The Elements of a Conversation

December 18th, 2011 by Katie Koch | Filed under Teaching.

We began our November 21 class with one question: “What does a conversation look like?”

I showed a few examples to the girls, who began to consider what the differences are between having a conversation with someone on Facebook (using comments and likes) versus a Twitter conversation, where we show our admiration by following and retweeting the words of others. Many of them had never considered that there are patterns in the way we communicate online, and most had never thought about how we might begin to design such a thing.

We did a quick brainstorm session to define all the places online where we have conversations. The obvious answers came out first: Facebook, Twitter, email. As we dug deeper into our storm, the girls came up with more places where conversations happen: YouTube, Tumblr, blog posts, SMS, Skype.

The girls paired off to sketch out what a conversation “looks” like. I asked them to draw all the elements of the page that help a person know how to begin or continue a conversation. Through all their sketches, we realized the important elements are always the same: Text box, reply/send button, user name, and avatar.

Halfway through the exercise one student raised her hand and boldly asked,

“Ms. Katie. What does this even have to do with the website we’re designing?”

Great question! I polled the class for a good answer and one girl replied,

“It’s because we want people to interact with our site. And we have to learn how to get them to do that.”

After they sketched a conversation, I asked them to act out the context around a conversation. One student gave a compelling performance showing how the Blackberry Messenger might be used to flirt with a boyfriend or share stories with friends. Mosi and Bibi gave a great skit showing how a new friend might be contacted using Facebook.

This class was designed to give the students a break from thinking too deeply about their wireframes. It ended up being a great learning experience and a good diversion from the website production process.

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