A newsletter on audience research and development for cultural leaders. One reader calls it, "sometimes funny"

(Reading time: 3m, 7s)

I’ll be having surgery later this morning. Isn’t it weird how we say “I’ll be having surgery,” as if we’re ordering at a restaurant?

Me: I’ll be having surgery.

Doctor: How would you like that?

Me: Bloody, with a side of Percocet.

(I don’t recommend telling that joke to your actual doctor. I’m both relieved and disturbed at how hard it is to make a surgeon laugh. I think that explains why I bombed at Crabtree’s — the place was probably packed with medical staff that night.)

The surgery is nothing major, but one of three things is going to happen:

  1. All goes well and you hear from me again on Tuesday, as usual.
  2. The doctor has to go with Plan B, in which case, you might not hear from me for a bit while I recover.
  3. Plan B fails and there is no Plan C and oh my god this is the last letter I ever get to write and wow this is a lot of pressure all the sudden.

I was all set to write to you this morning about capturing and organizing feedback and observations. I’ve noticed that a lot of organizations don’t have efficient ways to gather and share insights. Any insights employees may glean from a conversation with a visitor, for example, usually gets stored in their head and stays there until it’s forgotten.

But I’m not allowed to drink any coffee today before surgery, and I realize sitting here in the 5AM darkness, that these letters are mostly written by coffee. Coffee is the real design research evangelist; I’m just a tattered body it borrows for a few hours each day to spread its message.

Without my usual dose of caffeine, it takes every ounce of energy I have to share with you this tweet that floated past me on Twitter the other day, which I thought then was a nice example of someone taking the time to structure an observation:

UX Frameworks Tweet

But today, contemplating mortality without a drop of coffee to soothe me, it all seems pretty insignificant.

Sure, taking the time to write things down can turn fleeting moments that would otherwise be forgotten into hypotheses that can be tested in the future, but would I really want that to be the final thing I share with you?

I was planning on taking it further by sharing my own system for organizing evidence and insights in Airtable. For example, here’s where I store feedback:

Airtable feedback screenshot

The feedback table stores responses to letters as well as stuff like user testing results. Airtable lets me filter based on a particular type of feedback or source or clear everything out except for feedback on a particular project or what pertains to a particular client. I can grant clients access, though I export to a new base first, so I don’t have all my other projects mixed in.

Airtable is a relational database, so pretty much every one of those tabs you see up top are linked to each other in some way. For example, the field called “content item” is a look-up field that pulls from the Content Repo table, which is a living inventory of web pages, letters, fledgling ideas, and so on.

Here are the tables:

  • Clips (experimental)
  • Objectives
  • Metrics/KPIs
  • Value statements
  • Projects
  • Content Repo
  • Methods
  • Steps & Tasks
  • Tools & Channels
  • Expensive Problems
  • Audiences
  • People
  • Companies
  • Services
  • Contracts
  • User Goals
  • Feedback

Over the past several years, Airtable has become an all-in-one CRM, content management system, research database, and business management tool for me.

One of the more useful parts of the system is that some data collection can be automated. For example, when anyone submits the little embedded form at the bottom of one of these letters, your feedback is automatically piped into the Feedback table. I’ve hooked up Typeform (the form system) to Airtable using Zapier.

Another example: I made a form for a client that would let staff structure their observations of students; The form was loaded onto iPads as a web app, so they could launch it from the home screen quickly; Every time they submitted the form, it fed into a shared base in Airtable… Lots of advantages over paper and pencil.

So, I was going to write to you today about operationalizing the information employees gather using different tools, but this morning it feels like an awfully tedious topic.

I hope I can make it up to you next week.

Have a great weekend,


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