of content elements to make search easier and better for visitors. Imagine a website with hundreds of unique pages, and not having a way to filter for a specific piece. Great information architecture with proper organization and tagging helps users sort through content in an intuitive way. With Seeds of Peace, this was especially relevant, because of the wide range of information the organization has on their web. This project, which is an ongoing endeavor, has exposed me to the amount of work and detail that goes into producing meaningful digital products.

It has only been a month for me, but I can already see that as a student, my perception of careers, teams, and meaningful work has already changed. I’m excited to reflect and share what I’m exploring at Madeo during the weeks to come.

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